The day I almost cried over snow chains

Post by Lauren

We are going skiing today. Luckily, we already had snow tires. In Switzerland, you have to switch out your tires twice a year. So everyone owns two sets – a summer and winter. It seemed fair to me, but friend S pointed out that he grew up in Michigan where it snows just as much as Switzerland and they weren’t required to have snow tires or snow chains. Good point. I am sure that someone in the Swiss government has a friend in the tire business who has earned a fortune.

We are lucky that through the arrangement with Gabe’s company, they provide a place for us to keep our extra set of tires. Gabe takes the car there, they swap ‘em out, and we are good to go. This all happens in quasi-Franglish but its relatively easy for us.

We have other friends who have had to do the swap themselves – on the street – and figure out how to store the tires in their tiny cave. What a pain!

We thought we were ready with our snow tire ownership, but recently were told that we may need snow chains to drive up to the ski resorts. The women’s club has a ski group and they require all volunteer drivers to have a set in the cars at all times. We also have some friends who haven’t needed them so far, but others advised them that they hear its required. Apparently, as the snows increase they do checks to make sure you have them.

Simple enough. Just go buy some chains. Gabe was away in Belgium all week and wasn’t set to return until late last night. So we chatted on the phone Thursday night about what to do and Google searched how to select snow chains. We learned you just need to note the numbers on the tire to know which you need.

I started my chain adventure in the morning at MParc. I can take a tram then a bus to get there. MigrosParc is like the Walmart of Switzerland. Except its not. You can’t find everything you need. You can also be damn sure you are not going to get the lowest price. But it is the only thing comparable to the US “one stop shop” since they have a grocery store, home store, appliance store, ski store and a sports store in one parking lot. They also happen to have a Migros DIY+Garden there.

I didn’t have a hard time finding the chains:

Snow chain aisle

However, I couldn’t understand how my tire numbers translated to a package. I searched for a sales associate. I finally found one. “Bonjour! J’ai une BMW X3. Je voudrais chaînes à neige, sîl-vous-plait.” And I thrust forward my little paper. He took me to a little chart nearby.

“Deux cent cinq soixante cinq….hmmmm. Pas possible!”

“Pas possible?”

“Trop grande, madame!”

Okay, MParc didn’t have our size. I had heard that Jumbo might have them too. I knew that Tram 14 got there. I connected on Bus 21 then Tram 12, then to Tram 14. An hour later, when I was almost there, i realized my stop wasn’t listed. I had taken a Tram 14 with a different deviation than my destination. Crap. I hopped off and waited for the next CERN train which was scheduled for 8 minutes. A tram arrived and I hopped on. I glanced up and saw that I had hopped on the same stupid tram that didn’t go my direction. So I got off the next stop, waited, trammed backwards and waited again for the CERN tram. What a rookie mistake.

Wrong Tram

Right Tram

30 minutes later, I got off at the correct stop and walked the rainy 10 minutes down the side path to the entrance of Jumbo DIY.

This time, I found the chains and the chart myself. I grabbed a pack of 80’s – what it said I needed from the chart with a 205-65. However, I saw an associate nearby and asked him and showed him the package I’d selected to get his confirmation that was right.

“Non,” and he lead me back. “Deux cent cinq soixante cinq….hmmmm. Pas possible!”

“Trop grande?” I asked. “Oui,” he replied.

I walked back to the tram. This time 15 minutes until the next one back to town. I was freezing. I didn’t wear enough clothes for a 3 hour tour.

Okay, I photoshopped this hand photo. But it was how it felt out there!


I got the brilliant idea to go to the BMW dealership. I found it and figured out the best way to get there on public transport. Go iPhone!

I arrived and was greeted. Apparently, I didn’t look like a BMW shopper in my yoga clothes.

J’ai une BMW X3. Je voudrais chaînes à neige, sîl-vous-plait.”

“Oui. Le département des pièces s’ouvre en une heure.”

I looked down. It was lunch time. Momentarily forgot that retail takes lunch breaks here. “Oui. Je reviendrai.”

After the post-Jumbo freeze and walk, I was getting light-headed. I hadn’t eaten for a long time and I was still a little weak from my misadventures with Cambodian food. It was a lucky turn of fate that I was nearby another store. And that this store had a food cart out front. Double luck.

We don’t have any budget for eating out this month (we spent it all in Thailand) but I had no choice but to wolf down a delicious 10 franc panini. And it was so nice to be warm and dry in the store for 45 minutes. Got lots of looks. Apparently not dressed appropriately for shopping.

And I returned to BMW an hour later. I walked upstairs. One door locked. The other door opened and I stepped into….a supply closet. I actually looked in it it for chains but only folders and office supplies.

Back downstairs. Guy just wasn’t back yet.

Waited some more. Finally a man came to open it and I went into my spiel.

“Oui. Quand la voulez-vous?”

“Demain” (Tomorrow)

“Pas possible. Lundi – c’est possible.”

He saw the distraught look on my face. He handed me a slip of paper with an address and said “Peut-être….avez-vous conduit?”

“Non – j’ai pris le tram.”

“C’est loin. 3-4 kilometres.”

I was getting desperate, “C’est possible de marcher?”

He frowned. “C’est loin”

I pulled out my iPhone. He said it was too far to walk but I wasn’t going to go home if there was even the slightest chance of this size existing in the canton of Geneva.

So, I walked. 4 kilometers. In the snow and rain. Along a highway.

I walked so far that I passed a train station. But finally I reached my destination. The door was locked. At this point I almost cried. Then, I found another entrance with a sign. They were just closed for lunch. I waited.

The doors finally opened. A young man met me. I think they’d been watching me outside shivering. I did my spiel. He led me back to his desk, consulted a notebook and said. “Oui – quatre-vingt huit franc.” (88 CHF, about $100)

“Oui ????i!!!” I exclaimed. I tried to tell myself not to get excited until he produced the goods.

He came back with one box. I did sign language to try to determine how many were in a box. Two came in a box. A set. “J’ai quatre tyres.” I said. He laughed. Apparently they only had one set to sell me.

Five hours, 14 bus/tram connections, and a hike later, we now have chains for half our car. I desperately hope this is going to be good enough.


2 thoughts on “The day I almost cried over snow chains

  1. I desperately hope it was enough too. Don’t worry, I’m crying for you. Well, I certainly can tell it’s not all bliss, but if you continue to jump hurdles like you did yesterday you’ll definitely get a new title “Wonder Woman.” As you can see Frank’s computer works. I’m thrilled. I’ll try to read another day’s blog before I have to unpack my suitcases and get ready to meet Carolyn for lunch.

  2. I want to wrap you in a warm blanket. You know that if I had this experience, the ski trip would have lost its importance and I would have given up and gone home.

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