Thanks to a Swiss friend of mine, I joined in 2010 the Luzern fire brigade as a volunteer. Why not, I thought… It was perfect as I wanted to improve my Swiss German and at the same time to give something back to the country that adopted me in 2007.
Well let me tell you this, it was hard… Harder than I could have ever imagined. At first, I didn’t dare to talk (I love talking!), afraid I would misunderstand what was said. Swiss German CAN be tricky to understand (verstasch?!). I spent months (do I dare to say years?! *sigh*) observing and learning in silence. Sometimes when I would finally start talking, they wouldn’t understand me, my accent maybe, the noise for sure. I would panic, feel embarrassed and go back to ‘please please don’t pick me’. This attitude pissed me off. This was definitely not me!
As a woman and a foreigner in a Swiss firefighter squad, my insecurities were high. To be fair, it always seems to be the case when you belong to a minority, you tend to victimize yourself. However I refused to let that define me and I started to joke with my colleagues. Sometimes I was funny, sometimes I was off topic. Somehow my linguistic perfectionism got tamed after a while and it isn’t a drama anymore if the guys are laughing at me because we are laughing together…
Don’t get me wrong, some of them were and are proper assholes – yes I was bullied but I’m stronger than those bullies and since they couldn’t take me down, they lost interest over the years!
But I need to stress on this: most of them were amazingly supportive and would go the extra mile to help me if they saw me struggle. They would switch to high German, English or French to make sure I understood. This is also why I joined the fire brigade: to feel a sense of belonging, to be part of a family and the women and men from the squads 32 & 34 certainly provided this to me. I don’t need to name people but I want to thank them all for their support for the past 5 1/2 years.
Last June it was decided that our brigade would become professional, what this means exactly is unknown, less volunteers will most likely be needed in the next few years, replaced by great professionals so tonight is our last training under the current set up. We don’t know what the new set up will be from January 1st, 2016, yet if it is time for me to go, I’ll have no regret, no sadness, only gratitude towards my squad and my fire brigade.
I’m grateful for this experience as it helped me to learn to laugh at myself, to meet great people and to learn useful stuff. I still get some words completely wrong but who cares? I don’t mind anymore I say that some tourists were seduced (verführt) instead of kidnapped (entführt) in a very serious conversation (Apparently it is charming I was told – hmmm, still not convinced) or if I ask my colleague if he is broken (beschädigt) instead of busy (beschäftigt).
If you want to know more about the Luzern Feuerwehr, check our website. It is only in German but you can find lots of useful information!
Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem