Selling Switzerland: one expatriate’s new slogan suggestions

Switzerland tourism marketing straplineLast week I read an inspired piece in The Guardian, in which the author critiqued the marketing slogans of various different countries’ tourist campaigns.

You know the sort of thing, those cheesy taglines – sung in a floaty uplifting tone – that follow twenty seconds’ footage of cobblestones, beaches and beautiful people on BBC World.

(Here’s one you’re sure to sing if I say it: Malaysia – truly Asia! Now you’re with me, right?)

Here in Central Europe, Switzerland’s current branding goes like this: Switzerland.  get natural.

Bar the capitalization issues, I quite like it. It says something – how the Swiss and their country offer real good organic stuff: real mountains, real cows… all manner of pure unprocessed beauty – while, like most such claims, being so general as to not really say anything at all.

So not bad. It’s head and shoulders above Slovenia’s shudderingly awful I feel SLOVEnia, but maybe loses out in the cheekily engaging stakes to Israel – Size doesn’t matter.

But I figured I could do better.

Maybe not more aspirational, and less likely to win awards from champagne-quaffing agency folks, but  more accurate at least. And maybe I could spark a wry smile from those who already live here, while dispelling a Swiss myth or two for those who don’t.

So whether or not Suisse Tourisme takes me up on any of these remains to be seen, but I don’t mind as they were fun to brainstorm (and rather irritatingly they keep coming to me – in the middle of the night!). Feel free to add your best suggestions via the Comments.

Current:

Switzerland
Simply natural

New offerings:

Educational

Switzerland
It’s not Sweden

Economic

Switzerland
Expensive but it works

Switzerland
“That’ll affect your taxes”

Switzerland
Just don’t convert the prices in your head…

Switzerland
It’s not tax-free if you live here!

Cultural

Switzerland
What language? It’s complicated…

Switzerland
Mountains, chocolate, cheese, and lots of guns

Switzerland
Except for Sundays

Switzerland
Il n’y a pas le feu au lac!

Switzerland
Shhh!

Political

Switzerland
Come and watch us vote

Switzerland
Enough with the Nazi gold jokes already!

And a final word to the wise… if you do click through to the original Guardian article above, be sure to read the comments below it. It turns out the paper’s readers are no slouches when it comes to black marketing humor.

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House of Weird – Observations On Buying Property In Switzerland

Aside

I don’t own property in Switzerland, let’s start with that disclaimer. But from time to time, when we’re walking past homely-looking chocolate-box cottages by the lake, we do like to daydream about the possibility. To which end, in recent months, I’ve begun to do a little research.

39_4fb34aa2b66c83.08543171_700x393_meet_xlMy first learning won’t blow off any socks: the property situation in Switzerland is very different to that of the UK.

In Blighty you can invest in bricks and mortar and reasonably expect annual gains of a good few percentage points. You could, before bankers bummed the world that is, also get a mortgage very easily indeed. That mortgage would likely be either a traditional repayment loan (principal and interest) or a risk-hugging interest-only type loan.

None of this really applies in Switzerland.

Although I’m still far from being able to explain all the ins and outs of it—the learning curve is slowly climbed with a housing market so complex and everything explained in French—I have deduced at least a little.

Here are just some of the bizzarities I’ve uncovered:

• You won’t make a killing in 5 years, à l’anglaise, unless you grab the deal of the century. Property values in Switzerland typically only rise in line with inflation, which means around 1% per year.

(Over the last decade or so, in popular regions such as on the shores of Lake Geneva/Canton Vaud, 1% a year has probably been too low. However during the last five years this growth rate has seemingly slowed again.)

• Despite this slovenly growth, house prices will melt your mind.

Prices are roughly similar to, or maybe a little higher than, those in Central London (at least in Canton Vaud where we’re located).

So for a new 3-bed, ground floor 1539 sq ft apartment in our village (2 mins from the shore of Lake Geneva), you might consider a tidy payout of 1,450,000 Swiss France or around GBP 1,018,000.

• In Switzerland you don’t necessarily have just one mortgage. You might have one. You might have two. Even 3.

Why? It’s complicated…

The short version – it’s all about how you want to balance your costs and risks.You don’t want to know more. Really you don’t…

You do? Really? Okay, the other version – Unlike in the UK, you cannot pay extra on a Swiss mortgage, except for at the very end of its term. Really. No overpayments. Secondly, before we go on, most mortgages are fixed interest.

Now… this means that if you had just one mortgage, of ten years say, you’d be stuck at an interest rate that could start to drive you insane (little percentage points make a big different if you’ve borrowed millions!). And you wouldn’t be able to throw that inheritance you received at this debt for years – so the capital you owed, and its interest, would stay annoyingly the same.

