A Page From The Swiss Rule Book: Leaving Switzerland

For as hard as Switzerland is to get into as a resident, they surprisingly make it pretty hard to leave.   In the US, you just notify the post office, send friends & family a “New Address” card, and you are off.

Here are a few differences we encountered:

Uber-notification.   Globo Gym requires 3 months notice by registered post.    So I have to go to a post office, pay CHF 6 to send them a letter, signed in blue ink, by us.    Also required as an attachment is an official letter from the company or a copy of a one-way plane ticket showing your departure.   We ourselves received five weeks notice on our move, and still don’t even know where we are officially going.   I actually composed the letter the day I received the official notification from Gabe’s company we had to depart Geneva.  While it was Dec 4, and we were leaving Jan 14, I figured we’d have to eat the other 7 weeks of membership.   In turn, I received a letter notifying us our membership was cancelled effective APRIL 1, 2013.   My Dec 4 letter wouldn’t take affect until the next first of the next month..January 1.   So, we are looking forward to paying 750 CHF extra in gym fees AFTER we leave.  This is coming from a gym we belonged to for 20 months.

Permission to leave.   Before we can cancel things like our mobile phone or our internet, we have to have a letter from the canton (equivalent of county in the States) saying they acknowledge our departure. It also serves as a guarantee you are going to pay all your debts before you move, like your phone & electricity.   This becomes a problem when you get short notice like us.  You need the letter to do things….but you don’t know when/where you are going, so you don’t have firm details in order to secure the letter.

Flawlessness.   I had a Pre-Inspection one month prior to the move, so they could detect anything wrong with the flat so we’d have time to fix it.      I nervously cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and used an entire box of my imported Magic Erasers to clean up scuffs, deep clean the sink, and stove, before the committee was to come.    Even with my bad French, I knew the gentlemen muttering ” dommage” and “dégât” was not good news.   Before this, I thought “dégat” was reserved for circumstances like tornados and hurricanes but apparently not in the eyes of the Swiss.   Our  small apartment inhabited by just 2, no pets, for 1.5 years, and cleaned by me for a solid day, was in his mind, a ‘disastrous situation’.   Floor technicians – an actual hardwood company – had to be hired to address the scuff marks and scratch he saw.   Additionally, we had hung 20 paintings/photos on our walls.  I had to show evidence I’d paid a painter (CHF 150, in fact) to patch my holes….they required evidence of a professional….no DIY putty jobs here in Switzerland.

Also, after your movers come, you are required to hire a professional cleaning crew.    While Gabe’s company kindly helps us with this, this crew costs 1042 Swiss francs, so like 1200 USD for cleaning a tiny apartment.  Insanity.  And maybe I should’ve been a cleaning lady here.

Soon after, comes the Final Inspection.  This is where the committee judges your final work and decides if you are allowed to leave.   Not to put any stress on the plane tickets you have for the next day.

Turning Out the Lights.   In Europe, you have to provide your own light fixtures.  So, we had to purchase them or either live with a lone lightbulb dangling from each room.   We requested that we are happy to leave our fixtures here for the benefit of the next renter, since we cannot use them in the United States.  Perhaps it could save them a few hundred francs we wished we didn’t have to spend?   This was debated and in the end, we are allowed to leave OUR light fixtures here in our apartment….as long as we promised each would have fresh new bulbs.  It was cheaper than hiring an electrician, which is required for the electrical work to install and take down your fixtures.

Too bad one of the bulbs got stuck and we ended up having to hire an emergency electrician to help us out in changing to a new fixture to comply with the agreement.

Letting in Strangers. Even though we are renters, we are obligated to show people the flat who are interested in becoming the next tenants.   While it didn’t happen to us with our crazy tight timing, it would be expected that arrange our schedule we show them around, with a complete tour.   Isn’t this nuts for renters to have to do this?

