Sunday, November 18, 2001

Diary: 11/18/2001

Dear friends and family:

Although exhaustion competes with my natural desire to keep talking, Debbie has asked that I try to make the extra effort and get this email out, as we haven't had a chance to communicate with anyone for a few days. So here is the whole sordid affair, starting on Sunday night as we packed for the move:

From the "honey, where'd I put my brain" files: While we moved in on Nov 12, we didn't officially take ownership until Dec 1. This meant that we had to pay the previuos tenents for the balance of November - a sum of about 1800 swiss francs. Added to that was the cost of some of the things we bought from the owners, like the lawnmower, swingset, etc. All together, it came to 2390 swiss francs, or $1466. We had the money ready to go, in an envelope marked with the family's name. We had to give cash because checks are virtually unheard of here.

Debbie gave the envelope to Leon for safekeeping. This, of course, was a mistake.

Picture the scene at 9:30pm Sunday night, Leon and Debbie frantically searching through every concievable location for this envelope full of cash. We unpacked nearly every box Leon had so neatly packed over the last 2 days. We went through the garbage (did we mention there are no dispose-alls here?), we looked under beds and inside drawers.

Sparing you the ugly details, it turns out that the envelope was in the box packed specifically with the things we would need the instant we walked into the house: towels, food for Joram, cleaning supplies, a wad of cash, etc. Right where Leon knew we'd need it. And had no recollection of ever putting it there. It just goes to show you that if Leon says "I am going to put this someplace clever" you should be very very very very worried.

On Monday, we arrived for the "etat de lieu". This is basically the Spanish Inquisition with a white glove test thrown in for spice. And it's less fun for everyone, including the Inquisitor, who probably isn't paid nearly enough to check under someone else's toilet to make sure it has been cleaned to the "Swiss Standard". Every doorknob, every faucet, every switch and plug and receptacle is tested, checked for cleanliness, and any problems, real or imagined, are charged back to the owner (or previous tenant). It is a 2 hour recrimination of everything you have ever done, eaten, or said in the house since the day you moved in. As you might imagine, the Swiss love this sort of thing.

Having survived that, we began to move in and find all the things that the Inquisition missed. Like the washing machine that didn't work (they never actually ran a load, just made sure it was present. They also didn't do a carbon argon date test, because the machine was built somewhere around the pliestoscene era.). In any case, our stuff from the temporary apartment was brought up on Monday, and we had it basically arranged by that night.

Tuesday morning, the truck arrived with our things from the US. The blessed "boat shipment", the boxes we had all been waiting for. We unloaded it and began to organize. Only to have another, bigger truck come. We had lots of stuff. Lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff. We began to worry whether the house foundation would hold up.

The deluge ended around 2:00, and we started the first feable attempts at organizing. That's when we realized that the packing company from the U.S. had not done the stellar job we were hoping for. Not much was broken, but we have several items that we really never intended to bring. Like our good glass dinnerware (service for 24), lazy-boy reclining chair, toaster oven, electric grill, and the 3/4 empty jar of peanut butter.

However, we were finally able to sleep the night in our beds, something we hadn't done in over 4 months.

Of course, "sleep" was a euphamism for "lay in our bed listening to the new house sounds, jumping at everything". And there was lots to jump at. A strong windstorm had arrived to welcome us into the house, and we discovered every loose shutter, every drafty window, etc as the winds whipped around us and moved everything that wasn't tied down.

On Wednesday, we spent most of the time just shoving boxes around into the right place to start unpacking. Leon made a run to the hardware store to pick up several items that we either forgot or which didn't make it (it's probably in long-term storage instead of that peanut butter jar. It all works out in the cosmic balance). A friend of ours came over and she and Debbie made a very productive start of organizing the food we had shipped over. Yes food. We were aware that Switzerland had grocery stores (at least one or two), but we also knew there were things we wanted. And finally, what else were we going to do with all the stuff from the old house, put it in storage? Remember, we packed the house in just one week, so there wasn't time to have the Last Big Pot Luck Supper and please-take-our-stuff Raffle we had hoped for.

Thursday morning we really had no time to think about the house. After dropping the girls at school, we had to lock up, clean up, and pack up for our trip to London! We picked up the girls around noon and headed out for the airport. The flight was basically uneventful (although you should never fly an airline named "easyjet" if you are looking for luxury travel!)

Even with an hour difference, we still arrived relatively late in the day. We made it from the airport to the train station near where we were staying, and then the short walk to the actual bed and breakfast. This was a shabby, but servicable place that had a room big enough for all of us to fit comfortably as long as everybody didn't try to walk around at the same time.

There are a couple of things that must be stated about London, which made this trip worthwhile regardless of anything else we experienced: Starbuck's cafe mocha. Bangers and mash. Spotted dick. Fried eggs. Starbuck's cafe mocha. Everyone speaking English. A proper, well-organized subway system. Starbuck's cafe mocha.

The "everyone speaking English" cannot be over-emphasized. Leon was walking down the street asking questions of strangers just because he could (not as bad as "do you have prince albert in a can", but along the lines of "that street over there, is that St. George's Drive?", "how far to Big Ben", etc).

On Friday morning, we set out for Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. The crowds were amazing (in some cases more amazing to watch than the actual guard). Then there was the part where the Royal Band started playing a medley of show tunes (I've got rhythm, someone to watch over me, etc). Not what we had imagined, but fun none the less.

As impressive as it all was, the kids (and some of the adults) were more impressed seeing the Harry Potter advertisement on the entire side of a double-decker bus. It sort of put our reason for being there into perspective.

Speaking of the Harry Potter movie, it was a great experience. In the end, it wasn't so different from the experience everyone had in the U.S. - we went to a cineplex in a mall and watched it with a million screaming schoolkids around us. There were a few minor differences, perhaps. Whenever Snape came on screen, all the kids hissed at him. And there were comments of "I'm going to try that tomorrow" when Harry walked through the wall at King's Cross Station. But otherwise, the movie ran the same everywhere.

As to our opinions of the movie, they are all relatively positive. Leon thought it was a good solid attempt to bring a book to life. Heather and Isabelle thought it was the best movie ever. Joram thought that standing on a squishy chair, being hand-fed popcorn by Mommy, and running up and down a long ramp for 2 hours straight while watching big pictures is a great idea and he's willing to try it again any time. Debbie is just waiting for the movie to come to video so she can actually watch it.

We woke up the next day and went to the Portobello Market, which is a weekly antique fair on (you guessed it) Portobello street, and then took a quick run to Picadilly Circus just to say we were there. Then it was time to get back to the airport.

The home trip was fine, and we were back in our own beds again!

Sunday was very hard for us all. Heather had to wade through a pile of homework, which was never fun. Isabelle had to deal with having nobody really to play with. And Leon and Debbie were coping both with the reality of unpacking a house (again), trying to make a home, and another wave of culture shock. We also discovered that the cloths dryer didn't work (we had replaced the washing machine but we still couldn't get our laundry done - very frustrating!) and we have much much more to deal with this coming week, we are sure. By the end of the day, we had unpacked many boxes, arranged the family room area, and started to get a grip on the items we still need (cabinets for the bathrooms, more light bulbs, etc).

This week we expect to be equally busy, as we are going to be continuing to unpack, build furniture, arranged, unbox, rebox, move, and settle. Oh, and then there is Thanksgiving!

Actually, turkey-day will be a welcome break. Another American family is having us over on Thursday, and then all of the expatriates are invited to a Nestle-organized event on Saturday.

But that's a story for the next letter.

Please take care of yourselves, and have a happy and healthy week.

Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram

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