I’ve just had one of my most enjoyable social hours since becoming a stay-at-home Dad and I may just have discovered how to meet Swiss people. And, it wasn’t even an hour – possibly only about 20 minutes or so.
Partly, I have myself to thank and partly I have a Swiss midwife called Sandrile. For myself, it’s because I’m a fairly social chap – almost always ready to put make myself vulnerable by going into social situations where I don’t know how they’ll turn out.
I had already done it once today. In BM – the magazine of the Bibliotheques Municipales de Geneve – I discovered that today there would a reading hour in the Paquis library for parents with children aged 0 to 2. And it’s in French. So I went along, feeling tired and with a cracking headache. When we got there, we discovered that although the session started at 10, the library wasn’t open until 3. Quite a bit of me wanted to go home at this point. But I stuck around and eventually I saw two women with babies going round the back of the library. I followed them and voila – it turns out that you have to go in the back. We were in. We were a small group, less than 10 parents, carers and staff. The staff read stories in French and explained about registering your child at the library and where to find books in different languages. And, to top off our experience, mtoto was given a pack of 3 books, which are usually given to all children born in Switzerland. The staff made an exception for him. Magnifique! I still had a cracking headache but we had had a good time. We read some great books in French including a lovely one about some animals on a tightrope. We also read a book about Elmer the elephant in the snow. Mtoto made me read it six times before I suggested we try something else.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the library was great practice for the afternoon. After lunch, we went out to the playground, as has recently become our routine. For the first time, we were alone in the Tunnel Slide Playground until a Russian woman and toddler joined us in the sandpit. The boys played together for a few minutes. Or rather, mtoto shared his toys with the Russian toddler who gratefully took mtoto’s and then wouldn’t share his own. As French was his mother’s and my only shared language it was all a bit confusing. Then it began to rain. They left and mtoto and I played football until I decided that rain had stopped play and I got him down so I could walk him into his nap.
I had a sense that something was about to happen and that I needed to be open. But I didn’t know what. So I prayed to be prepared for whatever came my way. I thought it was the Russian woman so I looked out for her again. And then I passed a group of around 8 women with babies, led by one older woman. The second time that I passed them, I heard a noise. I carried on. I heard the noise again. I stopped. Be open I reminded myself. Then I realised that the older woman was calling to me. Her name is Sandrile and she’s a midwife. She and 2 other midwives run a weekly free session for mothers, and why not, for fathers too, she said. They go for a walk every Tuesday in the same park, starting at 2pm. I could join them if I liked. It would have been easy to say no, so I said yes.
I had a lovely chat with Sandrile and then I got into step with a couple of mothers. I got to speak and hear some French and then one mother said “please speak English, it’s good for our babies to hear it”. This is how I can meet Swiss people – I can offer to speak English! I hadn’t realised that English might be a useful commodity.
Again, I didn’t change numbers with anyone. I think that all the other babies are around 18 months or so younger than mtoto, so they wouldn’t be much good for playing together. One of the positive aspects is that it seems to be a local group, which means opportunities to meet local Swiss people and good reason to keep practising my French, though I’m also prepared to speak English to help the Swiss babies!
One of the three midwives leads the group every Tuesday at 2pm from the Rue de Montchoisy gate. I’m sure I’ll be going back!