Ruined by Switzerland?

IMG_4749My regular followers might remember that I follow the blog One Big Yodel by Chantal Panozzo, an American expat from Chicago who recently returned to the Windy City after eight years in Switzerland.

Her most recent article, How Switzerland Ruined Me for America and Its Lousy Work Culture, has the expat community all abuzz. Panzanno writes about differences between Swiss (and really, European) Work-Life balance and what many Americans experience. For example, Swiss companies must give their employees at least 4 weeks of paid vacation a year, and we all know that maternity leave is better in many countries than here in the US.

Her points are well-taken, but, of course, she paints only a partial picture of life in Switzerland. Yes, the Swiss make better salaries, on the average, than Americans, but the prices in that country are extremely (and I mean it) high. From rents (very few people own real estate) to food, and that fabulous public transportation will run you a pretty Franc.

Another issue is that it is extremely difficult for foreigners to find work in Switzerland. An employer must prove that they cannot find a citizen for the job, and one must usually speak the language at a pretty decent level (this is no small effort as it takes at least several years to become somewhat fluent). If you work for an American country that moves you to Switzerland, that helps, but you generally do not know how long your contract there will be. I know people who have been there longer than they anticipated, and people whose contracts have been shortened.

It is not culturally easy to be an Ausländer in Switzerland, either. It can take years to feel as though you fit in. If you are not willing to live within the Swiss parameters and follow rules, and you like your freedom to be who you are and do whatever it is you please, it can be a tough adjustment.

Not all American jobs are as horrible as the one Panzanno was applying for in her article. Some are, but others are much better. I know that H and I are among the fortunate who have flexible time and enjoy our work, especially when it allowed us to spend a great year living in Zürich.

There’s always a trade-off.

Value Added Tax

palmI had a moment yesterday which showed me how I am still thinking European-style. We popped into a Tea Shop to buy a Boba Milk Tea, and I told H that I had the right change for the drink, handing him 25 cents to go with his bills. The price for the small was $3.25. Of course, the price ended up being $3.51 because, as we all know, there is sales tax to add on. (Well, except for those of you in Oregon, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Alaska where there is no sales tax.)

In Europe the VAT (Value Added Tax) is already figured into the price, so the posted price is what you pay. I appreciate that and it has apparently become a habit with me the past year.

Must adjust thinking.

Making Things Come out Even and Clean

Well, glampers, we are starting our last week here, trying to have fun between packing and cleaning. I have no idea how we accumulated anything. I was SURE that we were not bringing anything new into our flat. And yet, we have been finding creative ways to get rid of those things that have escaped our notice. I’ve taken some kitchen items to the American Women’s Club. I have given some things to friends. I have tried not to throw anything into the trash that can continue to live a happy life somewhere else. I’m trying to figure out how to recycle paper and cardboard since they won’t pick up again until August.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 6.59.21 PMI’ve done pretty well with some things, making them “come out even” as Frances the badger does in Bread and Jam for Frances. I like the part of this picture book where Frances has a goodly number of items in her lunch and eats each of them a little at a time so that it comes out even in the end. Her friend, Albert, does it, too. We will run out of certain consumable items this week, just enough to last us during our final few days. We’ve done remarkably well with timing things like the toothpaste and toilet paper, garbage bags (we pay about 2.2 CHF per 35 liter bag) and have too much in the way of some food items like condiments, but I’m sure I can pawn those off on give them away to someone.

We have read the two pages of rules for leaving a clean Swiss apartment. Our landlords, the ETH, will charge us 50 CHF an hour for work that is not up to their standards, and they have kindly offered to have our last bed linens washed (at our expense) the day we leave. They need to turn over the apartment the next day, so we must be out by noon. Having heard that some people can spend from 1500-2000 CHF for a cleaning crew, I’m sure that whatever they need to do after we clean can’t be nearly as expensive as other rental experiences. We shall see. Look for another blog post in a few weeks about how that all pans out.

What I Will Miss – Part Six: Ruhetag

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 5.11.27 PMWhen our AirBnB host gave us our orientation to Haarlem, I mentioned that we didn’t have to worry about stores being closed on Sundays since we would not be there on a Sunday. She smiled and said that actually many stores in Holland are open on Sundays.

One tourist complaint here is the lack of opportunity to spend money on Sunday. New expats wonder what might happen if one runs out of bread or milk on a Sunday. Nowadays there’s always a store open in train stations, so it’s rarely a dire condition, although inconvenient.

