Saturday, May 26, 2007

Swiss reputation for tolerance under threat

Swiss reputation for tolerance under threat
By Sam Cage

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s reputation as a haven of tolerance for immigrants has been undermined in recent weeks by calls for a ban on new minarets, a mysterious synagogue blaze and neo-Nazi threats to disrupt national day celebrations.

Switzerland is known for public order and efficiency. Its neutral status and high living standards, as well as its need for lower cost workers, have historically attracted refugees from conflicts around Europe and the world.

But with rising immigration -- and lack of integration caused partly by tight laws on handing out Swiss passports -- religious and ethnic tension has been on the rise, particularly focusing on Muslims.

"There is always this feeling that Switzerland is a little island and you daren’t let anything in because it will destabilise it," said Clive Church, an expert on Swiss politics, recently retired from the University of Kent.

By the end of 2005, more than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents were foreigners, a higher proportion than in any other European country except Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Most of those are from Europe, with large communities from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, many of those Muslims who fled the conflicts there.

"Radical Islam is a huge foreign political factor," said Swiss culture and politics expert Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania. "None of the immigration before constituted an international threat. Now they do." Foreigners accounted for more than 40 percent of registered jobless in April, according to government figures.


A group of right-wing Swiss politicians has launched a campaign to ban the construction of minarets, claiming they are a symbol of power and threaten law and order.

The attempt to launch a national referendum on minarets has triggered widespread criticism but also attracted some support.

"There’s no doubt that the attack on the minarets is part of a larger picture of Islamophobia," said Church, who said the backlash -- if the ban became law -- could be comparable to a storm of protest last year caused by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad first published in Denmark.

Meanwhile organisers have threatened to cancel Switzerland’s traditional national day celebration on August 1 due to threats by right-wing groups to disrupt the event.

Neo-Nazis have disrupted the ceremony in recent years and shouted down then-President Samuel Schmid in 2005. And this week, police suspected arson in a fire that destroyed Geneva’s largest synagogue, although they have not ruled out an accidental blaze.

"Right extremism in Switzerland ... is a political and social reality," said a recent Racism in Switzerland report by the Zurich-based Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism. "Although this movement remains marginal, it has never been as strong numerically since 1945."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Household Shipment

Our surface shipment arrived last Tuesday. We've found a few broken items, but nothing major. Before we left we sold a few items, gave lots of stuff away, and took van loads worth of stuff to Goodwill. I'm amazed at the amount of junk we shipped over here.

The shipping container was temporarily misplaced. We had been told it was at customs in Geneva, but then we found out that the customs agent went to go clear our container and the container wasn't there. It seems it got left at the port in France for a few weeks.

We just got rid of the rental furniture on Monday, so we had a full house for a week. Now that the rental furniture is gone, we can actually walk in all of the rooms without bumping into sutff.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A family outing

Last weekend we ordered a second Ergo carrier ( and it arrived today. We decided to put it (and the attaching backpacks) to use on a hike. We headed North of Morges on the trail we took on Mother's Day. Having both kids on our backs made for a much quicker pace.

The trail went through forests, vineyards, and fields. After about an hour we cam into a clearing and saw Chateau de Vufflens on top of the next hill. We took a break below the castle and had lunch. We discovered that the our 1:15 walk could have been accomplished in about 5 minutes on the local train.

Pictures have been posted.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Customer Service

Yesterday morning we had to get two prescriptions for Niamh. One of the prescriptions was for a Benadryl like drug and I'm not sure exactly what the other is. We also wanteded to give Niamh some pain killer to help her sleep since she has at least one tooth coming in. We weren't sure if we could give her Motrin or Tylenol so I went back to the pharmacy to ask about it. Since they don't sell either Motrin or Tylenol, I asked if there were any issues with taking the prescribed drugs and a local child's pain killer.

The person at the pharmacy spoke very little English, but I was able to figure out that Niamh should be able to have the pain killer in addition to her prescriptions. Later that evening I got a call from the pharmacy from someone with excellent English skils who wanted to make sure my questions were answered. I was fairly impressed that they called.

No Hot Chocolate?

My department had a group lunch yesterday. After the meal almost everyone ordered a coffee and since I don't like coffee I ordered a Hot Chocolate. One of my co-workers explained that hot milk based drinks are normally not ordered after a meal. He told me that I run the risk of being laughed at if I order a Hot Chocolate after eating. Based on the large smile on the server's face, I think he might be correct.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

15 Francs to the hospital

Actually, it is 15 francs (CHF) from the train station to the hospital. It is 17 CHF from the hospital to our apartment.

Niamh ate a very small piece of egg and became rather unhappy. She got hives on her face and her skin became red. We gave her some Benedryl and then followed her normal evening process (bath, nurse, bed). About an hour later she started to cry and I went to check on her and there was vomit all over the floor, crib and Niamh. I walked across the street to the urgent care facility and discovered that it had closed 30 minutes earlier.

