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It is not until I had children, that I realized how much our culture is inexplicably linked with growing up and learning in a particular context. But also how the transmission of culture is truly oral and aural. However fluent you are in a language, this last level of cultural fluency is hard to acquire. And for me, I need to see stuff written down! 2 recent examples :-)

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A while back Markus and Patrick kept mumbling a rhyme in swiss german when they were deciding who to go first. A dib dab sort of rhyme. I caught a few words like "chrumme bei" and "Chatz" and "walliselle" (district of zurich) but couldn't figure out at all what was going on.

I had lunch with a friend at work, who studied english, German, linguistics at University and is now in communications. Amazingly, based on my incoherent fragments, she put the pieces together for me....

A zelä bölä schelä (start counting – peel onions)

d chatz gat uf Waliselle (the cat goes to Wallisellen)

Chunnt si wider hai (when she returns home)

Hätt si chrummi Bai (her legs are crooked)

Piff Paff Puff und du bisch ehr und redlich duss. (no idea how to translate piff paff puff – it’s used to imitate shooting or magic stuff appearing – it imitates a sound; the rest means: an you are out (of the game) honorably / or as the rules dictate)


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More recently last weekend we saw Samichlaus (santa claus) many times. The last time we saw him, he asked Markus his name and if he had a "Spruchli" for him, ie a learnt rhyme in Swiss German. Markus looked a bit bewildered, mumbled "nei", but got his bag of goodies anyway! Another friend at work, who's son his 6 months older than Markus, explained that there a collection of well known rhymes, all the kids know them, and they know that they have to learn them off by heart and then rattle them off when meeting Samichlaus!

Who knew? This being Switzerland, my colleague was able to send me the link so I can prepare my boys for next year :-) They do expect the kids to learn long verses!
http://www.samichlaus-volketswil.ch/verse.asp