Swiss cheeses, Scotch mist, ghosts and Nessie!

Fransoise Loup, Brigitte Chanson and Katia Nidegger are the leaders of a group of Swiss young learners who recently spent a week in Edinburgh with Hamilton School of English. They live in Lausanne (by Lake Geneva) in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and had previously brought another group to Scotland, so this wasn’t a new experience for them (although it obviously was for most of their students!). We met in Global School of English in Edinburgh while the students were in classes there and had an interesting chat about Scotland and Switzerland.

Most Swiss associate Scotland with whisky, rain, kilts, Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) and, perhaps slightly surprisingly, ghosts and tattoos. The students in this group were aware of Edinburgh and some aspects of its history, including Greyfriars’ Bobby, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and, of course, JK Rowling and the Elephant House café (where she began writing the Harry Potter books!).

Despite everyone’s concerns about the weather, since the Swiss Group had arrived, the sun had shone almost unceasingly. There had been no sign of ‘Scotch Mist’, that persistent light rain for which the country is famous. Instead, for virtually every day of their stay in Scotland, the sun had shone and the weather had been extremely pleasant and warm. This made it much easier for the students to enjoy a number of interesting excursions, to see, amongst other things, the Royal Mile, the Castle, the statute of Greyfriars’ Bobby and, naturally, to go to the Elephant House for a cup of coffee and a cake or two.

Their students are studying English at an intermediate level and all three of the leaders were unanimous in their praise for the School and the teachers (“good, very good, and in a nice building that’s more like a house than a school”). They also noted that the host families were excellent.

We then chatted about some of the differences between Switzerland and Scotland. The biggest difference for the Swiss is that prices are much cheaper here than they are in Switzerland, closely followed by the fact that (for them), we drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road here! Also on the roads, some of the students had not seen ‘double-decker’ buses before, as in Europe buses tend to be ‘single-decker’.   As well as being used for public transport, some double decker buses in Edinburgh are used to advertise the ‘Ghost Tours’ of the city (see picture).

Food is different too. We discussed the merits of Scottish haggis and Swiss Gruyere and Emmental cheeses (all very nice!) and also the fish and chips, which many students from all over the world say is the meal they like best when they come to Scotland.

In French-speaking Switzerland, children at school learn German first and then English second. Apparently, they find English easier, helped by the fact that classical languages (Latin and Greek – which form the roots of many English words and grammar) are still popular school subjects there. Moreover, western culture, especially pop/rock music, is underpinned by the English language, which makes it more appealing to many young Swiss students than German.

Finally, we discussed the benefits of coming to study in Edinburgh as opposed to London, where many overseas students go to learn English. The leaders said that one of the main reasons they come back to Scotland is that it’s different from London. In particular, it’s less expensive and also a lot quieter than the UK’s capital city. All of which means they expect to be coming back again with another group in the future!