Our Man 'Rawja'

Off and on for the past 14 years, a couple of globetrotting tour operators from Ohio, Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer, have been Gemütlichkeit contributors. We'd prefer more "on" than "off" but it seems they're always headed off for the Australian Outback, a winter cruise above the Arctic Circle, or some Slovenian backwater. For example, earlier this year, while Claudia was taking cooking and language classes in Italy, Roger walked the entire 180-mile path (about six pubs per mile) along the Thames river.

Though we've worked with Holliday-Fischer for 14 years, we've only met them once, when they passed our way en route to yet another exotic destination. Thus our business relationship and friendship has developed almost entirely by telephone.

Speaking of which, you need hear no more than Roger's two word phone greeting, a soft, nasal, somewhat bored sounding, "Rawja Hauladay," to know you're dealing with a different breed of cat. A British cat, ecktually; but one who, for the first 10 years of his life, thought he was half Swiss. His "mum," you see, was born in Germany and during World War II, while her British husband was in the Army far away in India, the family lived in a small west England village. During the Battle of Britain, and for the duration of the war, being German wasn't very politically correct so mum told the world, her kids included, that she was Swiss—much less schoolyard hazing.

It wasn't until just after the war, when 10-year-old Roger began asking pointed questions about his mother's alleged hometown of Bern, that he discovered his heritage was German instead of Swiss.

Actually, Roger almost wasn't. In the mid-30s, shortly after his parents were married, with Roger's automotive journalist father-to-be on assignment in Germany, and his mother at home in England, the pair planned a weekend rendezvous in Freiburg, Germany. Small mix-up. Mr. Holliday reported for weekend duty as ordered at the agreed upon location but Mrs. Holliday wound up in Fribourg, Switzerland. Somehow it all got sorted out.

Such German-English marital alliances, of course, have some precedent; Victoria, the British monarch made a fine match with Albert of Sax-Coburg. (Vicky, though, seems to have won the endorsement battle; she got her name on an entire era, while Al had to settle for his picture on the side of a tobacco can—surely you remember the wiseguy crank phone call to the local corner store that began "Do you have Prince Albert in the can?)

As the product of this international union, Roger seems none the worse for wear. All things considered, he's a bright, charming, witty fellow. There does, however, seem to be one small glitch. Not all the words he uses can be located in Webster's Collegiate or its German equivalent (Roger speaks fluent German). Some are simply made up in that fertile but quirky English/German/ex-Swiss brain of his.

Here, then, is a brief glossary of words you may puzzle over when reading this months Fischer-Holliday story on Switzerland:

* Hackenflack: A flat out Holliday invention. Translates roughly to public relations flack touting destinations where German is the spoken language.
* Gobsmacking: Lower class Brit word meaning extraordinarily beautiful just like it sounds.
* Regenschrimy: Holliday's attempt to turn the German noun Regenschrim (umbrella) into some sort of Anglicized adjective.
* Experten: Sounds German but is actually Holliday-English. The German word for expert in my Langenscheidts is Fachmann.
* Shop-opping: Untranslatable.

Calling From Europe Revisited

Last month's brief discussion about the advisability of purchasing a cell phone in Europe apparently struck a nerve. A number of readers emailed and called in their solutions to the phoning home problem.

One woman correctly pointed out that prepaid phone cards are readily available throughout Europe and charges for calls to the U.S. are relatively inexpensive. For example, with a Swisscom card the per minute price for calling within Switzerland, as well as from Switzerland back to the U.S., is 0.30 Sfr. or about 17 cents. The cards are available at shops everywhere in Switzerland or on the Web at swisscom.ch/en/residential.html. Similar cards are available in Austria and Germany.

Still, as a traveler, you'll probably need to be either in your hotel room or a phone booth to use a card, so it doesn't quite solve the problem for those who want to be able to initiate and receive calls anytime, anywhere. For that you need a cell phone.

Though some car rental agencies will loan you a phone at no charge, the calls themselves are frightfully expensive, usually more than $2 per minute. Probably the best solution for those who travel to Europe with any frequency at all, is to buy a phone that works there. One reader told me he recently purchased Nextel's i2000 phone for $259. It works in 65 countries, including the U.S. and western Europe. Ericsson's T28 World Phone is $299, very small, weighs less than three ounces, and operates in 120 countries. However, the phone won't switch to analog from digital so when you go outside a GSM area you get no signal.

The best solution right now—in Germany at least—is to purchase a prepaid wireless phone (called a "Handy" in Germany) that includes calling time. According to the Website, The German Way (german-way.com/), you can buy a decent cell phone for 99 DM ($43) that comes with 25 DM ($11) of calls. The per minute rate is 1.69 DM (73 cents) but you can designate one frequently called number for which the rate is 39 pfennigs (17 cents). A German address is not required. You may also be able use your U.S. cell phone number with these phones. This is an informative Website, I recommend it. RHB

November 2000