Now that we’ve gotten used to planning ahead for the Ruhetag (Rest Day), I have to say I really like it. On nice Sundays it’s a pleasure to wander by the lake and see families out with their children in strollers, or people sitting and watching the swans or reading books. The arboretum is also a pleasant place to enjoy a relaxing day.

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In Haarlem we did discover, however, that many shops close early on weekdays, which is undoubtedly lovely for the people who work there.

* * * *

What I will not miss: the reserved nature of the people on the street. I will be glad to see smiling faces out and about when I am home.

Swiss License Plates

License PlatesAlthough we still have three cantons left to visit, I have found license plates from all 26 to photograph. The last one – Appenzell Ausserrhoden – took me longer than I thought it would because I was looking for AA (or maybe AO), but when I looked up the abbreviations, I discovered that I should be looking for AR. For awhile I thought that maybe no one in Appenzell Ausserhoden drove a car.

Each plate has a two-letter abbreviation of the canton as well as a shield of the Swiss flag and the cantonal flag.

One interesting fact about licensing cars in Switzerland is that if you have two cars, and you only drive one at a time, you can buy insurance and plates for the more expensive of the two cars and switch the plates back and forth (apparently this is quite easy) between the cars as needed. You just need to remember to do so!

Buying a Car in the US When You Are Still in Switzerland

Ah, to be car free for nearly an entireScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 2.24.12 PM year! It’s been sublime, and I will blog tomorrow about how much I will miss the trains and trams here.

But all good things come to an end, and we must think about how we will get around Southern California since trains and trams and busses just won’t do for everyday travel.

Before we even came to Zürich, H had thought a lot about what kind of vehicle to get. We are the odd sort of folk who buy a fairly new car with low miles and drive it into the ground, or for over 10 years. We have not bought a car since 2001, so we are not overly experienced at the buying end of things.

Our list of desires? First, and most important, we want fuel-efficiency. Then I want a car that doesn’t sit too close to the ground so I can get in and out easily. We want a hatchback so we can occasionally bring home something large from Lowe’s. No black/dark interior for those hot So Cal days. Those were the priorities. The frivolousness that we imagined was having a red car.

For the past several weeks H has been working with a dealer in California via phone and texts, filling out forms online, waiting for forms to come via DHL. He’s been dealing with the insurance agent (who doesn’t work on Sundays, although the car salesman does – so we know he’s not in Switzerland!). It all seems to be coming together, with some great help from daughter, C, who took a check over to the dealership and will then drive the car to our house where it will wait patiently for our return.

The beauty of this plan lies in the fact that our first days and weeks back home will not be filled with car shopping, and we can hit the ground running (or really, driving).

We have opted to get a Ford CMax Energi Plug-in Hybrid. We’ve never bought a new car before, but we didn’t want to buy a used one without test driving it, and there are tax advantages to buying a new plug-in, as well as the warranty advantage.

And yes! It’s Red!

Swiss Elections: June 2015

Why would Sunday’s vote for a lower Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 2.41.54 PMRadio and TV bill be so close, I wondered, as I read the headlines on Monday. Only about 3700 people tipped this referendum over the top. As I blogged before, anyone with a tv, radio (even a car radio) or an internet connection must pay a licensing fee to the tune of 462 CHF per year in Switzerland.

With 50.08% in favor, the rate will now be 400 CHF per year. Who wouldn’t want a lower fee? Then I found this explanation, and it made a little more sense to me. Right now only the people who have such modern devices pay (and who doesn’t?). Of course, there are people who don’t pay. They don’t answer the door when the company comes by looking to see if you have any of these things. Now everyone will get a bill. Period.

I believe there is also some kind of reform in the works here, but it was not totally clear to me what that means. One newspaper said that national media giants and politicians “must go back over the books and return public service broadcasting to its original purpose. State money should produce programmes which are important for the country and which can’t be financed in the free economy.” That leaves me to wonder what has happened to public service broadcasting. Since we rarely watch tv, and I don’t know what used to be on, I cannot say what this all means.

Here is a discussion on the English Forum about the referendum.

Also on the ballot – the initiative to allow genetic prescreening of embryos passed, while a national inheritance tax and the student grant initiative (which would level the playing field throughout the 26 cantons) were both defeated.