Sunday, September 30, 2001

Diary: 9/30/2001

Dear friends and family:

Friday marked the end of our first month here. On the one hand, it has been a very rough month for us. On the other, we are improving steadily in many aspects and finally beginning to find "the good stuff".

On Monday, we heard that the house we saw last week is ours for sure. For those interested in finding it on a map, (or maybe sending us mail after we move in) it is :
Chemin de L'Orme 14
1054 Morrens

While our contract states the move-in date is December 1, we have spoken to the current tenents and they are moving out at the beginning of November. This means that we can be in by the middle of November, latest. It is still a long time to wait, and we are not looking forward to the next month, but it is now with the knowledge that there is an end in sight.

We have also begun planning our "big" trips, which was one of the main reasons for coming out here in the first place. In October, the girls have a week off so we decided to go someplace close, someplace fun, and someplace we were guarenteed to find things for the kids to do. Yes, people, we are in Switzerland, just 2 hours from the pastoral farmlands of France, the hearty beer houses of Germany, and the balmy coasts of Italy. But we're going to .... EURODISNEY!!

In November, there is just one place we could possibly imagine going. November 16 heralds the opening of the Harry Potter movie, so we will be in London that weekend. We'll take in the show, hop a train to King's Cross Station, try to find Diagon Alley and.. oh yeah... maybe stop at the Palace, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, and Madam Trouseau's. Seriously, we have been told that England is a great place to escape to when you just can't stand another minute of non-English. So we are using this trip just to get a sense of costs, travel times, etc. We know that we will be back later to make a more thorough investigation.

Finally, in December we are going to plan to head south to Debbie's birthplace. We will probably swing through Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville for a week or so during the winter holidays.

Yom Kippur for us was quiet, but not as difficult as last week's Rosh Hashana. We decided that a quiet service at home was the best choice for everyone, rather than mad rushes and hour-long drives to unfamiliar synagogues. Instead we had some time for quiet reflection and a chance to talk about our hopes and concerns for the coming year, and to put some closure on the one just past.

This week also saw the completion of Debbie's "Living in Lausanne" courses. She has made a couple of good friends during the course, and also gathered a large list of contacts for specific issues (people who live up near the new house, playgroup contacts, French instructors, etc). All in all it was a very worthwhile course, and we think it has gone a long way to helping us continue in our transition.

On Saturday, the cows came home. No really, they really came home. This weekend marks the beginning of the colder season up in the higher grazing areas, so the cows are herded down to lower pasture for winter. This is done with great pomp and ceremony in many villages, and we drove up to one (Charmey) for the festival. Every so often cowherders dressed in traditional costume came through with cattle (and sheep, donkeys, goats, etc) The animals got all dressed up too - with floral arrangements in their horns, enormous cowbells around their necks, and a festive gleam in their eye. On top of this, there were alpine horn-blowers (I'm not sure if you call that a band, a chorus, or something else), yodelers, and choirs. In the village streets you were able to buy some of the local cheeses, meats, and crafts like lace and wood-toys. The kids had a great time, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was very... well, Swiss. The only person who was disappointed was Isabelle, who t
hought there should have been rides. We offered to put her up on a cow, but for some reason she wasn't excited about that idea.

Sunday was another good day for us. A town about an hour away had a "home days" type fair (they called it "Festival spectaulaire pour enfants". I think the grown-ups around here need to use their kids as an excuse to have a party). It had marrionette shows, folk music, and the more mundane face-painting, caroselles, etc. We met up with 2 other couples and spent a few hours there. Once the kids had exhausted all possibilities (plus all available spare cash), the weather cleared up so we all decided to head up the mountain. "up the mountain" is sort of a funny term here, since you are many to choose from. In any case, we picked one and drove up. And up. And up. When we got to the top, we were treated to a spectacular view of Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains, valleys and vineyards. We spent a little time at a cafe up there, and when the temperature started dropping and the kids started getting antsy, we headed back down again.

