Sunday, September 16, 2001

Diary 3: 9/16/01

Dear family and friends:

We know that we am writing this as some of you are coping with profound and in some cases horrific changes around you. For better or for worse, our TV has been set to those few English-language programs that give us news of the situation in the US, and we have spent hours absorbing and discussing events. We wish we could do more than just say "you are in our thoughts and prayers" although this is very very true as well.

For us, this has been a difficult week on many levels. On the most basic level, we simply miss home. Even if this were simply a long vacation, we would know we would eventually come home to all those things we had. In this case, that surety is gone. We are detached from everything and everyone that was familiar. This is a disconnection that takes time to overcome.

On another level, what we are talking about is "culture shock". Merriam-Webster defines that as "a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation".

That pretty much sums it up.

Finally, we feel lost nearly all the time here.

We are physically lost because we haven't yet figured out how to navigate from point A to point B. North-south-east-west are nonexistent references here. Signs with street names are occasionally visible, but not reliably so. There is another process of orienting to which we haven't yet acclimated ourselves.

We are linguistically lost because, despite assurances to the contrary, everyone here does NOT speak English. Not even within Nestle. So the simple act of asking "where is the peanut butter?", if you don't know the actual word for "peanut butter" can be a pantomimic nightmare. ("beurre de cacahuete", if you are interested).

And of course we are culturally lost. Customs or expectations that might seem quaint or even pleasant for short periods become nearly maddening when you know there will be no respite from them, that you are expected not only to appreciate them from an intellectual or aesthetic point of view, but to understand, internalize, and obey them yourself.

We know that this is only our second week, that these are all normal sensations. But it doesn't make things any easier to deal with day by day, and (as we mentioned in our last note) we often find ourselves clinging to each other for dear life, unable to perceive the beauty or splendor around us because we are blinded by those things that we have given up, or by those things that we fear we will never understand.

On a more mundane level....

Leon returned to work, which left Debbie alone and feeling somewhat unprepared for Swiss life. There was the challenge of getting the kids to and from school - on time, in one piece, and without getting lost.

Since we still only have a single car, there was also the issue of Leon getting to and from work. Luckily our neighbors upstairs are also Nestle expats, and can take Leon to work, but as they are single and tend to work late, Debbie was pressed into service to pick him up at a decent hour, adding to the driving stresses.

At work, Leon found that work had not waited for him while he was busy settling in, and so this had to be juggled along with the continuing tasks of obtaining insurances, working the system for purchasing cars, and also navigating the Nestle Swiss environment without treading on too many toes. Without going into too many details, suffice to say that he is NOT the favorite person in Human Resources here!

On the positive side, we have begun to see houses that more closely fit what we need. We *might* have found something that is a good match, although certain factors are working against us. First, it won't be available until December 1, which means and extremely long stay in our current temporary (and very small) quarters. Second, it is extremely far away (although how far we aren't exactly sure yet, since we don't know the shortest route between two points yet.). So we are mulling over our options and leaning toward the idea of letting this fish get away and waiting for the next good catch.

Also on the plus side, the girls are having a great time at school. Both have acclimated to the school extremely quickly, and (aside from some less-than-stellar school lunches) have nothing bad to report each day. Heather returned on Wednesday from Reideralp happy and excited and full of stories of the 3 day adventure (and also extremely tired).

Yesterday we bought a VCR - one that will play both the European (PAL) and the US (NTSC) systems. Today the kids are happily soaking up Rolly Polly Olly, A Bugs Life, and other deeply meaningful programs. The cutest part came when we put in the first tape from home, and Isabelle asked if it would be in French or English. I wondered the same thing. One never can tell, you know.

Finally, today (Sunday) we successfully managed to make pancakes - real, live, non-crepe-based pancakes! Our heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who sent recipes. Our (and perhaps your) next challenge is to find a no-mix cake recipe, as all our kitchen equipment is still on a boat somewhere.

As for events yet to come....

This afternoon, we are getting together with some work-friends. Leon's manager, Francisco and his wife (Pascale) and daughter (Elena) have offered to take us to some weather-appropriate, kid-friendly activity. If the weather is nice, perhaps the zoo or a miniature train ride. But whatever it is, we all welcome the chance to get out and go someplace that doesn't involve deep mental thought about how to get there or how to cope once we arrive.

On Monday, the entire country comes to a grinding halt as they celebrate "Jeune Federal". This is a very important national holiday that nearly nobody we have spoken to can explain with any detail, except to remind us that everything is closed that day.

Of course, Tuesday is Rosh Hashanah. This has us a bit worried, as the effort of settling in left us with no time to contact the synagogue in Geneva. We are hopeful that there is still time to make arrangements.

We appreciate all the emails that people sent over the week, keeping us in touch with events at home. Just a reminder that Leon's email has changed to "" (the "us" part was dropped). The old address will be active for a little while longer, but not forever. Best to change it soon!

Much love, hope, and support sent to you from us here.
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram.

No comments: