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.

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Duties of Swiss Citizens

Many say Switzerland is said to have the most trained army in the world.  For a neutral country, you might find it surprising.   However, with their central location and a century of world wars, they had a need to be prepared.

Even today, as a Swiss man, you must serve in the military. If you aren’t qualified to be in the military or don’t fit the requirements, you can be exempted.  However, you must pay an additional 3% income tax until the age of 30.

As a Swiss woman, you can volunteer to serve, but it isn’t required.  It also isn’t required for foreigners.

My 86-year old French teacher, E, has told us on multiple occasions about the potato patches that apartment dwellers were allowed to cultivate in city parks.   She went on to say that if you own land in Switzerland, you are still required keep a potato patch.  Thus, if the country goes to war, there is a food supply to rely on.  I haven’t been able to find much evidence of it online, but I find it interesting that it could be still residual from WW2.  Although, a simple trip to the grocery store shows that they are in full agreement of supporting their own food infrastructure as a result of the wars.

You may recall from our post on our basement, that all buildings must have bomb shelters.  In fact, Switzerland can house 114% of its citizens in these fortifications if something happens.

Today, you can tour many of the secret fortresses built in the World Wars.  Many of the links below detail more about the cool places you can visit.

Related Links:

Rick Steves – Swiss Military Secrets

Wikipedia – Gun Politics in Switzerland

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People – In Plain Sight: Villa Verte and Villa Rose

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Swiss Army – Ready to Blow Their Country to Smithereens

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Tobelerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

Schwingen in Switzerland – Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Fun in the Alpine Fortress of Furigen

Being An American From Afar

This Election Day, I wanted to share a few of our experiences as “being Americans from afar”.    We are US citizens and hold US passports, but for the last 1.5 years, we have been residents of Switzerland.

The Swiss flag in Old Town Geneva

What’s that mean for your life in Switzerland?   We have the right to work here, as B-permit holders.   We do not have the right to vote in Switzerland.   Speaking of rights, we also do not have the right to do our laundry, dishes, or make any type of noise outside of the hours of 8am-8pm, including taking out our trash or recycling.  All of these rules are also applicable all day on Sundays and holidays.   But, we feel lucky.  Some apartments in Zurich outline that you can’t flush toilet outside of these times.

What’s that mean for being an American from afar ?   We do have the right to vote in the US even though we are not current residents.  We have the right to pay taxes.  Which Switzerland requires we do to them too.  Funny how everyone is clear on equality on that one.    As non-residents, we cannot bring as many goods duty-free into the States as a US resident can.  Learned that the hard way when importing a suitcase full of Swiss chocolate and stuffed cows.   Also, we don’t get our mail forwarded further than a year which means it lives in no-man’s land.   I wonder how many collectors are after us.

How was voting?  Actually, awesome.  Big kuddos to Mecklenburg County, NC.   I thought that voting abroad would require lots of mail, follow-up, calls, more mail.    But, we successfully registered from afar this Spring, requested ballots this Summer, they arrived in September, and we returned them in October.   An individual called me at home to get clarification on Gabe because we had to register him in Mecklenburg Country prior to the election and his voter card got returned  in the mail [see mail problem above].  After we submitted this form, she confirmed that our ballots were received and counted.   The only downside is that we had to send our ballots in so early that we missed the commentary in the Charlotte Observer, detailing each candidate’s position on the county ballot, that comes out so close to the election.  So, we had to do a lot of our research online.

How was doing your taxes?   Good question….they haven’t been submitted yet.  I’m not sure what takes so long as we submitted them March 1st to the consultants, but they had to request extensions in both the US and Switzerland because they are so complicated.  In fact, after 6 months of them working on it, we got our ‘draft’ for Switzerland last week, which has to be completed before the US ones are started.  It was in French.  We had to have the consultants translate it verbally on a conference call yesterday so we knew that there were errors which they are now fixing.  We knew to expect this….one Swiss ex-pat warned us that he still hadn’t cleared everything up 3 years after his assignment.  Joy.