Also this week, the girls started scouts. This is just like the US girlscout troup, and is another great way for them (and the parents) to get to know each other, get involved, and stay active.

Joram (who was not interested in becoming a scout this week) has started taking his first steps. Right now it is tentative, and only one or two at a time, but we know the end of crawling is near. Which means the end of our sanity as well! While Joram continues to express himself loudly and with a profusion of words, they are still in a language known only to himself.

This week is going to be (we think) a little quieter and more normal. We know we need to spend some time learning good routes from the new house to school so we will probably do a lot of driving in the evenings. Debbie has plans to meet up with a few people - for shopping, exploring, and getting around. We also need to start up our French lessons again, so that is on the good old "honeydo" list.

Oh, and we have to start packing our mouse ears for the trip.

As always, we hope this letter finds you all in good health and better spirits, and that the coming year is one of joy, happiness, and contentment.
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram.

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Diary: 9/23/2001

Dear family and friends.

We want to start off by thanking everyone for the support, love, and concern that was expressed all week. Last week was difficult, but we really are doing ok. We are just dealing with the normal phases of home sickness and culture shock that (we think) everyone must go through to some extent. BUT, that is no reason to stop emailing! We love hearing from home. Each letter we get lightens our hearts, and makes us feel at least a little present in your lives. Do not ever hesitate to send us a note and let us know how you are doing there.

This week was definitely better than the last. We all had much more to do, so there was less "moping" time available, but we are also getting into something resembling a routine.

We have to admit that Monday was very difficult. It was a national holiday (Jeune Federal) and there was absolutely nothing to do. We tried to drive around a bit, but even this didn't raise our spirits much. We hadn't been able to contact the Synagogue in Geneva, and we knew that the one in Lausanne would be so foreign that we would find no comfort in it. In the end, we took out a copy of Heather's Bat-Mitzvah service (given to us along with a fantastic tape by Alison Howdieshell so that we could start practicing now) and went through the prayers and songs we knew. It was a very hard time for the adults - perhaps our lowest yet.

On Tuesday, we decided that we would try to stick to whatever routine we had found - the kids went off to school and Leon went to work. However, we had already planned to try to re-visit a house. Debbie had already seen it on her own, and liked it enough to go back and show Leon around. It's 20 minutes north of the lake (in a village named "Morrens"), and by the time we finished looking at it, we asked immediately to have it put "on hold". At the time of this writing, we are still waiting to hear if we will get it (our last experience, you remember, was something of a disappointment). However, it has 4 bedrooms (enough for guests!), a nice-sized kitchen, 2 bathrooms, plenty of storage areas, and a "winter garden" which is basically a glass enclosure with electric heating in the floor so that you can use it year-round. We are already mentally mapping out where all the furniture will go, and how many guests we can hold at one time. Please plan to come help us test our theory!

Seeing the house, and making the plan to move in (even if it may not be available until December) helped lift our spirits dramatically. The rest of the week seemed to fly by.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Debbie had a "Living in Lausanne" course. This is put on by the American Women's club, and goes over all the important essentials for living in the Lake-Geneva area. Many of the people Debbie met there were already known from Nestle or from school, but the course this provided a larger block of time to exchange stories, make connections, etc. There are still 3 days to go this coming week, so we are looking forward to whatever new information and new friendships we can find.

Also on Thursday we went to (finally) pick up our new cars. As we mentioned before, Leon got a (banana yellow) Opel Corsa, and Debbie a (more respectable) gray Opel Zafira. The weirdest moment came when we picked up the Zafira. The salesperson handed us the keys and a pink slip of paper - we already knew these are bank transfer notes. You take them to the bank and ask them to transfer money out of your account and into the account noted on the pink slip. He asked us to "please try to get to the bank soon". That was it! We literally took a car off the lot without making any kind of payment on it. In America, we call this "stealing". In Switzerland, they call it "an honorable deal". We're not sure whether to be impressed or mortified.

Yes, we went to the bank right away. We didn't want to ruin it for the next set of Americans to come along.