Therefore by having 2 or 3 mortgages of different terms (2 years, 3 years and 10 years say) you can spread out when each loan finishes. In other words, you’ll always have a loan that’s due for renewal (note: renewal not pay off) sometime soon.

With these more regularly renewing loans, you can then use that chunk of inheritance to pay a little more when one of your mortgage terms ends, reducing the capital you owe. And if interest rates have fallen in the meantime, you can benefit from renegotiating a better rate for the next 2/3/10 year stretch (or not, depending on rates).

In short, you’ve more opportunities to get better interest rates, and more chances to actually dent the capital owed a little.

Still with me? My brain aches just typing this.

However many mortgages you end up with, these will likely be a mix of interest-only and repayment loans. The biggest of these loans will be interest-only, so that your monthly premiums remain do-able.

• Forgot to mention – you can deduct taxes based on what you still owe on your  mortgages.

This is apparently – to those in the know (read: those trying to sell you mortgages) – well worth being in millions of Francs’ worth of debt for. I remain unconvinced, but must confess to not having not done the sums.

• But conversely, home owners (including those with mortgages) pay a form of tax that is calculated based on what you’d pay to rent that same property. The reason for that particular policy, I’ve realised, I have zero chance of ever understanding.

• You need a deposit of 20% to get a mortgage. Considering the prickly prices, that’s no  minor ask.

This sum can be, to a sadly ever-decreasing degree, covered by your Swiss mandatory pension pot (the sum you and your employer’s contributions have built up over time). Although of course you’ll then have virtually no Swiss pension to see you through your mercurial years, unless you’ve saved elsewhere.

• Should you pay your house off – in 70 years’ time say, considering the proportion of your debt you actually repay every year – you’ll pay Wealth Tax on its value.

• Ask a Swiss person and they’ll often tell you that prices are seriously over-inflated and should come down. They were saying this 5 years ago.

• Curiously, despite all of the above, if you want to be able to afford a little house with a garden, on a pair of normal working-professional Swiss salaries, buying is perhaps your only chance of affording such an abode. What with the prices of renting…

In conclusion, owning the property you inhabit in Switzerland appears to come down to this: paying the interest on your mortgage (and a tiny part of the principal) is effectively the equivalent of paying rent. On the plus side, with a mortgage, you’ll be able to get more house for your money than you would paying a landlord. And you can get deduct some of your debt from your taxes. Over in the Cons column, your financial life will be the bank’s. And you likely won’t ever actually own your home, you’ll just live in it. That’s just the mind shift you’ll just have to make if you want in.

Daddy Daycare – 11 Lessons in 2 Weeks

“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Since we had a childcare gap to fill recently, I decided to lumber into the breach and look after Monkey Boy for two weeks straight.

That’s nothing compared to my better half’s six-month stretch of course. But since I’m a man and therefore expected to be utterly useless at this stuff, it’s officially a big deal.

Cue fourteen exhausting and illuminating days, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. Firstborn survived, physically at least. And so did I. A qualified success then.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Stay-at-home parents, be they mums or dads (although they’re almost exclusively the former in La Suisse it seems), do a bloody amazing job.

2. As a working Dad, what you think you know about your partner’s daily child-caring life is pretty far removed from reality.

3. Between prepping baby’s next meals and running around tidying up the last session’s crap when he sleeps, it doesn’t stop. For a minute.

(And to think, you used to ask why your wife didn’t read or snooze during the breaks. The shame!)

4. Without wanting to sound preachy (although I’m going to), in my view this eye-opening project should be compulsory for new Dads.

The reasons why are numerous:

  • It’s choc-full of quality bonding moments
  • You’ll appreciate your other half a whole lot more (which she in turn will love you more for – hey free brownie points!)
  • You’ll learn about yourself – from your patience levels and fecal tolerance to singing improvisation skills and lower back strength – whether you want to or not
  • You’ll stop thinking about work.
  • You’ll actually have a lot of laughs. I know, laughs… with a non-speaking, static, dribbling machine. Who knew?

5. A sedate tempo is required when looking after a child over the course of several days or weeks. You can’t simply pack each day full of exhausting ‘Waahey!‘ activity-fests. No human could survive that amount of exertion.

6. It’s the little moments. A close-up stare or wonky waltz here, an ear-tugging or dribbly hug there.

7. Poo is the least of your worries. It’s only poo. Just keep your mouth shut.

8. What Mini-Me finds ear-burstingly hilarious one day (example: lifting an old rug and holding it over your head with a dramatic “Ta-da!”… I know, I know, what?) will likely bore him to tears the next.