We debated for another half an hour on whether we should take her to the hospital. About 9 we decided she should go to the hospital. We didn't have enough cash, so I had to visit the ATM down the street. About 9:20 Niamh, her car seat and I headed to the train station to get a cab. The cab driver didn't speak English and I had to say "hopital" (there should be an ^ over the o) three or four times before he figured out what I meant. Once he realized that I wanted to go to the hospital he quickly tossed the car seat into the trunk and drove out of the parking lot at something either at or slightly above what any normal person would consider a safe speed. The trip to the hospital only took about 5 minutes and we probably could have driven a bit slower and been ok.

The emergency room is quite nice. We did have to fill out a little paperwork-actually I handed the clerk Niamh's residence permit and insurance card and he did all the paperwork. While that was happening a boy came in holding his chest or maybe his arm and was screaming really loud (even louder than Niamh). I found out later that he had broken his arm in multiple places.
We had to wait a bit to be seen due to the boy, so we paced around the waiting area looking for brochures on allergies. A woman who was waiting for her friend asked me what was wrong with Niamh (in French) and I replied 'je ne parle pas francais.' She quickly switched to English. She seemed to know a lot about food allergies.

The nurse saw Niamh after about 10 minutes. She took her temperature\weight and said she was going to page a doctor. It took about 30 minutes to get a doctor who spoke English. She examined Niamh and gave her some stronger drugs, two prescriptions, and permission to leave. She also mentioned that we should bring her back if it happens again and should visit our doctor to discuss possible tests (Appointment had already been made for 13 June). The security guard called for a taxi and we left.

Tomorrow we get to experience take prescriptions to the pharmacy and figuring out how insurance actually works here.

Car Free

We've decided to try to be car free for a while. Yesterday we signed up with Mobility (, which is a car sharing service. They have five cars at the local train station (4 blocks away). We've signed up for the 4 month trial period. I think it should work fine, because almost everything is in walking distance.

I should get my pin number this week and I hope to try it out this weekend.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

House Update!

The house is "subject to inspection." Not much else to report.

Frecnh lesson pdate

French lessons seem to be going OK. I've had a successful trip to the bakery. Well, we did switch to English after she asked if I wanted a bag to put the items in, but I'm still counting it as successful.

I was also able to get a printer cartridge at the grocery store using only French. They are kept behind the counter, so I had to ask for it. I think the clerk knew I wanted a printer cartridge, but I think she thought I wanted 21 of them. In reality, I wanted cartridge number 21.

We covered 'to be' and 'to have' last week. I think this week we will spend more time on 'to have' and 'to not have.' We only have one lesson this week because Thursday is a national holiday (Ascension).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A train ride without screaming

We took the train into Lausanne today in search of our favorite things (book store, toy store, and chocolate store) and Rowan didn't cry at all. We weren't at the station very long, so we didn't see any trains 'woosh' by without stopping. In the past it didn't matter if trains went by or not, there has always been lots of screaming.

We found two books stores. FNC (cannot find link) is more of an electronics store with a portion dedicated to books, while Payot ( only has books. Payot has a much better English language selection than FNC. Both are about an eight minute walk from the Lausanne train station.

We also found the toy store and the chocolate store, but didn't go in. The toy store is too croweded for a stroller and the chocolate store didn't have what Emily was looking for. She must have been looking for some big pieces, as she could tell from outside that the store didn't have what she wanted.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A trip to Geneva

One of my co-workers had a party at her apartment in Geneva last week. One of the guys on the team drove and three of us went with him. We had very clear instrcutions on how to get there, but we ran into a few problems. All went well until we got of the expressway. We ended up going in circles and having to ask for directions 2 or 3 times. It was fairly amusing since two of the people speak\read French and I think all three had been to the old Agilent office that is only a couple blocks from where we were going.

French Lessons

French lessons started two weeks ago. The instructor comes to our house on Monday and Thursday for 3 hours. She works with me for 90 minutes and then with Emily. I'm making progress, but I'll need more than the 150 hours the company is providing. I should have taken French instead of Latin in high school.

I'm fairly confident that I can carry on a conversation as long as it is limited to the following topics:
  • Name
  • Gender
  • City of residence
  • Nationality
  • How we are feeling
  • Basic descriptive info (tall, short, thin, hair color)
  • Languges spoken
  • Spelling
  • Counting to 10

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Swiss holidays

Someone asked about Swiss holidays a few months ago and I don't think I ever responded. Here are the holidays I don't have to work:

New Year's Day
Good Friday
Easter Monday
Ascension Day
August 1st (National founding was on Aug 1, 1291)
Jeune Federal
Stephen's Day

Jeune Federal should have a ^ over the u and Federal should have ' over the e's. The vacation days differ by canton. Here in Vaud I think we just get the basics. I believe that the law requires all employees to receive 4 weeks of vacation a year. It is either law or company policy that at some point each year everyone has to take two consecutive weeks off.