What else is weird about being an “American from afar”?    I’d have to say that phone #s are weird.   I tend to visit old doctors and service providers when visiting the States.    You should hear the reaction when I cannot provide a current 704 number for their computer.   My phone number in Switzerland is like this:  0041 079 XXX XX XX.   It apparently can’t fit in the computer.  Nor can our address which only has a four-digit zip.   They would rather not see me that deal with the numbers.  It’s a battle.

What is awesome about living in two places?  Health insurance.  It rocks.  And, I love the fact that I can go to a doctor in whatever country I need to based on our situation…as long as they take me as a patient because of our complicated phone #.

Nevertheless, today, as Americans from afar, we are so proud that we are from an amazing country where we have the right to vote for our leaders and our country gives us so much in terms of safety and infrastructure.

From across the ocean, hope everyone has a Happy Election Day!

The Swiss: They are just like us!

You hear so often from us what is different in our ex-pat lives compared to our previous life in America.  This week, I thought it would be funny to do a spoof on US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” column to show a few everyday examples of the similarities in American and Swiss citizen’s day-to-day life:

When their cats go missing, they post signs! This reads “Little tricolor cat lost. Please call # if you find it. Thank you.”

They don’t like junk mail. This sign reads “No ads/junk mail in this mailbox”

Baby on board sign

They have troops of Boy Scouts looming around town, saving the day.

They have dollar stores. Sort of. This is a 2 Franc store in the Italian part of Switzerland. So, its more like $2.25 store. Close enough.

They send spam on phones too. Not cool.

They advertise about going green.

Their youngsters play beer pong.  Article / photo courtesy of 20 Minutes.

I’ll keep on the hunt of more examples…..stay tuned!

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: School Differences

Even though we don’t have children, over the past year, I have noticed a few minor difference in schools.

1 – Most of Switzerland doesn’t have school on Wednesday mornings.  It’s a highly debated topic, especially during the most recent elections.  Credit to my friend, C,  for finding this ad which reads, “Everyone hasn’t had the luck of going to school on Wednesday mornings.

There is no school bus.   At least not an organized one.  Most children walk there on their own or take public transportation.    However, I have seen parents waiting with children until a charter bus pulls up:

They go home for lunch.  There is no lunch room.   In fact, Swiss schoolchildren get a two hour lunch break each day to go home and eat.  It’s my theory on why its harder for women to work here.   Teenagers tend to stay out, grab something at the grocery and hang out in the parks.  However, the little ones go home.

They have lots of vaca.  In particular, Sports Week happens in February, just so families can take advantage of the good snow.  If you remember, our friends M & C had to go with the 3rd back up doctor when they delivered their baby girl because the first two were injured going with their families on Ski Week.

Do you know any more school differences?

A Page from the Swiss Rulebook: The Swiss Kiss

It’s been a year we have lived here and I think that it is only now I am getting used to “The Swiss Kiss”.

When people great each other, they kiss cheeks to acknowledge and welcome each other.

I had some exposure to this when I was working in the US, as a lot of the advertising folks I worked with at our agencies were European.   I just usually followed their lead in what was appropriate.  I do remember it being a tad awkward for us Americans who preferred a shake and we were afraid we’d “mess up” when it came to professional kissing.

Swiss camels perfecting their Swiss kisses.

Living in Europe it becomes more secondhand.    Here are a few guidelines:

–Swiss Romandie (French speaking Swiss) people greet each other with 3 kisses:  left cheek, right, left.

–The French version includes just two kisses – left, right.

–Just barely touch the person’s cheek or the air next to their cheek.  I usually do the air and make a slight smacking sound.

–When in doubt, just watch what other people are doing and follow their lead.

If you are visiting us, I hope you are perfecting your Swiss kisses.

Related links:

Gydle:  how to Swiss Kiss

World to the Wise: Swiss Kiss

Great demo video:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEV60lYHaIM

Swiss Sports: Sunday Window Shopping

Beyond wintersports, one of the things I have noticed the Swiss folks like to partake in is the pastime of Sunday window shopping.   Please note that 100% of stores in Geneva are closed on Sundays.

