Bernadette’s Take #57

William Tell’s daughter

Charlotte Rymann Schallié, Victoria B.C.

SChallie2 - CopyNo, today, Charlotte could not play William Tell’s son on stage anymore – she looks too much like a beautiful woman.
(Photo Charlotte Schallié)

Just ask Charlotte about her incident with William Tell’s son. She will laugh and cringe at the same time.

Charlotte played Tell’s son Walter in Switzerland on stage when she was about 12 years old. Apple and crossbow and drama and all.

I am tempted to think that it was then that Charlotte’s love for German literature was born. Because the play was written by the famous German bard Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805).

Today, Charlotte is an Assistant Professor for Germanic Studies at the University of Victoria. And a book author to boot.

Schallie1 - CopyI-witness Holocaust Field School in Osnabrück/Germany (June 2012). Charlotte is the first person on left. Copyright Picture: Pia Banzhaf

But my idea of Charlotte’s literary awakening is wrong. She did not get Walter’s role because she absolutely wanted to recite Schiller on stage. No, no. On the contrary. She got it because she had stage freight, and all Walter had to do was to stand still, with an apple on his head and await Tell’s famous crossbow shot.

The tyrant Gessler had cruelly ordered Tell to do this. Yes, you are right, Charlotte played a boy, but she had short hair and didn’t mind. For her, everything was better than to have to remember lines.

So she looked terrified (an easy task with her stage fright) and do the apple thing.

You don’t know what the “apple thing” is? Well, you hold an apple that is pierced with an arrow behind your back. And as soon as Tell has faked his shot with the crossbow, you exchange the apple on your head with the one behind your back.

That is how our national hero William Tell is resurrected year after year on many Swiss stages. And sometimes, his son Walter is a girl.

Schallie3 - CopyCharlotte with her son – no, his name is NOT Walter but Sebastian and he will not play William Tell’s son on stage. He does not drink apple juice and he speaks only little Swiss German. (Photo Charlotte Schallié)

Charlotte has resigned to the fact that even now, that she has lived for 21 years in Canada, she is the poster girl for Swiss folklore.
“When I go to the conference of Canadian Germanic teachers, they always call me Miss Switzerland”, she sighs.

Charlotte who originally is from Wettingen (Swiss canton Aargau) moved to Vancouver in 1992. “I was was actually born in Toronto but I was shipped as a baby to Switzerland”, she says.
Her father lived in Vancouver. In Switzerland, Charlotte had been working for the media company Ringier but she needed a change.

She found her calling in Vancouver. And a husband.

She enrolled at the University of British Columbia and loved it. “Compared to Switzerland, UBC was very regimental”, she says. “At UBC, I had to show up and I liked the pressure.” She loved history and she taught German classes at the Goethe Zentrum at Simon Fraser University.

Then she became a sessional instructor at the UBC Department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies for 4 years. And she does not even blink anymore when Canadians pronounce her name incorrectly like “chalet”.

Schallie - CopyThis was a Transnational Memory Workshop in St. John’s (Newfoundland; May 2013). Don’t ask me what this topic is but obviously it involves walking in a cold climate. Charlotte is the second person on the right hand side. Location: Bay Roberts. (Photo Charlotte Schallié)

And now she lives in Victoria on Vancouver Island and teaches – amongst other things – her seven-year old son Swiss German.

It is time for an

UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Charlotte Schallié

Charlotte, what other kind of Swiss things do you do apart from indoctrinating your son with Swiss German?

My area of research is Swiss literature and film. By the way, I do have a fair amount of students with Swiss background in my classes at UVic. Right now, I have five or six students and they all speak Swiss German. For your Swiss students, Victoria is quite a destination.

Do Canadians know Swiss authors at all?

They know maybe Max Frisch or Friedrich Dürrenmatt and then it ends. There is just not that much Swiss culture that is exposed in Canada.

SChallie4 - CopyCharlotte with Swiss author Rolf Lappert during his visit in Western Canada. Here they are in the restaurant Nuba in April 2013. Do they ponder deep philosophical questions or the precarious existence of Swiss writers? No, oh no. They cannot decide which dessert they should choose. Charlotte, go for Lemon Meringue Pie! (Photo Charlotte Schallié)

Which Swiss film did you see recently?

“Forget Bagdad” by Samir who is an Iraki-Swiss filmmaker.

Iraki-Swiss – this is an interesting combination!

Yes, I agree. There is such a limited understanding of what Swissness is. But Swiss culture can be very international. Look at literature for instance. There is a global Swiss literature. Swiss writers who live abroad or have emigrated to countries like Canada. Bernadette, you are one of them.

Do I sound Swiss or Canadian to you?

Both. Swiss and foreign elements are merging, blending into each other. The Swiss could learn from the Swiss abroad how to approach people or how to deal with frustrations when you live in another culture, when you are confronted with different customs.


Publisher Edition8, Zurich
384 Seiten,
Fr. 34.00, Euro: 25.00
ISBN: 978-3-85990-172-8

You and Margrit V. Zinggeler put an anthology of Swiss authors together with the title “Globale” about trans-border encounters. What do you encounter when you cross the border to Switzerland?

Swiss people find it a bit curious when I just approach them and talk to them. In Canada, I became a much more open person. I am less stuck in my own ways. But I think Swiss people see me as a crazy foreigner. Sometimes they respond in High German!

Has Switzerland changed, too, while you were away?

Oh yes. I love to go to Switzerland but I am aware that the Switzerland I carry in my head and heart differs from reality. When I go back there, I carry the Canadian society with me. And the landscape. We become part of the landscape. The broadness of the Canadian landscape transforms our thinking.

And what do both countries share?

In Canada, Switzerland is often used as a successful example of a multicultural country.
And in Switzerland, it’s the other way round. There is a like-mindedness there!

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