Hop Suisse! Nyon railway station after the 2-1 victory over Ecuador

There was lots of celebrating going on around Nyon railway station last night after Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Ecuador in the 2014 World Cup. At big international matches this area of town often becomes a gathering point for those who want to celebrate. It’s noisy and it’s fun!

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Learning the language to help your integration into Switzerland

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Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais s’il vous plaît?  – Learning the language to help integration into Switzerland

Here is an excellent article written by Melina Hiralal on learning a language to help integration into  Switzerland.  She gives tips, hints and advice and recommends a good language learning website. Read on to find out how a recent trip to Australia made her reflect that language is more than a tool for integration, but is also a way of showing respect for the culture you are a guest of.

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Melina Hiralal is a cross cultural consultant and lives near Nyon and she works with companies, families and individuals offering training and assistance during both the expatriation and the repatriation process.  This is her second article in a series on expatriate issues  (read her first here)and says that sometimes, ”living in an unfamiliar culture is like watching a foreign film without sub-titles”. If  you would like advice from Melina you can contact her at hiralal.wolf@bluewin.ch

Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais s’il vous plaît?

We’ve all been in a shop or on public transport and heard variations of this sentence. Language is one of the primary tools needed to facilitate integration when you arrive at the new location which you will be calling home for the next couple of years. In the Lac Léman region, the answer will increasingly be “yes” and information can be exchanged and transactions made in a manner that is satisfactory to both parties. Language is also one of the keys to understanding the culture you are living in and a simple grasp of French enables you to participate in local, daily life. For many expats however, mastering the local language represents a real challenge as they often have no real need for it to accomplish the job they were hired for.  The Lac Léman area is filled with English-speakers and expats can definitely get by with little or no knowledge of French.

However, on a recent trip to Australia, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with an Aboriginal in Sydney who started by telling me that in order to speak his own language and tell his own stories during the tour (he was not a native of Sydney) he had needed to ask permission from the elders of the Sydney tribes. From Aboriginal Australia to La Côte, I realised that language is more than a tool for integration but also a way to show respect for the culture you are a guest of.  Plunging ahead in your mother-tongue without asking permission to use it is just plain rude in both hemispheres!  Asking permission first (using the local language) does not need perfect language skills and can be reduced to one sentence learned parrot-style. Starting conversations with this one sentence is more respectful; it will result in a more pleasant interaction with the local population, and will generate a lot more goodwill than doing the opposite. The Swiss, more than others, have an understanding of linguistic challenges and many have faced similar difficulties on crossing the language frontier of the “Rösti fence” at some point in their lives. Therefore, most will empathise and be respectful of your attempts. So how can an expat, with little time to devote to learning a new language, learn enough to get by and participate more in local life?

Benny Lewis from the website Fluent in Three Months strongly encourages immediately abandoning the mother-tongue wherever possible. This may seem daunting but he gives an easy example illustrating how this can be done. When visiting a restaurant, he recommends asking for both the English and the local menus. The layouts are often similar (sometimes there are even pictures) and the English menu will help you to choose what you would like to eat. When it comes to ordering, you use the local one and a combination of language and pointing will probably be enough to obtain what you want.

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Take language lessons: a true beginner will need to have a few lessons, and it can save time if you look for a course using teaching methods where language is taught in “chunks” or phrases that are useful, rather than those culminating in a dissertation on “Les Misérables”.

Join a local association: a brave friend of mine joined the local fire brigade and ended up not only learning better french but meeting his neighbours which increased his sense of belonging to the village.

Join a local club: pick an activity that you are already familiar with and instead of joining the expat one, join the local one; this can be anything from singing in a choir, playing bridge, sports-related, etc.

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 Take up a course: instead of a language course, pick a creative course from the long list of the Ecole Club Migros for example. Don’t be tempted by their few courses taught in English, and endeavour to learn how to cook Thai food, sew your own clothes, or do Ikebana all in French.  This is true learning by doing and when you miss “the middle bit” of the teacher’s explanation, you’ll just need to look around at what the others are doing and follow suit. As well as increasing your language competence and possibly learning a new skill, another positive aspect of all these activities is that you will meet new people. You may not become best friends, but they can be helpful sources of information for you. Finally, as familiarity grows, you will begin to feel less of a newcomer and more at home and at ease in your surroundings.