When going to the gym or taking a Sunday stroll, it always surprises me how many people are staring into the window.  These photos were all taken on Sundays:

Perhaps all the goods are so expensive that the only ‘safe’ time to look is when the stores aren’t open?

Guests: What to Expect out of a European Hotel

Post by Lauren

We have lived here so long, we sometimes forget some of the fascinating differences of European life.  Today, we’ll examine the European hotel room.

In Switzerland, most hotels that we stay in are owned by families instead of corporations.  It makes for an endearing special stay and you know you are supporting local business.

Some of the differences:

Check in and Check out times – they are usually posted and you need to arrive and depart in these parameters or otherwise, the desk might not be staffed.

Payment – usually always after your stay.  They don’t usually ask for any credit card or ID up front. The Swiss are very trusting.

Language – don’t be surprised if they don’t speak English.  But they are friendly and always willing to help.  Usually its straightforward.  Get key. Return key. Pay.

However, our biggest challenge was in Verbier where we had to understand door codes, access times, etc and I was glad for my French lessons then.  Especially when we couldn’t figure it out and had to ask the reception lady to come give us a demonstration.

Beds – usually a double room has two twin beds pushed together with their own comforter.  Gabe likes this as I am a cover-hog so he is ensured a comfortable sleep in a Swiss hotel.

Image courtesy of booked.net

Bathroom – don’t expect soap or shampoo.  Be surprised to find both.  Sometimes they combine hair/body getl in in a dispenser in the shower.  So, look there before panicking.

One time, we stayed in a place that had no soap, shampoo or towels.  I quickly learned to bring extra in the future, just in case.

I have not found conditioner yet.  Bring your own if you have long hair!

Hairdryers are rare in Swiss hotel rooms.  Check ahead if you require one.

Bath linens – you won’t get a washcloth.  Europeans simply don’t use them.   One of our friends who lives here says “if they want to play that game, I’m just going to wet the entire hand towel”.  And so do we…..

Breakfast – most of the time included in the room rate, but not guaranteed.  It is more likely that it is included in Switzerland than other areas of Europe.

Many small hotels will put your group name or room numbers on your reserved breakfast table.  So, be sure to look for that when entering the breakfast area.  It is their way of ensuring that the tables are used efficiently as they have limited space.

Typically they serve a buffet of cereals, yogurts, breads, cheeses and meats.  Sometimes there are hard boiled eggs. And sometimes they have raw eggs and you have to boil them yourself.

One of my favorite discoveries is Birchermüesli.  Its yogurt with granola and small fresh and dried fruits.  It looks a little gross but it is one of my new preferred Swiss breakfast items.

Image courtesy of lookcook.net

They usually bring carafes of coffee and milk to your table.  Also something to look forward to – they usually heat the milk that they serve.  It is a nice perk.

Typically, you’ll find a small plastic bin on the table.  It’s for trash – for your tiny scraps / papers.  This has been interesting to our guests.  Speaking of waste, it is more proper in Europe to take small portions of food at a time in a buffet type setting.  It isn’t looked upon kindly if you leave tons of food on your plate like is common in the US.

Also, most breakfast rooms have signs indicating all food must be eaten in the dining area. So, it isn’t allowed to grab-and-go for later.  I have been guilty of this in the US with taking a piece of fruit for a snack later.  I feel like it isn’t as frowned upon back home as it is here.

Our most recent guests inquired why they don’t have pancakes, bacon and eggs like they do in America?  Answer:  It is just not their thing.    We haven’t seen this type of breakfast since we left the States unless its in our own kitchen.

However, although slightly different, we hope you enjoy the Swiss hotel experience!

A page from the Swiss rulebook: Visit and Thank you specifics

Post by Lauren

When moving to Switzerland, I read quite a lot about how to properly thank people and what to bring when you are invited to a true Swiss person’s home. All these books advised that it would be quite rare to actually get invited to a Swiss home as an ex-pat, since they only invite trusted long term friends vs. folks who are only here in two year stints. ( See more on this and tu and vous on Schwingen in Switzerland )

However, I thought we better be prepared, so I have noted the following:

Rule #1 – When going to a dinner party, you should bring a gift for the gentleman and a gift for the lady. So, perhaps a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Or chocolate for her and whisky for him.

