Monday, 14 March 2011


It's carnival season as various communities from Rio to New Orleans to Basel and (less famously) Zürich celebrate the pagan traditions of the change of winter to spring and the Christian traditions of preparing to fast during Lent.

They're a bit strange in the Alemannic folkloric tradition.

Here's an idea of what we happened across in the centre of Zürich yesterday.

For a little more information on the background...

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Money, it's a gas

Helen mentioned "a hefty sum of Franken" in her last post so I thought I'd dwell on that subject a little.

In the UK, my paper cash carrying progression started quite young with crinkly blue notes and mild awe at anything with a '0' on it.

As a student, a purple beer voucher was an aspirational concept and my favourite cash machines were those that allowed me to withdraw ten pounds in two notes.

As a working man, the purple beer voucher played a more frequent role in my life but that is the end of the escalation.

The fifty pound note has remained an almost mythical entity.

And so to Switzerland. Where they love their money. And I don't just mean money in a conceptual, sitting in a bank, way. I mean actual physical money. Cash.

To start with we have the CHF10, CHF20 and CHF50 notes. These are easy to work with. The fifty pound note may be almost mythical but these foreign notes are colourful and reminiscent of money from board games. So the CHF50 note is still quite easy to work with. It's worth about £33.50 today so it's not such a big mental stretch as from £20 to £50.

Next though, we have the CHF100 note. This is worth (quick, do the maths) in the region of £67. That's a lot of money for one piece of paper. But when you take into account the cost of things here and the efficiency of the cash machines meeting your withdrawal request with the fewest possible pieces of paper, it's a common note.

Elsewhere on continental Europe I have asked the nearest cash machine for 50 or 100 Euros and received one note. Then, I have taken that single note to perform a small transaction and received scorn for not having anything smaller with which to pay.

Not so in Switzerland. It is perfectly acceptable to pay, for example, for a packet of chewing gum (CHF1.60) with a CHF100 note. No-one will even blink at this. No-one will scowl at you for draining their cash float.

Then there's the CHF200 note. It's a very light way to carry so much money. Efficient? Yes. Mildly unnerving? Also yes.

But we are not finished yet.

Yes, that's right. That is a CHF1000 note. That is one piece of paper with a value equivalent to about £670. That's scary stuff. Imagine leaving that in your pocket when putting your trousers through the wash!

Although that would never happen here. Money is to be respected. To be carefully stowed in a wallet or purse. No decrepit fivers here.

N.B. no money was harmed in the production of this blog post and all participating notes were obtained purely in the process of paying a month's rent in advance in cash (that was a whole month's rent in a mere eight bank notes!!).

(I'm allright Jack, keep your hands off my stack.)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

House hunt part 2: The denouement

We have found an apartment to move into on 31st March! Given the horror stories that abound on the expat community message boards about the competition and confusion of house hunting, I was expecting, at the very least, to be asked to swap a kidney in return for a tiny garret above a strip club in the red light district. The expat online community, like any other, does attract a few fruit cakes (see Swinging Switzerland post below), so some exaggeration is probably at play. But still we have been exceedingly fortunate and I can only thank Special Providence for smiling down on me (and mention that if He feels like working on a job for me I might give Catholicism some serious thought).

Our new apartment is in 8006, a quiet and leafy area on the hillside above the Hauptbahnhof and near to the university. It has 3.5 rooms (for the uninitiated this is the London equivalent of a medium sized 2 bed flat) and a balcony, is sunny, quiet and pretty (sonnig, ruhig und schön). We will be on the first floor of an old vierfamilienhaus, (not sure how to spell that), literally, 4 family house, a house originally built as 4 flats for families.

This was the first viewing that I went to, and I was a bit nervous. We put on some smart clothes to make a good impression. At the appointed viewing hour there didn't seem to be much competition (just 2 boys looking together, either students or possibly a couple, I couldn't tell). The flat seemed lovely, nice layout and with a nice kitchen, although it was a bit of a blur. Greg got out his super charming German skills and chatted to the landlords, a middle aged Swiss couple, Herr and Frau L, as they showed us round. I smiled and said "Ja" and "schön" when it seemed most likely to be appropriate. When we left, Frau L asked for our surname when giving us the application form, so it seemed hopeful.

We took the form away, translated it all, filled it in and then wrote a rather pretty personal letter explaining our situation to go with our application (this seemed a bit strange to us, but is recommended to make one's form stand out). We sent it off in the post and crossed our fingers. 2 days later we got a phonecall - Herr L offering us the flat and inviting us to a meeting on Saturday afternoon to transact the official paperwork! The meeting was to be on neutral territory at a nearby cafe (of course). We got ourselves smartened up again, and arrived early with a hefty sum of Frankens for the first month of rent in advance.

Herr and Frau L arrived as the church clock struck 3pm. Seats were taken, coffees ordered, and small take made. This went on for quite some time (in German), mostly between the menfolk. Frau L, clearly in charge of operations, then brought us smartly to business and handed round the paperwork (in German). We discussed the Ts and Cs (in German) and handed over the cashola. We were then 'dismissed' by Herr L. Cue an awkward moment as Greg hears an unfamiliar verb and is not sure what we are instructed to do, and I am confused over the social convention for who should pay for coffee and attempt to query this in my poor German. Laughing and relief all round as translation occurs and we are gently but firmly pushed out of the door, without paying.

After this, it was simply a matter of translating the contract, or at least the additional terms and conditions, eventually giving up on some parts, and signing it anyway - it is a standard proforma from a Swiss tenancy/landlord website so we are pretty sure it is safe. We have agreed, amongst other things, to use the washing machine only on Mondays and Tuesdays, and to open the windows for 5 minutes, four times every day to ensure proper airing (although Frau L has hinted that once per day would be sufficient). So now we just have to find 3 months' rent for our deposit (!) and then we can move in.