Somewhere along the week Leon got to the post office to send some letters home. We were astounded to find out that all international postage had been suspended as a show of respect and solidarity with America. Basically, the letters were sent for only the cost of a (regular Swiss postage) stamp. That was a touching and gracious gesture.

On Friday, we finally felt confident enough to attempt a drive out to Geneva for Shabbat services. There we met Rabbi Francois Garai, whose booming bass voice and perfect English made us feel instantly welcome. The congregation (about 50 that night, including their entire B'nai Mitzvah class of 10) extended that feeling, sometimes in French and sometimes in English, but always in a way that we could understand. During the service, we found we could follow the Hebrew much more readily than the French. The music (sung by the Rabbi) was mostly unfamiliar tunes. While we certainly knew that this would be the case, it only added to the feeling of "foreign-ness" that we felt in general. Then, in the middle of the service, Shalom Rav began and it was as if the room had opened up and light came pouring in. It was such a relief to finally know how *something* would go, to know the next note. Too soon, the song was over, but the feeling of relief remained for a long time after.

As we drove home, trying to take note of how long the trip would be, we were (and still are) unsure how often we will make the journey. It's over an hour one way, which is a challenge when you factor in work schedules, dinners, tired children, and bed-times. As we settle in further, we will continue to assess what we can and cannot do, but at least we have some choices available to us, and we know that (for 2 years at least) we can become part of that community with at least a small level of comfort.

Saturday we drove around the lake to the south, and into France. The small town of Thonon, we were told, had a shopping mall to rival an American Wal-Mart. We had to see for ourselves. The trip was refreshingly easy - just follow the road around the lake - but took about an hour and a half. However, the weather was rainy so we didn't feel like we had missed any great opportunity to get out. When we arrived, we found a strip of stores leading up to a large Mall - the "Carrefour". To make a long story short, it's not like Wal-Mart but close enough that we spent about 500 Swiss francs (about $250) on things like groceries, wine, coats, and shoes. We also discovered that France is *way* cheaper than Switzerland for almost everything (cheese, bread, wine, McDonalds) and we will definitely make "France runs" part of our monthly routine.

It's important to note that our "big score" of this shopping run was honest-to-goodness pancake syrup! I'm not talking about that nasty "real maple syrup" syrup that actually has plant sap in it. I'm talking about the stuff that contains "real artificial processed maple flavoring". There was much rejoicing in the aisles.

We also found out that "border security" is pretty much an oxymoron here. We passed from Switzerland into France as easily as you might drive from Ohio to Pennsylvania, and the only reason we knew we had crossed back was because some guy in a uniform was walking his dog across the street. He looked at us in our van, and then said "C'est bon" (it's good) and waves us on.

My secret fear in all of this is that we are so painfully, obviously American that they don't even bother checking us out. What a blow to the ego!

Saturday night, we returned with our booty and whipped up a quick dinner. We lit the havdalah candles, said the prayers, and realized that we were slowing finding comfort and peace in this place. We still long for some real living space, but the waves of homesickness, fear, and loss are not as ever-present as before. We are finding our way.

Today (Sunday) we had planned to go down to a small coastal village (Lutry) for a grape-harvest festival. We'd been told by several that this was a wonderful affair, and were looking forward to it. We also had planned to go with another couple whose been here longer than we, and who have been gracious with both their advice and their hospitality all along. They also have kids about the girls' ages, so it was an attractive proposition for everyone involved. Unfortunately, it rained all day and nobody much felt like getting water-logged just to watch some locals celebrate how they successfully picked grapes. So we started off just talking, then we took out a little food, then we took out coffee, then another couple (just arrived this week from California) stopped by, then we took out some wine, and before you knew it, it was 5:00pm and we had eaten our way through the day and had a wonderful time just the same! Here's to plans that don't go the way you expect but still come ou
t all right.