Photo below – Melina Hiralal

Melina Hiralal for blog

Film Review: The Laundry Room – Swiss Rules for Washing and Drying

Our second film review comes from writer Trish Thalman, who says this is a “poignant and sensitive film with moments of humour and candour” A film focusing on residents of an apartment building in Lausanne, people dealing with dirty laundry every day, physically and metaphorically.

“The Laundry Room”  -” La Clè de la Chambre à Lessive”   by Floriane Devigne and Frédéric Florey

Saturday 20 April at 14:00 – Salle Communale and Sunday 21 April at 19:30 – Capitole 1 cinema (72 mins)  

Link to buying tickets for this film on line here

“Claudina” holds the key!” In this case, the key to the communal laundry room of a low-rent apartment building in Lausanne. The inhabitants of the building are a mixture of people from Switzerland and various other countries and make up the Swiss ‘underclass’. The laundry room of the building is the size of a small storage room, in a clean and tidy, ground floor entrance area. It holds four washers and four dryers, and the door is locked. It is next to the elevator where people wait patiently for it to arrive. When it does arrive, it disgorges a number of people at one time. There is much activity throughout the day in the foyer, with the coming-and-going of the inhabitants.

La chambre a lessive

The new cleaning woman for the building is Claudina, a bright and lively woman who says that cleaning is hard work and not a terrific job. She is responsible for managing access to the laundry room. In the past, the laundry room did not operate according to any set rules and mostly there was chaos, arguments and a rogue key that kept getting “lost”.  Now Claudina will make an attempt at order with times and dates set for everyone to do his or her washing (“people need to follow rules”).  A white board with a colour code is designed and hung on the laundry room wall. We see that there is confusion and misunderstanding about how ‘the rules’ will work. Everyone has an opinion of how the rules should operate, mostly related to what suits them the best.

Residents sometimes don’t have the money to pay to do the laundry

Daily life goes on among the residents of the building. The police arrive. A recently single man is told he has to move to a smaller apartment (what shall he do with the furniture?) , a woman expresses her ambitions to work for Rolex (until she learns their workrooms are not in Lausanne). One day Claudina wonders why the people scheduled for the washing day have not come to use the laundry room. It is because  that week they do not have the money to pay to do the laundry.

The parade of colourful characters who spend time in the foyer ranges from a boisterous, edgy woman who doesn’t want her dirty laundry to be on TV (pointing to the security camera ‘eye’ in the laundry room), two young ‘wanna-be’ hip-hopsters in outlandish, trashy ‘bling’, four young girls posing and preening for the camera while engaging Claudina in a discussion about religion, and a sad, squabbling woman who quotes Zola and Jacques Brel when arguing with nearly everyone, especially Claudina.

All are dealing with dirty laundry every day, physically and metaphorically.

This is a poignant and sensitive film, with moments of humour and candour, patience and anxiety, along with the daily noise of washing machines and dryers.

Trish says “I particularly enjoyed the film, as I have learned to “follow rules’ for the laundry room in the apartment building where I live. The  key to the door was ‘lost’ a few years ago. The door is open all the time. A piece of paper is taped on the door with the names of who washes what day and what time. The system can work!”

Photo below – Trish Thalman

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Two more film reviews from Visions du Réel


Here are two more film reviews written by Karhy Morf on films that have been shown at Visions du Réel over the festival. If you missed seing any of these films, all is not lost, quite often they are shown again either on Swiss television or at the cinema later on in the year, if this should happen Living in Nyon will alert readers in advance.

Note: there are also some of the films already available in the festival “shop” which is in the Salle Communale over the festival period.   