9. Strollers and fully laden supermarket trolleys do not a winning combination make.

10. It’s not difficult to see how such a single-focus existence can, despite being utterly joyous at times, lead to a parent feeling truly alone. When baby is asleep or screaming the house down and you’re too tired to work out why, you can easily feel like the sole surviving adult trapped in a concrete box. Parent and baby groups suddenly make a lot of sense.

11. I miss it already.

childcare switzerland

Speaking French FAIL

It turns out that yesterday’s Fête des Voisins* (Neighbour’s Party) was a wonderful way in which to exhibit my ever-present linguistic numptitude… Here’s how it went. And this after almost 4 years of French classes…In French:

– Friendly Swiss neighbour: “Well, to say you arrived in Switzerland speaking no French you’ve done well. You seem to have understood everything just fine.”

– Me, thinking she was asking me to confirm how much French I spoke when I arrived: “No, not at all!”

So whilst I was way off the mark, I was also, ironically, completely right too.

#EXPATFAIL

* An annual shindig (usually in the form of an apero, aperitif or in our case yesterday a buffet dinner), originating in France, which is designed to get you chatting to those peeps you usually only bump into in the elevator.

When I run the country…

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about living in a foreign land, for me at least, is getting your head around how your home and adopted societies are alike and differ, how they function – what works, what doesn’t, and the attitudes your average person in the street has towards such things.

For example, pesky foreigners coming here and getting up to all sorts of dreary badness is a complaint of some folks in both the UK and Suisse, but there are also a host of differences, not just in language of course but in terms of democracy (i.e. direct or indirect), defense (military service or not) and so on.

Moreover…. oh…. sod it. This half-assed intro is, honestly, just a ruse to allow me to post what I just scribbled down at lunchtime – some general rules on how I will  run the country when, one fine day, everyone realises that I’m by far the best person for the job. So long as the hours aren’t too long, I can bring dogs to work, and Facebook isn’t blocked in the office. Here goes…

MATT’S COCK-EYED MANIFESTO FOR A COUNTRY:
Loosely based on what he understands about England and Switzerland (which arguably isn’t much)

General

  • The Cabinet – must be 50/50 male/female by law, with a prudent and genteel biscuit-making lady in charge of Defence. (This is most definitely not a joke. Love Biscuits, Hate War.)
  • No seafood. Horrid stuff.

Law & Order

  • No capital punishment. Instead Abba-listening punishments (if a listener likes Abba, then capital punishment may be allowed).

Work

  • 6 weeks holiday (excluding public holidays) per year for everyone. If you’re over 50, you can have 8.
  • Every top civil servant must swim or jog for at least 2 hours a week (to clear their heads and remove their bellies).
  • Out of work for a year or more? Do what job we give you or lose all benefits (which, I nearly forgot, were 50% of your last salary up to a maximum rate I haven’t bothered to calculate). Decide against it? You can come back and change your mind at any time.

Tax & Finance 

  • Flat tax (deal with it), but none for those earning under 10K (GBP) or so. (This mightn’t have been thought through fully.)
  • No public pensions in future (i.e. from those starting work now onwards). You must pay min. 10% of your gross salary into your own scheme by law.

Education

  • No hardcore religion-based school of any kind. You can worship what you like, where you like, but leave the kids out of it.
  • Any kid who fails those exams they do before age of 18? One year’s military service.
  • Every kid must study (or have lessons in… that sounds easier) a foreign language, from first school to leaving school.
  • Same as above with cooking (extra credits if they create dishes using my pasta recipes site).

Health

  • Haven’t really thought about the medical / state insurance side of things – that’s my perogative as a benign dictator. Definitely no uplifting boob jobs paid for from public purse though, with some obviously occasional exceptions.
  • Drugs = legalised and taxed. Less criminals, more cash, likely the same amount of stoners.

Or you’re out…!

Living in Switzerland – 8 Quick Learnings

Whilst you can read up in advance of arriving in a country, there are things you only learn over time. Three years into our cheesy adventure, here are 8 eye-openers that living in Switzerland has brought to light. 

Living in Switzerland - 8 Learnings

"Quoi?"

1. What time?

When dealing with Swiss folks (this doesn’t apply to more lackadaisical expats), an agreed meeting time is not an approximation. Instead it’s the time by which your friend or colleague will have already been waiting 5 minutes for you to arrive. Although they won’t tell you that.

2. Big kids

Push scooters (AKA trotinettes) are not just for children. At least not here, as everyone uses them. This is particularly true in our town of Lausanne, perched as it is on the side of a steep hill.