We saw this when Gabe’s co-workers came to pick up the large items we had included in our shipment for them, after they found out it wasn’t possible to buy in Switzerland. They brought him a very nice bottle of champagne and me this gorgeous orchid that has been adding so much color to our home this summer. They obviously read the manual and I was impressed by their gesture.

Sub-Rule 1a – if there are children, you must also bring something for them like a chocolate or a toy.

Sub-Rule 1b – if you bring wine, it is noted to make sure it is of high quality.

Check. Good to know not to bring the Boones farm to the nice gatherings.

Sub-rule 1c – if you bring flowers, they should not be carnations, or lilies which mean death or yellow roses.

Sub-rule 1c1 – do not ever bring an even number of flowers. Only odd. Its bad luck to bring even.

Glad to know about the even/odd thing. I’ll make sure to note this.

However, I am concerned that they had to put the clause about buying carnations in this book…who is out there buying carnations anymore?

Rule # 2 – Always wait for your guest to offer a toast such as “Santé”* before drinking. Don’t clink your glasses like American’s do. Make sure to stare deeply into everyone’s eyes before taking a sip.

Check. I can handle that. We have actually been practicing the “santé” quite a bit. Except everyone seems to interpret “deeply” as “creepy”. See A executing the creepy santé below.

Rule #3 – leave by 9pm.

Check. When I lived in Charlotte and went to the gym at 5am, I can appreciate this rule. Most of my Charlotte friends have witnessed me falling asleep at my own dinner party. That was usually their signal to leave.

Also, we have heard that we shouldn’t make noise between 8pm and 8am. So, no running the dishwasher, washer/dryer and certainly no footsteps. We haven’t had any issues with neighbors so far, but our friends have had neighbors approach them and tell them that they won’t think twice about calling the police if they hear a peep from them after 10pm.

Rule # 4 – never ever show up at someone’s door unannounced. The Swiss are very private people.

Check. Every building has a door code anyway. I don’t plan on breaking in to crash on new nonexistent Swiss friends.

So far we have only done Canadienne Buffets at friends homes, more in the style we are used to. We like this as everyone just brings a dish and we don’t have to buy each other gifts ever time we go over to each others houses. But now we are prepared in the case of Swiss friends. We shall keep you posted if we ever need to use such rules! I’m not banking on it….

*Santé means “to your health” and is pronounced sonn-tay! You should try it at home.

 

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: 1st Class

Post by Lauren

I wish this lesson for you hadn’t come with a 150 franc fine for us (equivalent of $200 USD) but unfortunately there is no such thing as a second chance or a warning in the minds of the Switzerland train patrol.

We have frequently ridden RER, regional trains, as it is the most direct way to get to and from the airport. Swiss trains are immaculate, perfect, and once they have had a good life riding along on the pristine swiss railways, it becomes their turn to be set free in the pasture. With the pasture being the airport and RER routes that are 15 minutes tops, and don’t require a world-class choo-choo.

You can ride these RER trains for the same price as a TPG ticket, so 3 CHF, or for us, free since we have an annual abonnement for public transport. From the airport, its literally free to encourage tourism.

What we didn’t know was that these little regional trains actually have a designation of first and second class. We went for the short line when boarding the train back from Russin, but mistakenly entered the first class cabin. No clue. No less than 30 seconds after the train started, we were approached. No biggie, we were all covered by our TPG passes. Not so much. They pointed out we were in first class.

“Oh, so sorry, we didn’t know. We’ll move,” we said.

“Trop tard,” said the stone-faced police man. This is “too late” in French.

“Really? We didn’t know these had classes, we’ll happily move there,” pointing at the 2nd class cabin, literally through a few yards, through the first set of doors.

He sternly asked for all our identification and issued us 4 tickets. By the time he finished issuing them all, we were at our very short destination of the main train station.

So, a very expensive lesson learned this weekend and a big buzz kill to the wine festival.

What do you think…..did we get what we deserved….or would you have given us a second chance?