Sarah and I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland on the 4th of July from Romania for a double purpose. We were renting a car from nearby France (as it was the most cost effective way to rent for our trip) and I scored an interview with Google. Zurich was the closest office that gives interviews.
Things started off poorly for us with a massive culture shock. We strolled into the five star hotel that Google had booked for me. The receptionist looked at me, looked at Sarah, looked back at me, and said "This is for a single, correct?" I said, "Yeah, but don't worry. We'll pay the difference in the room rate." She said, "I'm sorry sir, you don't understand. We are completely booked. There are no more beds." In Romania, we would have worked as a team to solve this problem, hotel staff and guests all working with a common understanding that it is in everyone's best interest that a bed would magically appear. In Switzerland, they have fire codes.
After I sold a kidney so that we could afford another hotel close by, I decided to walk to the Google office. I didn't want to stress about finding it the next morning. I got out my little map, which I had printed and starred with the office's location. I strolled past a lovely park; watched the Audis, Porsches, and BMWs cruise past me; and gaped at a ten year old Hasidic Jew go past on his push scooter while fully dressed in his suit and hat. All the while I was noticing a lovely palace on top of a hill on the other side of the park. As I followed my map and climbed that very hill, it slowly dawned on me that the palace was the star on my map. It couldn't be the Google office, could it? I had heard that the office was amazing, but a palace?
And.... I was in the wrong place. I hit the dead end at the top of the hill and found out that the palace was a business school. I wasn't lost, but I was officially out of ideas. I could walk back to the hotel, but it was getting dark, and besides I didn't want to give them the chance at that other kidney. Thankfully three joggers were relaxing and stretching after their hill climb. If the Peace Corps taught me anything, it is to swallow my pride and ask for help when I need it. I am officially immune to receiving the you-are-an-idiot face. But the joggers were extremely pleasant, spoke English, and pointed me right to the office.
After finding the building, entering into a fit of stress induced panic at the thought of the upcoming interview, and wandering in circles for about 10 minutes like a dazed bird after flying into a window, I started back to the hotel. Who did I see, but my newest friends in Zurich, the joggers! By this point my heart rate had returned to a normal level, and I noticed one of the women was wearing a Google Engineering jacket. So I asked the question with the obvious answer, but it wasn't her, but her husband/boyfriend who worked there. I mentioned the interview to put the pieces in place for him, and he wondered why I would be all the way in Zurich for an interview.
I said that I had been in Romania for two years, and this was the closest office, and his eyes popped out of his head and he blurted "Ești Român?!" (Which means "You're Romanian?!") I was just as surprised as he was to hear Romanian here and immediately switched to speaking Romanian to tell him our story. We had a wonderful chat, and I hope that I made his day better by speaking to him in his own language. Hearing your native tongue while living abroad is thrilling (even if it is as widely spoken as English).
I'm pretty happy to say that my first Swiss friend just happens to be a Romanian.
P.S. The Google interview seemed to go well, but I will find out in a week or two how I did. Țineți pumnii! (Keep your fingers crossed!)