Bernadette’s Take on
Denise Babb, Montreal, Quebec
Raised with Heidi and Little Edelweiss
Let’s make a scientific experiment: If a person in Canada grows up with William Tell and books like “Little Edelweiss” and “Heidi”, that person becomes addicted to all things Swiss.
You don’t believe me?
I have proof. Living proof. The person`s name is Denise Babb. She lives in Pointe-Claire on the island of Montreal most of the time. But she tries to visit Switzerland every year. Every year!
Denise, a 71-year-old retired teacher, cannot be deterred.
Once she went to see a very good friend in the United States. In Texas. Fort Worth. You get what I mean. Lots of gold there.
“The friend tried to persuade me to move to Fort Worth. But shortly after that I went to Switzerland. And on the train between Geneva and Lausanne, gazing out of the window at the manicured landscape of rolling vineyards and orchards on one side, and the towering Alps mirrored on Lac Léman on the other … and then it hit me: Who in their right mind would ever want to live in Texas if you could choose to live in Switzerland?”
Wow. Wow. Wow. Switzerland, have you heard this?
It cannot get better than this.
Denise loves the beauty of Switzerland. And the cleanliness.
And the efficiency and practicality of the Swiss.
Their ingenuity to do things properly.
The use of quality material.
(Do you know what the red part is in the Swiss flag? That is when Switzerland blushes, hearing Denise’s compliments.)
There she is! In the Jura area of the canton Vaud. In this picture, we see Denise Babb in 1974 with her two Swiss uncles (you will read about them below!) Dr. Paul-Louis Pelet and Dr. J. Aubert. And there is Denise`s son Stéphane and her daughter Joanne. (Photo courtesy of Denise Babb)
Denise was five when she traveled to Switzerland for the first time, to the canton Vaud where most her relatives still live. It was in 1947. Her Swiss grandfather was dying but she did not know this then. She only saw him for a few days but never forgot him.
“My mother was Swiss”, Denise says. “My father was Greek but he grew up in Switzerland. They lived in the Lausanne area and met at a festive gathering of young people in the thirties.”
And here she is again in Switzerland in 1974 with her husband Kenrick Babb from Trinidad and her Swiss aunt Cécile Aubert-Pelet and uncle Paul Pelet. Don’t drop your camera, Denise, we need more pictures! (Photo courtesy of Denise Babb).
Her parents emigrated to Canada because her father wanted to start a business as a physiotherapist and sports trainer. “My father went first and my mother left a year or two later”, Denise says. “The war precipitated her departure.”
Denise was born in Montreal. Her parents inundated her with Swiss memories, she says: “My father told me about skiing in the morning and sailing in the afternoon on Lac Léman, about hiking to glaciers and to snowy summits high above the clouds.” And her mother told her bedtime stories about Heidi and Little Edelweiss and William Tell. About courageous mountain people fighting for their independence. “Special days were celebrated with röschti and cervelats, fondue and raclette”, Denise says. “The cheeses had to be ordered in the 1940’s and 50’s.”
Denise saw Switzerland again when she was eleven and after that, when she was 19.
And then she just kept returning.
She got married and her husband worked for Air Canada. “I could visit much more regularly”, Denise says, “every two years and later pretty much every year.”
Her Swiss relatives fascinated her.
“I had two uncles who are professors. One was a historian who took me to old water mills in the canton Wallis and the canton Vaud as well as his archeological digs of roman smelting ovens. The other uncle was an entomologist who built an observatory near the Cold de Cou at Bretolet where I spent happy times working with him.”
“They all seemed capable of naming everything around them”, she recalls, “plants, insects, rocks, physical features and tell stories related to these things. They all appeared involved in some way with social justice.”
For a long time Denise thought that all the Swiss were like her relatives.
She thinks her Swiss relatives reflect the country.
It took those guys a bit longer to come to Canada. 38 years, to be exact, before the first relative came to Quebec.
And then of course they were awed by the vastness and THE SPACE.
Denise was an elementary school teacher who taught children French as a second language and French immersion.
With her students, she often sang some of the Swiss songs she had learned from her mother. They all left her class knowing how to find Switzerland on a world map!
Over the years, she saw the face of Switzerland changing. One of her cousins married a Malaysian. Their daughter is with a young man from Egypt. Other family additions are from Belgium, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Madagascar. Denise’ husband of 44 years was a Trinidadian.
Today, she says: “It is exciting to witness inclusion and mixing finally coming to Switzerland, although at times it is still accompanied by much ranting and raving about preserving the ‘purity’ of Swissness…”
Personally, she says, she has never experienced anything negative in Switzerland.
“I have only seen the beautiful side”, she says. “The negative aspects I have only read in the newspapers or heard while discussing current issues with my cousins while sipping Williamine around the coffee table.”
(I had to look up what Williamine is: a brand of Poire Williams, an eau de vie produced with Williams pears, in Martigny, Canton of Valais, Switzerland.)
But Denise wants to see much more of Switzerland. She has mainly visited the French speaking regions.
And that is not where William Tell and Heidi come from.
Here the Can-Swiss Quiz with Denise Babb:
What gift do you bring home from Switzerland to Canada?
From Switzerland: Gruyere cheese, alpine cheese, cheese fondue mix, meringues, chocolate, cookies from the Swiss canton Graubünden, Läckerli (cookies from the canton Basel) – yummy!
What product(s) do you miss most in Canada?
It’s not a product, it’s a life style which translates into the courtesy of service, no matter where, the efficiency of all public transport, and the care to make visible things beautiful … even if it is binding. Access to waterfront and water activities in all towns I have visited, and without the constraints of always having a life guard present.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?
Who is that? The person from Geneva? From Zurich? From the canton Vaud? The person from the canton Ticino? The only thing I see in common, which I admire, is: they all have had access to excellent education and apprenticeships.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?
Generally, openness and friendliness.
What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?
Although the salaries are high, the costs of living in Geneva and Lausanne: rent, insurances, food.
Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?
Right now, a radio biography of my childhood hero, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, brought him back to the forefront.
Former Governor General and journalist Michaëlle Jean for representing the face and attitude of many Canadians.
(Denise, despite his name, Albert Schweitzer was German and reinstated his parents’ French citizenship later, but you know, we don’t mind him becoming Swiss as well. We are very hospitable.)