"What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you since you moved to Switzerland?"
That's what someone wanted to know recently.
After a bit of a think back, I recounted the time I received an unexpected gift from a stranger outside our apartment.
It was about this time of year in 2013 and Zo and I had just been on an Autumn hike along the Uetliberg "panorama trail", taking in the colours and the views of Lake Zürich. Nothing weird there.
Things only became a little odd only when we got off the tram home and turned into our street. It was then that I noticed a guy in a full adidas tracksuit. Someone sporting the full three-stripe combo to pop to the shops is not as common in Switzerland as it is back home in Liverpool, where it’s almost a uniform, but it’s still not weird, they'd probably just been to the gym.
What was weird, however, was what this athletic-attired fellow was holding. It looked like a martian’s head. It was purple with green antenna protruding from it. He looked happy too, as if proudly holding the spoils of some intergalactic fight to the death.
Bemused, I turned my head back to follow this guy behind me down the street. When I looked back in the direction I was going, I was in for another shock. A short man in a flat cap with a moustache was thrusting one of these alien heads into my face.
This time the head was muddy, as if the fight had been more medieval than space age. Only then did I realise what it was.
It was a beetroot.
And this beetroot was nothing like the stuff you get pickled out of a jar to go with your cheese sandwiches back in Blighty (if you’re reading this thinking “that’s a weird combination”, you’re wrong, try it, be welcomed to the revolution).
No, this was beetroot in it’s purest form, fresh from the earth, much of which was still clinging to this fine root vegetable.
The guy was standing at the back of an open van full of the things. And, it turned out after I’d deciphered the words “gratis” (free) and “Randen” (Swiss-German for beetroot), he was giving them away. I’m still not sure why.
So, still a bit confused but not wanting to seem ungrateful, I accepted this dirty purple vegetable and went into the apartment.
Though the initial surprise subsided, I was soon baffled again as I wondered what to do with it.
A quick Google search and I realised I had to cook the thing. The advantage of getting packaged beetroot from the supermarket instead of a stranger outside your house, it seems, is that it usually comes pre-cooked.
So I boiled it for a while. In the interim I looked at recipes. Beetroot crisps sounded good. Just needed to bake some thinly cut pieces.
After cooking and cooling I therefore set about turning the now bright-red beet into slices.
Needless to say, the kitchen soon resembled a scene from American Psycho. And I hadn't had Patrick Bateman’s foresight to put down plastic sheets before I started hacking at my victim, so red, viscous juice soon spattered the walls (and my face - which I didn’t enjoy as much as Bateman seems to in the film).
To make the scene even more ridiculous, I had decided I didn’t want to be caught red-handed, so I had donned a pair of rubber gloves.
Zoe thought it was all bonkers, which it was. She doesn’t even like beetroot. As such, that evening I sat down and devoured a whole giant beetroot’s worth of beetroot crisps. Which, for the record, were delicious.
So, yeah, I think that’s the strangest thing that’s happened to me in Switzerland. If I experience anything more unusual I'll let you know. I suspect, however, that the randomness of this episode will be hard to beet…
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.