Immediate Bank Account Closure.  You have 90 days to transfer all funds out of Switzerland.   These days, they aren’t too keen on Americans due to the US regulations which forced Switzerland to turn over private banking information.  Thus, you are only allowed Swiss bank accounts now as a resident.    You are given 90 days of course, so you can make sure to pay all those bills you owe from your move.  Ouch.

Oh, Switzerland, how I’m gonna miss your rules.

Switzerland’s Unsolved Mysteries

It makes me a little sad that it is time to leave, yet I haven’t solved some of Switzerland’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries.  Such as:

#1 :  Why doesn’t anyone carry water bottles in public in urban areas?    Sure, they order a petite bottle of Valser occasionally at the restaurant, but how do the city Swiss stay hydrated?  Whenever you are out in the urban Swiss cities, you never seeing people drinking water.  I know it is not as common to drink-on-the-go or eat-on-the-go here, but seriously, how do you stay hydrated???? Do you do it in secret?

#2:  Why are gym clothes so taboo?   I recall the time the fire alarm went off at Globo Gym, in the summer, mind you, and the attendants came running out with towels for everyone to cover up.   In 80 degree weather.    I think that I am the only person who wears gym clothes in public in Geneva.   Granted, I only do so when going to the gym, but why is there such a stigma around this?    The looks I get of confusion and pity are far worse than those given to homeless people on the streets.

#3:  Why the tram cram?  In a country known for order and discipline, why must everyone act in a “survival of the fittest” fashion when it comes to getting on & off buses, trams and trains?   I’ve witnessed old ladies being shoved out of the way in the hurry to hop aboard.  Why no line, people??

#4: Why does no one in Europe take a carry on bag onto planes?   Even the tiniest bag gets checked!  As a business traveler, I am used to packing everything in a carry on and never parting with it unless forced by a flight attendant.  It saves time and also risk of losing a bag on a short trip and not have access to your things.  What’s the secret here?

If you have any mysteries of your own or answers to these deep and meaningful inquiries, please leave a comment below!

The reasons we’ll miss Europe….and the reasons why we are excited to come home

Our time is running short.   There are lots of lists on the blog lately, but I thought I’d sum up our list on what we’ll miss and what we are excited to come home to.    If you are friends & family, it goes without saying….we can’t wait to see you and on the flipside to new Geneva friends, we’ll miss you.  So, here is the rundown of all the other things:

Why we will miss Geneva / Europe:

Respect for environment – Sure I may complain about the time it takes to recycle here, but these guys sure do have their stuff together when it comes to less waste.  And I challenge you to count the amount of to-go cups, bottles, you see walking around Geneva.  You may get to ten in one day of counting.   People don’t take the lazy way out as much as we do in the US.

In the end, I got used to separating 8 different types of recyclables and taking them to different places each week

Food supply – It’s nice not to question if your food is good for you or not.  I’m not talking about BigMacs here either.  In the USA, you always have to question what drugs your meat has been given and whether your apple has been hyped up with steroids. In Europe, these horrific practices are illegal.  We’ll be buying organic when we return. Our bodies have never felt better during our time in Geneva.

The Plainpalais farmer’s market

Pace – We have a really nice balance here.  Stores are closed after 7pm and on Sundays so that employees can spend time with their families.  Vacation time is revered & respected in Europe.   In the USA, people (including yours truly) tend to wear stress like a badge of honor.   I’ve heard it called “the rush to the grave”.  We will miss the slower pace here.
Public transport – It’s awesome not to get road rage from a car.  Not having driven the entire 1.5 years we lived in Europe, it is actually a refreshing change.  Also, it’s nice not to figure out who is driving when we go out for dinner or drinks….the bus is our automatic designated driver.

Hermes tram, I’m gonna miss you!

Squares/plazas – There is not much better in Europe that hanging out in a square / plaza, piazza, place or platz.   We love doing this when traveling.  We’ll miss having many options just walking distance from our flat.

