I will never forget my very first day in the town I would come to fall in love with. Geneva is a beautiful place, full of history, rich culture and a compelling social scene. However, the people in Geneva can be a bit too straight forward when they are not happy. They definitely know how to express themselves strongly when they disagree with something, which can be tricky to deal with when you are used to the way that people in the U.S. “politely” or “gently” express unhappiness. Please don’t get me wrong — people in Geneva are extremely polite. I would say even more than in the States, but they are transparent too. You will know when something you did that did not please them in some way. It happened to me right upon my arrival in Geneva.
As I walked with another Smithie out of the airport to take a taxi to our residences, I courageously decided to say, “Good morning Sir. We would like to go to Home St. Pierre and CUP one please.” The only problem was that I decided to say it in French. You can guess what happened next.
The driver, who seemed to be calmly driving us to our destinations, stopped the car at a totally different place from where we had intended to go. We were on the other side of Geneva, another 20 minutes from our residences. He misunderstood my French as I struggled to tell him that this was not the place, and my friend could not communicate with him either. He began to say things that I understood to be complaints about us giving him the wrong address, making him waste his time. Then the unforgettable phrase came out, well-articulated, in a language that I understood well: “No address, no good!”
He was right. No address, no good. I should have printed out the address and put it in my wallet so that I could hand it to the driver at the airport and avoid all the confusion, loss of time and money.
After looking for it on my phone, I was able to find it and show to him. What a relief. He knew where both of our residences were. He dropped off my friend first, and then drove me to my residence. While driving me to my destination, he began to talk a bit more softly, saying, “You know, no address, no good. You understand?”
I tried to answer in French even though he spoke to me in English: “Yes sir. I understand. You were right.”
After that, although he did most of the talking, we ended up having a rather pleasant conversation. I explained to him that I did not speak French well, and that I was there to learn. He definitely got that part because he said,“Practice, practice and practice.” He was also an immigrant who had had to learn French after moving to Geneva. While my first impressions of Geneva had not been completely positive, the thought dissipated when the driver kindly explained that not having an address made his job difficult, especially if the customer did not speak the language.
At the end, my taxi driver was really a gentleman. He even helped me with my luggage into the residence, which he was not supposed to do. He wished me “bonne chance” with my French and waved good-bye.
From this experience, I learned that people are truly lovely in Geneva, but even if they love you, they will not pretend that everything is okay. I learned to be at the top of my game, otherwise I will end up somewhere I did not intend to be. That is a lesson for life. I also learned to print out my destination whenever I am going someplace for the first time, especially if I am going to a foreign country where I do not speak the language fluently. Lesson learned. “No address, no good!”by