The Table with the Dogs (Kathakali) by Cédric Martinelli and Julien Touati – Learning a traditional Indian dance style

Kathy says; “Ten years ago I saw my first Kathakali performance in southern India. The show was fascinating and like no other I had seen. This style of traditional dance-drama originated from Kerala in the seventeenth century. Dancing Bharatanatyam (south Indian classical dance) myself for four years in I can imagine the effort and hours that go into the training. I was surprised to see how well a foreigner was able to master the art in only a few years. After this movie you will understand that a good Kathakali dancer needs skill, immense concentration and physical stamina.”

Testing your body limits

 French choreographer and dancer Julien Touati joins the PSV Nathyasangham School in Kottakal (Kerala) for three years. He is the only white student in a class of young Indian men. Students can join the school at age thirteen and usually become accomplished dancers fourteen years later. Many of the youngsters that enter this type of school dedicate their lives to dance.

Training begins each day at 0:5:00a.m. The pupils begin by executing strenuous eye movements while they sit on woven mats on the cement floor. Then they smear oil on their bodies and cover themselves with a loincloth. One after the other they jump around the room like grasshoppers, doing stretches, arm movements, turning and twisting their bodies in all directions and running on the spot at breakneck speed. As they go through dance steps non-stop for hours sweat pours off their faces and bodies. Intricate mudras (hand gestures) are learnt tell a story on their own as well as a combination of eye and eyebrow movements. Their master joins in to show them what they have missed or still need to control. The teacher simply touches the students’ body to correct his position. The classes go on without much talking. The classes take place in a simple cement building. The rooms contain only the bare necessities. Wooden tables and benches are used to share a drink or meal.

Some learn to play musical instruments. A young boy learns to sings, trying to follow the tone of his teacher. When a mistake is made the he is immediately corrected and made to begin again until it is perfect. Each dancer must be ready to learn, listen and give his best from dawn to sunset. He is required to be obedient and work as long as the instructor feels is necessary.

Kathakali costumes are elaborate and prepared with care by skilled tailors. Each student takes at least an hour to do his make-up before a show. He paints his face, colours his eyes, puts on his jingles and the costume of the character he is going to represent. When the musicians are in place and the dancers are ready the show can begin.

Kathy also saw

“I was born on a spring day” – Road movie and discovering an absent father by Claudia Dessolis

“The solitary road journey takes us from Geneva to Marseille. The viewer gets a glimpse of unknown landscapes along the way, meets individuals learns about their lives. It is also the story about the film director’s absent father through a letter to his daughter. It takes some time to get used to the various different elements of the story. I enjoyed discovering the father through his letter and meeting the individuals on the road I often laughed at their stories. The movie also has you wondering what it means growing up with a father in jail.”  

From Geneva to Marseille

The film begins with a man’s voice, Claudia’s father, writing about his life from prison. He was born in Barbagia, Sardinia in 1942 in the interior mountain area of the impenetrable maquis (shrubland)which was also famous for its bandits and kidnappers. Many tried to conquer this region and after many efforts had no choice but to abandon it.

Claudia had her bag stolen which held many important personal contents that she will never get back again, like a picture of her sitting on her father’s lap. The trip stops to interview individuals that each have an interesting story to tell. The father’s voice comes in pieces, fragmenting the film, and goes on with his story.

She meets a variety of people on her journey from an elderly couple  that she speaks to through the closed gates of an old factory (she could not enter because of the presence of two guard dogs). The couple have lived there for the past twenty-three years to guard the factory which is located in the middle of nowhere. She then goes on to meet  a group of young people who sit  around and talk about why they don’t fit into the society anymore. A girl confides that she needs a lot of freedom and that her mother cannot offer enough. A man talks about eating a cat and how he made stew with it. It tasted exactly like rabbit stew.  A card reader shuffles the cards and lays them on the table. He reads Claudia’s fortune and tells her that she is beginning a new life with this movie and that it will never be the same again. She also meets a porno actor who freely explains what it is like having to perform well in front of the camera. He is scared with each film. Will he able to satisfy the woman and the film director? He does what the film director says. He enjoys what he does. These other individuals plus the children she meeets make this an interesting story.