Swiss vs US observations

Since we moved to Switzerland there have been times where we look at each other after someone says something, we learn the way things are done administratively or we experience something that normally would have felt like it was every day/normal, and have a moment where I can’t help but laugh, smile or sigh in frustration. Here’s a fun list of these things so far to give you a glimpse into our life three weeks in …

1) Lunch. Lunchtime is taken, there is no sitting at your desk, and it is at least one hour. Andrew’s team at a client in Nyon would go to the cantine (cafeteria) in his building and at my clients we went out for a restaurant meal nearly every day. While in the KPMG Lausanne office, it is a mix of sitting at a restaurant or grabbing something quick and eating in the kitchen. Co-workers have explained how important it is to take a break and they talked disdainfully about people who rush their lunch. I definitely enjoy this change in my day, I think it’s great that people want to take a break from work together to talk and enjoy a nice meal.  On the flip side, on the busier days I felt like I would rather have taken a quick 30 min lunch than be gone for over an hour, because it just extends what is already going to be a long day. Maybe this will be different in busy season, but I will have to find out then. Either way, I will do as the Swiss do!

2) Coffee: Correction. Espresso. Often, Nespresso, which is headquartered here. No drip coffee to be had, even at Starbucks, which has been a big change in my morning coffee routine. At work, going to get coffee is social break from work. A team member will ask the group, “Café?” Most people go, it almost feels rude to decline. Everyone takes their turn making an espresso while you stay nearby to chat. Then it’s back to work until the next time someone pops up for a café break.

3) Queuing: When we first got to Switzerland, I thought people here in crowded locations were pushy and rude when it came to forming a line. For example, we were waiting for an elevator at the airport with all our luggage, and people were butting in front of us! When we had been there first! “So rude,”  I thought. Well, now we understand that no, they are not being rude. They could not tell that we were in line. We were hanging back too far. Here, to get in line you go up as far as you can to wherever you are lining up (cashier, elevator, train stop) and do not leave any room in front (even if in your little American mind it is clear you are in line first) because someone will see that and fill the space without hesitation.

4) Smoking: My chief complaint is smoking. A lot more people smoke here and in most public spaces. In the U.S. it was my experience that smoking is done in a designated area and you would never smoke in someone else’s presence unless you knew they didn’t mind. Here, smoking is done in any outdoor setting, and it is not uncommon for someone to light up immediately once you leave the building and begin walking outside or if sitting at a restaurant outdoors. I am not a fan, but there isn’t much I can do about this one.

5) Health Insurance: Unlike my insurance in the good ol’ US of A where (if you are not self-employed) your employer provides health insurance and covers about 50% of the cost, here in CH health insurance is required for all residents and considered a private matter which your employer is not involved with. It it is mandated by law that all policies from all insurance companies have the same offerings. When choosing a plan, you can essentially “build your own,” based upon features we were familiar with such as the level of deductible and whether you want an HMO/Family Doctor/Free choice of doctor/or use of a hotline for doctor consultations. Additionally, you must add on a supplemental plan to cover your hospital visits (including options for private clinic, private room, general ward of the local state hospital, etc), the type of prescription drugs you may buy through insurance (name brand vs generic) and also other things like GYN visits for the ladies. The website was useful and after taking some time to learn about the Swiss system and talk to my chosen insurance carrier, I was able to make a good choice. In the end, the plan is going to cost a little over 2 times what I used to pay in the U.S., but if you remember that my employer in the U.S. covered approx. 50%, then based upon my first impression, the health insurance here is around the same or a little more expensive than the U.S. Everyone we talk to seems to acknowledge that insurance is one of your highest expenses, but they sound happy with their health care. I’ll find out myself when I go to the doctor for the first time!

6) Hours: Shop and grocery store hours are generally Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am – 6:30 pm (with Saturday having some special hours only until 12 or 1 pm). Nothing is open on Sundays, it is illegal to work on Sunday. How do you like that?? The Swiss value their time at home and for leisure, so why keep the stores open late when they could be at home? Getting groceries after work is tough if you don’t get off the train til 7 or later in the evening. So far we have been rushing to go after work or on Saturdays. Luckily, the train station has a mini grocery store with the essentials that is open every day until 11 pm. They will get a lot of our money for sure!

7) Vacation: Or rather, holidays. Five weeks is standard in Switzerland, and most people we encounter seem to take the entire month of August off. The KPMG office right now is a ghost town. Just the other day someone told me how right now, the entire construction industry is on holiday for 3 weeks (excluding public road construction) and so is the watch manufacturing industry. Everyone is excited to talk to you about what you or they are doing for holidays. They talk about the importance of taking time away from work, to spend time with family and friends, especially to recharge after the busy times at work. I can’t say enough how much I LOVE THIS.

8) Public Transit: True to the stereotype, the public transit here is fast, timely, widely available, and clean. It is not cheap, but nothing is in Switzerland. We have traveled outside of Lausanne a bit on the train so far, and found it to go to all the places we want to go and rather easy to figure out. This is definitely a nice change from the U.S. since I have never used public transit as much as I do now.

9) Banking & Finances: Andrew and I have opened up bank accounts with UBS. The experience has been excellent, our personal banker was incredibly professional and everyone is responsive to our questions. It is impressive how seriously they take security. Like I said before, we got a card reader in order to access our online banking account, which definitely does not happen for personal banking in the U.S. While the security felt like a bit much at first, I feel like my personal information is 100% secure and I know they take access to my information seriously.

Another nuance of our finances I think I mentioned before is that we do not have a credit history in this country and they will not recognize our credit from the U.S. As such, no credit cards or car loans for us! To receive a credit card, we must put CHF 5,000 in a collateral account (because we have an L Residence Permit. If we had a B Residence Permit, things would be different). Which is super easy because we have all these francs lying around to just stash in a collateral account, right? 🙂 We are not sure we want to do that, so they have provided us with a refundable, prepaid MasterCard that we can use for online purchases.

10) Saving best for last … FOOD! and WINE! While I definitely ate and drank very well in the States, the food here is delicious and I have not yet had a meal that I did not love. Swiss wine is sold at all the stores for a good price and we really like the local Chasselas. BREAD. It is seriously melt in your mouth amazing. And the CHEESE. Oh Swiss cheese how I am happy to get to know you. And the produce has all been excellent. Maybe I am still on my newcomers’ high but ahhh it is all so good and makes my belly so happy … which is fine as long as that belly does not grow as a result 😉

I hope you enjoyed reading these. There are more, which I am sure to share in the coming days. Life here is good and it just takes a little time to get accustomed to the little differences between U.S. and Swiss culture. I am excited to see what else is out there and how my life changes as we acclimate to Switzerland!

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