OK, you’ve all heard of the village of Fucking in Austria; the mountain of Wank in Germany or the very well known Ville de Condom in France, all three of which suffer from pranksters stealing their city signs on the motorway as soon as they put another up. Can dowdy, demure Switzerland compete with the above?
Let’s start with the Swiss brand Femina chocolates which, prominently as they are placed in sweet shops, have confused every man I know who has visited Switzerland and quite a few women, too. You can tell they’re all thinking: what do sanitary towels have to do with Kaffee und Kuchen?
Then, of course, there is the picturesque train journey to Schynigge Platte from Interlaken in the Berner Oberland. Many anglophone eyebrows have been raised when it stops at the Rotenegg station and noses pinched when it enters the Rotenegg tunnel immediately afterwards.
The town of Baar can be used for puns in almost any language; not only in English (there is a Baar bar) but, as unlikely as it may seem, in German too: try ordering a drink at the town’s WunderBaar.
The Valais Fort du Scex scertainly (Ha!) gave me a surprise when I visited Sion, the canton’s capital; my hotel was at Rue du Scex. Before I knew that the final ‘x’ was scilent (Ha!) I have to admit that I did go up and down the street checking whether it was the scentre (Ha!) of the Red Light District.
As for sport: the Swiss National stadium in Bern is situated in an unfortunately named suburb. During the 2008 Euro championships, even Gary Lineker didn’t dare use the line: “And now, live from Wankdorf…” I should add that it is the home ground of the Swiss football team Young Boys.
After all this, the nearby municipality of Donat in Graubünden sounds tame, does it not?
And on to initials: Swiss Railways (SBB in German) become the very naughty Internet acronym of FFS in Italian, but nothing beats the Ticino rail transport system: FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi) which is painted on every bus from Bellinzona to Civitavecchia.
Occasionally you jump, even when you speak German. I was reading about the Tennis Ass Federer when I had to readjust my facial features (Ass = Ace in German) and I really wish they used a hyphen during sales, when every shop advertises the strange substance of Preishit on their shop windows when they want to declare price war – or price hit.
Still, none of you has been introduced to the ex-mayor of Scuol in the Engadine, a wonderful man in his mid-fifities who plays the Alpenhorn. He is called Not and his second name is Karl.
“Hello, I am Not Karl” he says.
“Erm… neither am I, so who are you?” I reply.
“Not. Not Karl”.
I think he enjoys baffling English speakers.