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Gerda Poroli: "Man spricht Deutsch" in Ticino

Gerda Poroli has been catering to her customers' tastes for 30 years in Ascona


For 30 years, in partnership with her husband Alberto, Gerda Poroli has managed one of Ascona's two news-stands, catering for locals and foreign visitors - particularly German-speakers who have moved to or live in Ticino.

Ascona could be described as the pearl of Ticino tourism, the best-known resort abroad. Situated on the famous lakeside promenade so dear to visitors, the news-stand provides an original reflection of social life in Ticino.

"Of course, a Ticinese might find it strange that Italian and local newspapers are relegated to one corner of the news-stand, together with French and English ones.

But, like everything else, the reading matter we sell is determined by the customer. That is why three-quarters of the newspapers we stock are German-language publications. Hardly surprising, if you consider that half of the population of Ascona is of German or German-Swiss origin. Not to mention the tourists. A few French, very few British, the odd Italian.

Local Ticinese customers are in a minority; they tend to have the regional newspapers delivered directly to their homes and, when they want to buy an Italian paper, they prefer to make the short trip over the border into Italy. Excuse me a moment.

"Guten Tag Frau Zacharias, wie geht es Ihnen?"(Hello, Mrs Zacharias, how are you?)

"Guten Tag Frau Poroli. Mir geht es gut, und Ihnen?" (Hello, Mrs Poroli. I'm well, how are you?")

"Hier sind Ihre Zeitungen: Stern, Frankfurter Allgemeine und die Musikmagazine. Ist das recht so oder wünschen Sie noch etwas...?"(Here they are: Stern, Frankfurter Allgemeine and the music magazine. Do you want anything else...?)

As you can see, I know almost all my customers personally. Mrs Zacharias and her husband Helmut, the famous violinist, have lived here for years and years. And, like them, many of my customers are regulars. First they came themselves, then their children, and now in some cases their grandchildren.

We are on friendly terms with our customers and they tell us a lot about themselves. Many of them come several times a year, and especially at weekends.

You can tell they are semi-resident from what they buy; we rarely sell little wooden clogs, miniature tankards and other souvenirs nowadays. Sometimes I think they know Ticino better than we locals do. Excuse me again.

"Herr Meier, herzlich willkommen. Sind sie heute angekommen?"(Welcome Mr Meier. Did you arrive today?)

"Grüezi, Frau Poroli. Ja, grad hüt, mit dr ganze Familie. Bi öis isch scho wieder es grusigs Wätter gsi. So händ mer öis gseit: gömmer ä mol für es paar Tag uf Ascona. Und tatsächlech schynt d'Sunne, wie immer..." (Hello, Mrs Poroli. Yes, today, with the whole family. The weather is terrible where we live. So we said to ourselves: let's go to Ascona for a couple of days. And, lo and behold, the sun is shining as always...)

"I am sure you will have noticed that at Ascona, and in the Locarno region as a whole, tourists are very much at home. When they go into a shop, they feel quite relaxed about speaking German; they never make the effort to say a few words of Italian.

Many Locarno people are used to it now, especially the shop-keepers, who readily break into German as soon as a customer appears. If anything, it is the French or British tourists who are surprised - and occasionally upset - when they are addressed in German, even by the locals. Here is one now.

"Ciao Tato."

"Ciao Gerda. Uela, ma a té trasformaa al local in manéra stüpenda..."
Hello Gerda. Wow, you've really transformed this place in a great way...

As you can see, it is good for us to have a local customer occasionally... it stops us forgetting our dialect or standard Italian.

Gerda Poroli/swissinfo


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