Place du Molard, one of our favorites

Fashion – This was Gabe’s.  He enjoys the variety and trendiness.   This is actually not on my list….see point #4 below.

The man scarf with a tee shirt is popular here.

Multiculturalism – We are constantly surrounded by different cultures and traditions.  It is very eye-opening to have exposure to friends and co-workers from all over the world, who open our minds to new views.  We have learned a lot from them.
Easy International Travel – What do you mean we can’t jet off to Italy for the night?  This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest things we miss.  We loved the accessibility to new and different places in Europe.
Being uncomfortable daily – There is a quote from one of my favorite brands, Lululemon, that says “do something everyday that scares you”.   Living in Europe as a foreigner has given us plenty of opportunities for this saying.  Every day, we have our challenges.  And, I think it is good for us.  It has given us a real sense of adaptability and also humility.

Geneva can be a little cold & lonely. But that can be good.

Why we are excited to come home:

 
Customer service – We have been stripped of any expectation of customer service during our time in Europe.  Forget a waiter checking on you or actually having a issue resolved.  In Switzerland, the store owner is always right and you should feel indebted to him for being allowed to even enter their establishment.
Speed/efficiency – Being a person who loves things done fast, I had to give up on any shred of this in Switzerland.  Hello, bureaucracy.  Can’t wait to go back to the States where speed is a virtue.
Being able to read things – I look forward to understand packaging and all signs.  Okay, maybe not political signs but all the other ones.

Hopefully I won’t buy the wrong ingredients anymore!

Not walking all our groceries home – as charming as walking everywhere is, hauling all your goods on your back is not so charming.  More like sweat and tear inducing.  I will vow to take my bike to the farmers market, bakery and occasionally the Harris Teeter, but will be happy never to have to carry all our groceries up “devil hill” anymore.

Won’t miss you, grocery cart thing

Gym clothes are okay – As someone who has gotten worse looks that the average Geneva homeless person, I can’t wait to get back to a country where it isn’t a crime to grocery shop in your lululemon. Seriously, people.  How do you wear your stilettos on cobblestones anyhow?

Grilling – oh how we have missed the deliciousness of grilled meat.  the fun of a backyard BBQ.  Corn on the cob. Baked beans. Steaks that actually taste good.  Mmmmmm.

No more fake grill

Laundry horror stories  – Having a load of laundry take less than an hour……heaven.

Won’t miss the 5 hour load, or having restricted hours!

Closet space – in Charlotte, my closet was actually the previous owners’ nursery.   Moving into a closet that was smaller than any broom closet I’ve ever seen, my clothing will be very happy to spread out. Even sharing with my hubby still gives both of us each 6x the room we have in Switzerland.

Lack of cobblestones – Sure cobblestones add charm and character.  But living with them and walking on them in day-to-day living can grow old.  I’m excited for some flat pavement.

Control over our own thermostat.  Living in a flat, we are at the mercy of when the regie thinks it is appropriate to turn on the heat in the winter.  Also, as much as we got accustomed to living without air conditioning, it can be hard to sleep in 95 degree heat sans A/C.  We’ll use our heat and A/C more sparingly now but will be awesome to have control again.

I was always one cold ducky

Green Energy

Gabe is a big fan of alternative / renewable forms of energy.  We’ve been able to see many examples of green energy sources during our time in Europe.

Windmills are very common, dotting the mountainous landscapes to take advantage of the wind energy.

Windmills in the Aosta valley of Italy

Windmills in the Aosta valley of Italy

Windmills in Eastern France, on the way to Champagne

Windmills in Eastern France, near Dijon

Windmills in the water, near Copenhagen, Denmark

Windmills in Scotland in the Midlands

Windmills in Scotland in the Midlands

We also have seen several examples of cool solar energy in Europe:

Solar parking lot near Bordeaux, France – this was enormous.  The panels both gathered energy and protected the cars from the elements

Solar powered parking machine in Vienna

Solar powered parking machine in Vienna

Switzerland in particular makes excellent us of hydropower with its alpine streams and vertical topography.  It produces over 50% of Switzerland’s energy.

