Lausanne, Switzerland — It's a bit like when Mom finds her tiny daughter decked out in jewelry, eye shadow, and lipstick. So, this week, Switzerland meets Lebanon, would-be Switzerland of the Middle East.
This normally staid, lakeside town doesn't know quite what to make of Lebanon's rival warlords - nor of the barbed wire, sandbags, and police dogs brought in to make sure the reconciliation talks stick to reconciliation.
Posh hotels like the Beau Rivage, where the parley is convening, are more used to playing host to bridge clubs or backgammon tournaments than Mideast politicos and their everpresent bodyguards. For one of the young telephone operators hired to cope with the accompanying army of foreign journalists, the whole experience is a bit like being a war correspondent. Maybe, she quips, the operators should get combat pay for running the phones.
Townsfolk like Denise Nuesch, who runs a newspaper shop near the hotel, wish the warlords well.
''The most awful thing is the children, the innocents, who are getting killed. . . . I'm frankly skeptical,'' she says, of talk about redesigning Lebanon on the line of Switzerland's coexisting French, German, and Italian-speaking cantons. ''Generally I don't pay attention to politics. But just listening to our regular customers, I'd say everyone is pessimistic.''
A chic, matronly saleswoman at the local Yves St. Laurent clothing shop is less circumspect:
''You have to be Swiss to make cantons,'' she announces, as if telling a child for the first time that there isn't a Santa Claus. ''The Lebanese are not going to be the ones to make this work.''
Skeptical or not, Lausanne wants very much to see Lebanon's bickering visitors go home friends. ''Ah, that would be fantastic,'' gushes Marguerite Zuigg, whose shop provides newspapers and flowers for the conference. ''So far, more newspapers than flowers. . . . Cantons work well here. We get along fine. Why not there?''
One of the many pistol-toting Swiss security men around the hotel agrees. ''Why shouldn't the idea work?'' But he adds: ''From reading what your journalistic colleagues in there are writing, I can't say I'm optimistic.''
Christine Moeud, a hairdresser in a beauty parlor near Lausanne's lake, says she has no idea precisely what the Lebanese were fighting about. Permanents, not politics, are her business.
But can Lebanese, like Swiss, live together?
She smiles and says with impeccable logic: ''If they conduct politics the way we do here, why not?''