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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

My town: St-Prex and the Indians


Saint-Prex, Lake Geneva, February evening, 2006

Swiss and more

St-Prex is a quiet Swiss town of about 5,000 souls, on Lake Geneva. It is also, like so many of the towns here, surprisingly international. A very slight majority of citizens are Swiss. Waves of immigrants over the years have created small pockets of Italians, who came to work in the glass and bottle factory, followed by Spanish and Portugese, who replaced the Italians. The grandchildren of the Italian factory workers are now becoming adults and holding jobs that make the older generation proud.

More recently, people from the countries that once formed Yugoslavia and a handful of Africans have moved here.

When my son went to his first day of primary school 13 years ago in the old town's (Vieux bourg) school, built in 1912, 65% of the children in the class of 19 had a nationality that was not Swiss, although some had two or even three nationalities. It was not uncommon to hear languages other than French. If French was not the language at home the children were required to stay after school to do their homework under the supervision of a French speaker.

Children are integrated into the community, but tolerance for and even interest in non-Swiss cultures and languages is high. At the supermarket I almost always hear at least two other languages spoken, often more. French, German, Italian, English, Dutch, Portugese and Spanish are common.

India arrives

An outsider, or foreigner, will therefore rarely raise eyebrows but for the next few weeks Saint-Prex residents (called Saint-Preyards) will be surprised to see waves of visiting Indians, nearly 1,000 in total during six weeks. Young Indians have not often lived or even visited here. I remember only one Indian boy from my son's early school days and no other Asians.

The rapid development of the Indian economy is creating a new class of business people with money and an interest in travel. These visitors - MBA students from IIPM, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management - will be tomorrow's tourists and business partners. They are in Switzerland for one to two weeks as part of their Global Outreach program. It introduces them to businesses, international organizations and the economic fabric of other societies, in this case Switzerland. They attend seminars in St-Prex, including one I offer on crises and corporate communications.

When in St-Prex . . .

This group will undoubtedly be like the first students who visited the village last year. Academic work finished, they walk around the old town and the lakefront, sample the local food, compare prices at the supermarkets, and the more adventuresome hike briefly up into the vineyards at the edge of town. They buy chocolate and wine and cigarettes and ask about presents to take back to their families. They are astonished at the beauty and neatness here and at the fact we call St-Prex a village or town. In India, a mere 5,000 people are a neighborhood or small hamlet, one group of students told me.

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