Our vendors: Marlies Dietiker (Surprise, Olten, Switzerland)

Interview by Isabel Mosimann, Surprise

For over ten years I sold Surprise at Olten station, Mondays to Saturdays, from 7-10 am whenever possible. Now it’s unfortunately over. I just haven’t recovered properly after my heart operation three years ago and my stomach operation this spring.

The things I liked so much about the work – meeting and talking to all sorts of people – are now too tiring.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I really enjoyed selling Surprise, partly because I was my own boss. I could plan my work as I wanted, decide when to take a break and I could chat with people from all over the world. And for as long as I wanted. It was also interesting to come into contact with people from all walks of life: with directors and doctors as well as with those from the margins of society. I’ll never forget one particular drug addict: I gave him twenty francs once because he was broke. Years later he came up to me, held out a twenty-franc note and said it was from his first wage packet – he’d sorted himself out and was now doing an apprenticeship. Another young man wanted to buy a magazine but had no money. So for a whole year he came to me every so often, and each time he gave me fifteen or twenty centimes, until he finally reached the six francs that he needed for the magazine!

In my years as a vendor I experienced many lovely things that will remain with me. And for that I’m very grateful. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to all my customers. I’d also like to thank the Surprise organization. Back then, when I was 55 and had been trying to find a job for a long time, I was able to start selling the magazines from one day to the next, with no red tape. And, later, I was able to join Surprise’s special SurPlus programme, which guarantees long-term vendors sick pay and paid leave at the rate of their average takings. That helped me a lot, because before that it was up to me to balance out any financial ups and downs due to sickness or time off.

I really enjoyed selling Surprise, partly because I was my own boss. I could plan my work as I wanted, decide when to take a break and I could chat with people from all over the world

For the coming months my main plan is to get better and really get my strength back. What I’ve already started doing now is making a monthly visit to the Fribourg area, to Zumholz, where I meet up with my cousin and a friend. I grew up in the neighbouring village of Brünisried. If I’m back to full health by spring I’d like to visit a friend in Graz, probably together with my son and my grandson. In the past, when I was a young woman, I dared to go further afield. As well as countries in Europe, I also travelled round South Africa twice. The second time I went with my 76-year-old neighbour who wanted to visit his son in South Africa. With him I visited the famous and unforgettable Kruger National Park. As I’ve only just started doing my own housework again, a trip there is unthinkable for me at the moment, but I would be tempted to see what South Africa’s like today. I experienced the country while it was still under Apartheid – unbelievable.

For me, different cultures living together has been a natural thing since my childhood, because back then I often played with Yenish children and was in and out of their caravans. Sometimes they also came to our place. Later when I worked as a nurse I also came into contact with all sorts of people. My work with Surprise was the perfect thing for me.

Translated from German by Jane Eggers