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Switzerland natives enlighten Rotary on Swiss culture

The Greenville Rotary Club is well accustomed to receiving guests from outside of the Butler County community, but rarely do those guests hail from 4,800 miles away.

A duo hailing all the way from Switzerland graced this week’s Rotary meeting as guests of Rotarian Charles Newton.  Fifteen-year-old Romane Arnoux and her cousin, 16-year-old Sanae Arnoux, made the pilgrimage to Alabama to spend a month with Newton and his wife, Jan.

According to Newton, the story of how the pair came to spend a month living a quiet Southern life with him this summer dates back to a random flight from Mexico in 1983, when he and his wife happened to be seated next to a young Swiss man on the plane.

“This young man we were sitting next to said ‘I don’t speak English,’ but he did,” Newton said.  “He spoke enough so that we learned his name was Pascal Arnoux.  He was 21 years old, and he was from Switzerland, and he was by himself.  He’d been to Mexico and now he was in the United States, and he was just a young man who enjoyed seeing the world.

“We enjoyed our conversation with him on the plan, and when we landed we exchanged mailing addresses. This was back when we didn’t have emails, so we wrote him and he wrote us and we enjoyed a correspondence for several years.”

Arnoux would visit the Newtons six years later with his newlywed wife, and the Newtons would return the visit in 1997 on a trip to Switzerland.

Fast forward a few decades and the Arnoux family now have a son and three daughters.  Throughout the years, two of those daughters have been to Greenville to visit the Newtons.  It was Romane’s turn this year, as well as her cousin, Sanae, who stopped by Rotary to share a little about themselves and their homeland.

Romane and Sanae each introduced themselves in turn in French, followed by an English translation.

“We are happy to tell you about Switzerland,” Romane said. “It’s a wonderful country. Switzerland is famous for its excellent watches, cheese and chocolates. These things are made in many cities all across our country.”

“Switzerland is also famous for perhaps the world’s greatest tennis player, Roger Federer,” chimed Sanae. “He has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any man.  And he won Wimbledon this year at age 35.”

The duo also spoke of Switzerland’s rich heritage of culture, sharing borders with Germany, Austria, France and Italy.  As a result, Switzerland has four official languages: French, German, French and Romansh, a descendant of the Latin language.

The pair also remarked on Switzerland’s rich history, noting its founding in 1291. 

The Newtons attempted to share American culture with the Arnoux cousins, each in their own way and each with varying degrees of success.

“I took them to Pioneer Cemetery here in Greenville, so that I could explain to them that that’s the grave of William Butler.  Jan took them to Disney World,” Newton said flatly, to the laughter of a Rotary crowd.  “You can sort of get a feel for which one they liked more.

“I was trying to give them a flavor of Alabama by telling them who William Butler was, and how he was killed by the Indians and buried in 1818, and the next year in 1819 Alabama became a state.  They said ‘Switzerland was 500 years old by then,’” he added with a laugh. “I’ve learned a lot about them, and Jan and I have just been thrilled to have them in our home.”