Saunter around the town centre and soon enough you’ll be sped past by a rapidly descending grannie, silver mane-a-flowing and jowls-a-flapping, with one heel on the back wheel for safety braking.

Tourists, watch your step.

3. How much?

From what I can ascertain, the chances of finding a small house for sale in Suisse Romande for less than six figures are slimmer than those of the Swiss footie team winning Euro 2012. Much slimmer.

Such a purchase is our rough long-term plan (and I do mean long-term), but even if we head out of town, away from the spectaular views of Lake Geneva and onto the more cost-effective plateau beyond, we are still looking at more than six figures for a relatively small 3-4 bedroom newbuild house. You simply don’t see many such properties for under one million Swiss Francs (that’s around 693,000 GBP or 808,000 Euro as per today’s exchange rate). Stings doesn’t it?

(We’ll save the bewildering world of Swiss double mortgages for another time…)

4. Going up

Sometimes me and her indoors drive half-way up a mountain, right up until the quality road stops, in order to indulge in a little lazy hikery. Then often as not, we are overtaken in the car park by one or more geriatric Swiss types on pedal bikes, working off their birchermüesli. The pensioners around these parts are nothing short of bionic. It must be the air.

5. Ding, dong, wrong

Tinkly dinkly cow bells, you know the ones (see pic above). Think Heidi… think Milka Cow… think cast iron bells of surpringly huge proportions, strapped around the necks of des vaches, clanging away morning, noon and night.

A mountainside institution they may be, but I put it to you that these bovine ringers are not in fact cute, but quite cruel.

Why? Well how would you like it dear reader? They’re loud. Dangerously, brain-wobblingly loud. And the din never ends unless Mr/Mrs Moo makes like a statue, falls asleep, or leaps into the nearest gorge to make it stop.

Maybe you’ve heard of tinnitus – that maddening high-pitched ringing in the ears caused by, amongst other things, over-exposure to loud noise? I’d wager that Swiss cows are afflicted by this in their droves herds.

Ask people with a proper case of tinnitus about their experiences and they’ll often tell you they sometimes feel like it’s driving them mad, literally. So surely nature’s finest milk makers can be driven nutso too? I feel for them, I really do.

6. Selective control freakery

For a country that often feels packed to the brim with rules and regulations, the one area les suisses seem surprisingly unconcerned about is that modern British bugbear: Health and Safety.

While it’s true that if you stop on the hard shoulder of the autoroute, you are legally obliged to plonk your red safety triangle 50 meters further back up the road, and that if you have a baby then some cantonal authorities send you on a First Aid course specifically with your mini-me in mind, if you head into the hills where all sorts of plunge-inducing mishaps might occur there’s not a cone or a cordon to be found.

You’ll get regular and helpful yellow route signs for sure, but should the path you’re following veer close to a mile-high cliff face or breathtakingly deep ravine, with nothing between you and a splattery end but some tufts of grass and possibly a Swiss chap perched eating his sandwich, then you’re on your own.

The concept seems to be that the higher your altitude, the less warnings of impending death you’ll be bothered by. The self-preservation is down to you.

7. Reassuringly calm

Friends and family members who are still of a mind to go partying have often remarked to me and the missus that in terms of madcap after-hours debauchery Switzerland is, well, somewhat on the quiet side.

I don’t mind a bit.

I’m totally okay with safe and serene. It means I don’t need to feel apprehensive about, or even avoid, heading into town centres of an evening for fear or youths looking for places to rest their fists or deposit their puke.

Nor need I perturb myself with visions of multi-car pile-ups and Dubai-style road racing madness, so common in our last expat stomping ground. (The more friends you have who have lost friends to flaming car wrecks, the more this last point feels an important one.)

In short, I’ve found my pace. Born to plod.

8. Steve Martin you’re an evil man

On a lighter note, I’ve recently learned that if you have watched Mr. Martin’s movie The Pink Panther then it is impossible to live in a French-speaking region without collapsing into fits of giggles every time a local says the word hamburger.

In case you’re even more out of the loop than I, this social affliction is the fault of this scene.

If anyone knows any mental exercises I can apply to help avoid such embarassing breakdowns, please let me know.

Dealing with the languages of Switzerland (or not)

Nestled in the centre of mainland Europe, huddled up against the borders of no less than five other countries (Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein since you ask), Switzerland itself feels rather like a country of several very distinct lands – squished together into one state with order, democracy and melted cheese as their glue.

Of course, different lands tend to have different languages and Switzerland is no different, offering up perhaps the most disparate assortment of tongues anywhere in Europe if not the world.

