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Middletown provides me little reminders of Europe: Susannah Gal

Posted 9/20/17

Bonjour! Guten Tag! Gruezie! Buon giorno! Buenos dias! Bom dia! Good morning! 

These are some of the different ways I have learned to say “Good morning” when I’ve lived …

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Middletown provides me little reminders of Europe: Susannah Gal


Bonjour! Guten Tag! Gruezie! Buon giorno! Buenos dias! Bom dia! Good morning! 

These are some of the different ways I have learned to say “Good morning” when I’ve lived overseas. 

I was fortunate to go abroad for the first time when I was 16 to live with a French family near Lyon for eight weeks in the summer. I had studied French in school for several years although those first few days everybody seemed to talk so fast I could hardly understand. Luckily I kept up practicing and listening and soon was fluent. I learned several slang words (only nice ones of course ;-) and came home determined to go back.

My next long trip overseas came when my husband, Hilton, and I had a chance to take our honeymoon in Germany and Switzerland. Hilton had already scheduled to do an organ concert in Germany and so we scheduled our wedding around that time. 

Hilton was pretty good in German having visited several times before, so I had to rely on him to communicate with some people. Our host in Germany spoke excellent English, so it wasn’t too hard. We also used the trip for me to visit laboratories where I could do research after finishing my doctorate at the National Institutes of Health. One laboratory was in Germany where I’d have to commute by bus or drive to work to the laboratory outside of Cologne.

 The other was in the town of Basel, Switzerland, a thriving industrial town on the Rhine river at the junction of France, Germany and Switzerland. With that lab, we could live in town and use their phenomenal tram system to get around. For a variety of reasons, I chose the group in Switzerland to do my training, and Hilton and I moved there in June 1987.

Switzerland is a lovely country, very well regulated both in the timing of their trains and buses (to the minute!) and super clean; though at that time it was not very open to foreigners such as ourselves working there. It was not long after we arrived that the Swiss voted on a referendum to expel all foreign workers from the country. Fortunately, this was defeated so we were allowed to stay. 

Switzerland is quite a closed country, in part I think due to its location in the middle of Europe where it has been surrounded by countries fighting large wars several times. At the time we were looking for an apartment, advertisements were allowed to state “Only Swiss allowed,” preventing us from even asking about renting the space. 

We ended up living in Basel for four years, and I picked up lots of German and even some of the Swiss dialect. I worked at the lab while Hilton taught English some of the time and played organ for a couple of churches, including for a British Anglican church serving many expatriates from that country. I learned to play the alto recorder and fife; the latter I played in a band for one of the Swiss festivals. 

We ended up traveling a lot as the location of Basel made it so easy to go by train to many different cities and countries. We only rented a car once during the four years when we visited what was then Yugoslavia and couldn’t get a reasonable bus connection between Ljubljana and Trieste where we could catch the train into Italy. For all of the rest of our travels, we took buses, trains and did a lot of walking. 

The next time we moved to Europe was when I had a chance to do a sabbatical in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 2001-2002, in the French region of that country. That time we had our two daughters, who turned 10 and 5 during that year. We had a big apartment with a spectacular view of Lake Neuchatel and sometimes, on clear days we could see the Alps beyond. 

The finances worked out as well because the family from whom we rented the apartment were on sabbatical in California so we could write our rent checks in U.S. dollars. This saved several expenses in changing money. Both daughters went to Swiss school or day care and learned French quite quickly. Soon they were correcting our usage or pronunciation. 

What I loved about those times living abroad is we did a lot of walking — walking to work, walking in the evening to enjoy the weather, walking to the grocery store (sometimes we would take the tram back with our heavier provisions). On weekends, we often went to walk in the parks or along the waterfront. Lots of others would be walking as well, particularly on Sunday afternoons, so it was like a big community activity. 

We had access to trams and buses in the city when we had too far to walk or we got tired. And then for longer treks, we used the wonderful Swiss train system that was almost always exactly on time.

I also loved the bread they had there. Sometimes I’d go out in the morning and pick it up fresh from the bakery. It was so good to have fresh bread nearly every day. 

So I loved the walking, the fresh bread and the public transportation. And it’s partly because of those things that we picked to live in Middletown. I can walk to two grocery stores and regularly pick up fresh bread in the morning. I’m also able to walk to work most days. While I don’t use the public bus system, many do go into Harrisburg. Several times, I have taken the Amtrak train to New York and Philadelphia, which is great as I can walk there in about five minutes. Having a couple of restaurants within walking distance is also really super.

Since I’ve been in Middletown, I’ve found a few other things I love here, too. Like the parks: Hoffer Park is so close; Hilton and I walked there for the recent National Night Out event. The lovely flowers and plants in town are similar to the kinds of things the Swiss would put up to beautify their town. 

We have also found some chances to do music in town. In fact, my husband and I will be playing a concert at the St. Peter’s Kierch on Sunday, Sept. 24. I’ll play my alto recorder (which is an old relative of the clarinet) and my husband will play piano. It’s part of the church’s 250th anniversary celebration, so we are playing music from that time period. If you have interest, please join us for the 7 p.m. concert.

I have lived in different parts of Europe over a number of years. I find that Middletown has some of the nice aspects of Swiss cities, so I’m really glad to be here.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at