That about wraps up the week! Hope this letter finds everyone in good health and even better spirits. Everyone here sends their deepest wishes for peace and happiness in the coming New Year.
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Jora

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.

Sunday, September 09, 2001

Diary 2: 9/9/01

Dear friends and family:

There is so much to write this week, and we are so short on the organizational skills to put it all in coherent order. If things get a bit muddled, you will need to forgive us, and know that we will do better in the coming weeks.

Contrary to popular believe, we will not select a popular song as a backdrop for *each* letter we send. We thank everyone for their suggestions, including "Play That Funky Music White Boy" and the entire first half of "Dark Side of the Moon". This is to avoid prosecution from RIAA as much as anything else.

As you can imagine, emotions ran high this week. The simplest tasks like driving to school or the grocery store were adventures; we could measure the things we knew with a thimble - the things we don't know could fill an ocean. Sometimes this was OK. The newness made everything exciting, from the taste of food to a walk around the block to finding an english-language newspaper. Other times it was very not-ok, and we found ourselves holding each other for dear life and crying our fears out onto the bedsheets.

The apartment is OK (as in "small but OK"), but there were hiccoughs to work through in the beginning. The stove-top was shattered when we arrived and it wasn't until Tuesday that it was fixed. We only had 2 sets of towels here, and it took until Monday to get more. Nobody seemed to be able to find the garage keys (or even tell us which spot was ours!). Thursday, this was all sorted out. But obviously each stress point was unwelcome, and we had to work hard to remain positive in the face of these relatively minor inconveniences.

The children (especially Heather and Isabelle) are frequently our sources of strength these days. Very little is upsetting to them, and almost everything is funny or at least interesting. Heather is able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and that usually helps us to get the information we grown-ups need. Isabelle has taken to announcing each "roundabout" when we find them (there are many here, used instead of stoplights). And Joram's love of bread has reached new heights here.

They started school on Tuesday, and have taken it as their own. Friends were found quickly - Heather had a "play date" on Wednesday, and Isabelle had one on Friday. The children in their classes come from a wide range of backgrounds - some are "mixed" marriages of Swiss citizens and ex-patriots from places like Sweden or Portugal or Malaysia; some are children whose entire family are Swiss citizens, but who want the international education; and a rare few are from families like ours.

We drive the girls to school each morning and drop them off, so we have a chance to see the other parents. The mix of languages is astounding as we hear standard parental admonitions ("have a good day", "see you this afternoon", etc) in french, spanish, swedish, chinese, and even hebrew.

Meanwhile, Debbie and Leon started house-hunting on the same day. There are a few things we've learned from this:
1) For 4500 swiss francs per month, you can rent just about any house you want. (this equals $2650.00).
2) If you get a real-estate agent, they CAN'T show you everything in town, just the stuff that is on THEIR list. This means you have to work with many many many agents. Of course, we found that out AFTER we wasted the week with a single agency.
3) Nestle is buying up all the homes in Vevey, but Phillip Morris is buying up all the homes in Lausanne. And we want to live in Lausanne. Figures.

We remain hopeful, but it was a disappointing week none the less.

On Friday, Leon's boss Francisco took us out car-hunting. This was much more successful. That day we found a wonderful car for Debbie - an Opel "Zafira" - a Swiss-size 7-seat mini-van. It's slightly used (was driven off the lot in April of 2001) and has 11,000 kilometers (around 6000 miles) on it. So it we got it for just 28,000 francs ($16,470). We were very impressed.

At the same time as Leon was doing the paperwork on the car, Debbie was back at the apartment getting our air shipment. This was a very exciting thing for us since many important items were on the air shipment - a case of Kraft Mac and Cheese, more computer equipment for Leon, and diapers.

On the way home from buying the car, Leon got to experience Swiss services up-close. Ahead of him on the road was there was a terrible accident - one car crossed sharply across the road and slammed into the car ahead of him, then continued to swerve out of control and (slightly) hit Leon's car.