Languages of Switzerland - Going Neutral Swiss blog

Photo: dotbenjamin (flickr.com)

For starters, there is no single Swiss national language. That fact alone gives you a hint of what’s to come. In fact, this wee country of just under eight million folk (roughly 20% of whom are immigrant étrangers like myself) touts no less than four official tongues.

 The 4 languages of Switzerland

Here, where we habitons in the sunny South Western corner of La Suisse (known as Suisse Romande), if you wander outside the house you’ll hear French being spoken. This is largely the same as lingo as you’ll hear across the Jura in France itself, only it tends to be spoken rather more slowly here (“thank goodness!” us learners remark) and with a few notable linguistic exceptions which will no doubt be the topic of many future posts.

Head South East and after a few hours of winding your way around immaculate mountain roads you’ll arrive in Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Or ‘Italy: the organised version’ as my wife puts it.

Before we arrived here in 2008 – the missus having bagged a bread-winning career on the shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) – we spent an overly-optimistic hour geeking out over Google Maps, trying in vain to work out whether we could indulge my pasta obsession by living in Italian-speaking Switzerland and her commuting to work. Sadly the pesky Alps get bigger the more you click on Zoom, so we eventually concluded that a one-way commute of three hours plus was probably pushing it.

Travel up North and around 45 minutes’ drive from the shores of Lake Geneva you crossover into Swiss-German territory, where I work. Contrary to the thinkings of some ignorant foreign folk (my younger self included) this region is in fact in no way politically or geographically linked to Germany. Neither does its language hail from Deutschland. It is however a world of spoken change from Suisse Romande, where tricky French liaisons (word endings that run over into the next word) and throaty Parisian R’s disappear to be replaced by, to my mind at least, an indecipherable melange of monster-sized nouns, positionally-challenged verbs and bile-shifting throaty grunts.

First spoken before proper (or I should say, ‘high’) German was apparently even invented, Swiss German is only a spoken language – there simply is no official written version. This means your average Swiss German speaks one language (Swiss German) and writes another (High German), though the latter usually with less confidence than a Deutschlander person might display.

Bringing up the rear, demographically at least, with by far the fewest speakers in total, is Romansh. This Swiss tongue is spoken by just 1% of Swiss natives (around 70,000 people) in a place we’ve yet to reach – Far East Switzerland. Specifically the canton of Graubünden, where the Davos Economic Forum is held. Frankly I’ve no idea how Romansh sounds but from what I’ve read (see References below) it’s best described as sounding like Italian with a Swiss-German accent. To find out for sure, our drive from Lausanne would take over four hours, meaning this education will occur only when we’re feeling brave and have saved up for a full tank of petrol.

On top of all this mind-bending variation (and this, don’t forget, in a country only 2.5 times the size of Yorkshire, or in US-speak a touch bigger than Maryland), all Swiss I believe also learn English at school. Of course they have varying degrees of success with this, but generally the results are highly impressive. While a Swiss person might not feel they speak it well, and you might have to coax them into trying with dark chocolate and schnapps (or, in my case, butchering their native tongue beyond measure), when they do let rip with the Queen’s best they usually put us native speakers to shame. They really shouldn’t be so humble.

The wonder of work

So from an aerial point of view, peering down at Switzerland, it’s all very alphabet soup. But what about in on a more local level, such as in the office?

Well, it’s more of the same. And while this is at first confusing, then comes acceptance. And after that respect. Lots of it.

Picture the scene: I am talking to three Swiss colleagues who are hovering around my desk (I like that, it makes me sound rather important).

– I start to speak in English, as is my want.

– A Geneva-born colleague responds and, without her even realising it, her remarks soon segue into French.

– My Swiss-German colleague next chips in, in English once more as she’s more confident with this language, up until she reaches a word she can’t remember. Instead she announces this in German, glancing at me with an overly optimistic expression on her face (this approach never works – if it doesn’t include the word bahnhof my response is unfailingly blank).

– Everyone nods, and then the first colleague tells me what the word means. In French. (It’s actually the same root as the English, they often are).

– Finally my Dutch boss, overcome with patriotic fervour, insists on telling us a marginally related Dutch play on words, explaining it for us in all three languages -English, French and German.

This takes five minutes.

And they wonder why the European Union is such a slow-moving behemoth of an organisation!

Bye for now!
(A la prochaine! Bis spöter! A pli tard!)

————
Sources:

http://official-swiss-national-languages.all-about-switzerland.info/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romansh_language#Some_common_expressions

http://switzerland.isyours.com/e/guide/graubunden/romansh.html

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/usa/states/area.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romansh_language#Some_common_expressions

hthttp://www.rahbarnes.demon.co.uk/Counties/list.htm