Switzerland harnesses their natural treasures into energy

Switzerland harnesses their natural treasures into energy

We both think it is pretty neat how Europeans invest in protecting their environment, with their concern for recycling, reduced packaging/disposable materials, and using combinations of green energy.

 

Riding In On A Broomstick: Italy’s Christmas Heroine

I thought I had completed my Christmas market circuit across Europe.  That is until we hit Rome for New Years.   On an evening stroll, we came across market stalls in Piazza Navona.

“Christmas markets!”  I exclaimed with glee.

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Carousel & game stalls

Carousel & game stalls for children

Upon closer look, we were a little creeped out.   Witches were covering the tents, stacked in baskets, and the proprietors were waving their hands in the air, prompting them to all howl and cackle.  What the heck?  Delayed Halloween Italian-style??

Witches, everywhere!!

Witches in the air

Baskets of witches

Baskets of witches, everywhere!

A rack o witches

A rack o’ witches

We spotted a cute cappuccino ornament and got it for our travel tree to remember Italy.    When the shopkeeper responded to my bad Italian by saying, “eight”, I got the courage to ask her  in English what the meaning of the witch was.  She looked perplexed.  I indicated to the hundreds of old ladies riding brooms hanging from her booth, with puzzled eyes.

Strings of Befanas

Strings of witches

“Ah, Befana,” she said, “Good luck for New Year.”

I Googled it later.

In Italy, “Befana” is not a witch, but merely an old lady who rides a broomstick and delivers presents to good Italian children. There are many interpretations of the legend, one being that the wise men wanted to stay at her inn, but she was too busy doing the housework/sweeping.  She later realized the importance of their journey and then seeks to find Baby Jesus to deliver presents but never found him.  The story nowadays is that she searches in every house looking for Baby Jesus, leaving small presents if she doesn’t find him, as the presence of Christ is found in all children.

DSC_0409

The friendliest Befana we found

We bought a little broom to remember Befana.    For more interesting Christmas figures, be sure to check out Schwingen In Switzerland’s Schmultzi, St Nicolas Vigilante Style.

 

European Fashion: The Man Bag

While I admit that I don’t quite “fit in” here when it comes to fashion, I do enjoy checking out the trends.    What’s different than the US?    Overall, men dress in more tailored gear here in Europe.     They often wear dark skinny jeans, tees, and man scarfs.     They rarely ever wear baggy clothing, polo shirts, any logo gear, or athletic shoes / clothing in public.

Today, we are going to explore the fashion phenomenon of the “man bag”.

Man bags come in many shapes and sizes.  They are prevalent across Europe.   Sometimes they are large, for carrying gym clothes and other odds and ends, and sometimes they are small, more like a purse, or as I like to call it, a “murse”.

Here are a few shots from day-to-day life in Europe so you can get an idea of the variety:

Man Bag #1.   I’d say it is more of a “murse” than a man bag.

Man Bag #2.  More of a work messenger bag.

Man Bag #3. Dublin, Ireland.  This athletic style is very popular.

Man Bag #4. Dublin, Ireland.  Another fairly common black athletic style.

Man Bag #5. Montreux, Switzerland.  Making the USA proud.

Man Bag #6.  Man travel bag, Frankfort airport

Man Bag #7  Guy making out with his girlfriend wearing a mix-tape designed man bag

Scotland visit man bag.  We think this guy was from Italy though.

Man bag #8 Bag seen on Scotland trip. We think this guy was from Italy though.

A duo of black man bags in Vienna

#9 – A duo of black man bags in different material in Vienna

#10 - Handled man bag in Vienna's train station

#10 – Handled man bag in Vienna’s train station

If you have a man bag, what do you carry in it?   If you don’t have one, what would you carry?

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!