There was so much to be thankful for: In the end, everyone involved was OK and (miraculously) unhurt. Nobody else was in the car with Leon. Leon's car was still drive-able. It was the rental and not the new car. It underscored for us the fact that this is still *life*, that anything can happen here just like everywhere else, and that we just need to keep going in the face of it all, and find those experiences that inform this time in our lives.

It also showed us that even now we (the grown-ups) have made more friends than maybe we realize. Debbie knew the phone number of another "Mom" who could pick up Heather at school and bring her back to our place. Leon had several friends at work to call for help translating what the police said and offering advice on how the process would go.

Believe it or not, Friday was not over yet - we still had a party to attend! Leon's project team (GLOBE) was having an "all hands" BBQ. Hundreds of people were there. We all had a great time and got some good information from people who have been here longer than us and have encountered some of the same problems (even car accidents. Back in February, in the first weekend of this project, 20% of the rental cars distributed were in accidents. So much that a company memo went out asking GLOBE participants to "please try very hard not to crash the cars.")

On Saturday, Francisco and Leon went out again and bought a second car (an Opel Corsa). We got another Opel because they are nice cars, and because dealerships (and repair shops) are all over the place.

Of course, in Switzerland, you don't just go in and buy a car. We get a contract, which Leon then takes back to Nestle. While Nestle puts together the loan for the cars, the dealership is cleaning and "preparing" the car for delivery. It's all very anal-retentive, which fits right in here.

After that, all of us packed up into the car and headed off for "God's country" in Switzerland, which means over the hill, through the woods, past about a million sunflower fields, past 900,000 cows, up half a mountain, and onto a camp grounds. I should add that all of this is about 40 minutes from our apartment. We are not sure what the big deal is with sunflowers, but this place is lousy with them!

Anyway, we were going to the girls' start-of-school picnic. We got to meet some really wonderful people there, and again were able to make contact with folks who have been through much of the challenges we face, and who can (hopefully) guide us around some of the problem spots.

On Sunday, Heather celebrated her first double-digit birthday by... going to someone else's birthday party. Another girl in her class has the same birthday, and invited everyone over. We plan a smaller celebration tonight with just us. But it is truly an auspicious start to the week.

That pretty much sums up the week. However, there were notable moments that didn't fit in anywhere above, so I have to mention them now.

After a great deal of questioning, we finally got "our day" for laundry. Yes, our day. It is Saturday. If we want to do laundry on Monday, we are out of luck. We have mentioned this to Joram in regard to his alarmingly active bowels. I'm not sure it will help, but we remain optimistic. We found a very helpful neighbor who showed us how to use the washing machine and dryer, and (7 loads later) we have more cloths than you can shake a stick at.

PLEASE READ THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH AGAIN AND NOTE: Do not send us clothes. We have no room to put it. We have no more time in "our day" to wash it. And we only barely know how to work the machine, so if you send us something weird, we will probably ruin it.

Seriously, we are doing fine, and send anything you want. Except for Debbie's Mom, who is banned from entering our home with anything resembling children's cloths or (worse) children's shoes. The 4 pairs she bought each girl right before we left were quite enough!

Another note for the postally-minded among you: open all packages and remove price tags before sending, and perhaps write "used cloths" or "used books" or just "papers" on the box or else we will have to pay a tariff on it.

While we have found that french toast works well here, our attempts to modify crepe-mix into pancakes was less than successful. Anyone with good recipes for pancake mix are welcome to email us here or directly to Debbie (

Finally, we just want to comment that this place has the biggest slugs we have ever seen! No wonder they eat them here - 2 or 3 makes a meal. It's disgusting, but interesting none the less.

Looking toward the coming week, we are preparing for Leon's return to work (although nobody expects full-time hours), a 3 day trip to the Alps for Heather's grade, and 2 or 3 parent meetings for Debbie.

Despite the flurry of activity, we miss you all terribly and think of everyone often. Please write, email, or call - it helps ease the home-sickness and lets us digest events as we relate them to you.

Take care and look for our next installment soon!
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram.