Geburtstafeln

One of the first things I noticed when we moved to Central Switzerland were all the colourful signs by people’s front doors, displayed in gardens and on apartment balconies.

These hand-painted birth signs are called ‘Geburtstafeln’. They feature an animal or some other theme and mention the child’s first name and date of birth.

Skiing is a popular theme!

I felt a little uncomfortable photographing examples of the signs but over the past months I managed to discreetly grab a few. After all, they are visible from the street so presumably intended for all the world to see.

I can’t help but feel what a contrast this is to other places in the world where privacy concerns would make this type of public display unthinkable. It is one of the things I love about living here in a place that feels safe and has a strong sense of culture and traditions. It’s reassuring somehow to see such innocent signs in these troubled times.

But also because my writer mind works in warped ways, I wonder what happens if a child tragically dies? Do the people discreetly remove the signs? How heartbreaking that must be.

It seems traditional to display the birth sign for a long time, maybe even indefinitely. I’ve seen some that are already several years old. I wonder if it would be weird to put signs up for my two kids, born in 1989 and 1993? Maybe even for me? 1957. Okay, that would be weird.

All joking aside, we will have a reason to put up our own sign soon. It’s official: we will be grandparents! Our son Elliott and his partner Anne are expecting their first child in mid-June. Even though they live in the French-speaking part of Switzerland where I don’t think they have the ‘geburtstafeln’ tradition, perhaps I can get away with a putting up a sign as a grandparent?

Will keep you posted (pun intended).

P.S. – I never really thought of myself as a grandmother. I wonder what he (it’s a boy) will call me? Grandma is what I always called my grandmothers, but somehow it sounds too old. GrandMel? Just Grand? Ha, ha… Ideas?

21 comments

  1. Waqar Ahmed · March 10

    Ok, after Switzerland there’s one more traditional thing to know about what we call Grandma in Pakistan. 😁
    Here, if you live in a combined family, your grandchild will call you Amma. Amma means, the mom.
    The Amma is the local word. But now as the people are being more English speakers, they teach their kids Mom for themselves.
    So naturally, the kid will call his mom Mom, and to grandmother Amma.
    I think Amma will suit you. 👍😁

    • MELewis · March 10

      Thanks for that! I have heard Amma used before (mostly on TV!) and it sounds really pretty. But unfortunately I have to take into account that the mother tongue will be French as well as English so the little one will call his mom ‘Maman’. A bit too close to Amma, I think. But a nice idea, merci! 🤩

  2. pedmar10 · March 10

    Its an old tradition in France tohave these signs as people back in the middle ages did not know how to read and signs told them what the house or shop was…one explanation Cheers

    • MELewis · March 10

      How interesting — did not know that!

      • pedmar10 · March 10

        Indeed as you know I love history, architecture, and good foods lol!! Thanks for the nice comments Cheers

  3. pedmar10 · March 10

    Ah just read Congrats on the grandmother!!

  4. margaret21 · March 10

    Yes, it’s a rite of passage, becoming a grandparent. My grandchildren have a selection of grandmas, grannies, grandpas and granddads – all our aging, I think, but I answer to Granny and hope for the best. I’m not sure I would emulate that Swiss tradition. I’m not sure why it makes me feel so uncomfortable. Maybe because one of my granddaughters was so very premature that it wasn’t at all clear that she would make it (she certainly has though!). At what point would her parents have felt able to put the sign up? And without it, would neighbours assume the worst?

    • MELewis · March 10

      The tradition is definitely different to anything we in English-speaking countries are used to. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to talk about it with the locals so no idea how it all works. But fascinating nonetheless!

  5. Ally Bean · March 10

    GrandMel has a good ring to it. Easy to remember, easy to say. As for the public signs about a child and birth date, they’re quaint but it seems like you’re giving away some vital information about the child that a hacker could use later.

    • MELewis · March 10

      Right? That was my very first thought. But maybe hackers are not so much a thing in this part of the country. As for the name, it also has the advantage of ringing well in both French and English!

  6. Dale · March 10

    What a lovely tradition! And I agree… GrandMel is original

    • MELewis · March 10

      Sweet, isn’t it? As traditions go, I like it even if I share some of the privacy concerns expressed by others. And GrandMel is starting to grow on me…😀

      • Dale · March 10

        It is sweet. And I hate that we have to consider the privacy concerns in today’s world. Sigh.
        Why not?
        My aunt was called GiGi by her great-grands…

      • MELewis · March 10

        I bet she was a character! 🥳

      • Dale · March 10

        Oh boy, was she ever. I do miss her so…

  7. Colin Bisset · March 10

    Nice to see a Muriel in there… Well congrats, GrandMel! Yes, I like that, too, even if it does make me think of a rapper. Then again, you’re so good with words it’s spot-on…

    • MELewis · March 11

      Thank you Colin. Glad to have dropped an Aussie reference in there. A rapping Granny sounds about my speed!

  8. Garfield Hug · March 11

    Grandma soon! Yaay! Way too young to be a grandma! Congrats! So you will be having lots of fun with grandkid baby. Interesting about the signs.

    • MELewis · March 11

      Ha, ha, that’s exactly what I thought! 😂 At least I’ll be young enough to still be able to keep up. Thanks for your wishes!

Leave a Reply to Dale Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s