The eXpat Files This week's edition of The eXpat Files takes us to Switzerland, where British expat Simon Murphy says you can run out of food – or beer – if you forget that the shops are all closed on Sundays. It's also forbidden to mow one's lawn on the Sabbath. Which sounds quite civilised.
Simon also explains how to blend cold beer and melted cheese in his tale of life in Geneva. Over to you, Simon.
The Register: What kind of work do you do and with which technologies?
Simon Murphy: I'm a contract software developer in financial systems and commodity trading. Tech-wise, I use whatever is available, usually Visual studio and SQL Server or Oracle, but also Essbase, Excel, VBA, C++ etc.
The Register: Where's home and why did you want to leave?
Simon Murphy: Originally from Leeds, I've lived all over, most recently we were in Cumbria, which is a great place, no work for me within a hundred miles, though. I spent a few years working away from time to time.
The Register: Why Switzerland?
: It's a great place for kids, incredible facilities, loads of activities, the weather is good – cold enough to snowboard in the winter, warm enough to sunbathe in the summer, unlike Cumbria where it rains every day, almost.
In the Geneva area the language is French, which I speak comfortably.
The Register: How did you arrange your new gig?
Simon Murphy: I saw a job in Geneva on my favourite jobs board, missed it because my passport had expired, Renewed my passport, and within a few weeks another came up. Managed to blag my way in and been over here since.
The Register: Pay: up or down?
Simon Murphy: Hard to say, both actually as I have had a few roles, some well paid some really not. Overall, probably up.
The Register: How do workplaces differ between home and Switzerland?
Simon Murphy: I've mainly worked in international companies, so the culture is pretty similar. Business language is usually English or American, The craic is usually in French. Most places there has been a token Swiss and a bunch of us foreigners.
The Register: Will your expat gig be good for your career?
: I don't think it will make any difference just because it's abroad, mind you as a contractor I don't really have a "career", just a bunch of technologies I can work with (and some to avoid like MS Project and Visio).
My current role could be good as it's a BI project on Oracle Linux.
The Register: What's cheaper in Switzerland? What's more expensive?
: Nothing is cheaper, everything is more expensive, often eye-wateringly so.
Well, Lindt chocolate is slightly cheaper here, and income tax is lower, as is VAT.
And skiing: The kids are going on a school ski trip (in term time, of course), total cost for travel, full board, lift pass and full ski lessons? 100 quid.
And cigarettes, they're quite a bit cheaper.
The Register: What will you miss about Switzerland when or if you go home?
Simon Murphy: I can't really imagine a full time return to Blighty any time soon, but if we left here then the organisation and the sports facilities would be the things I would miss most.
The Register: What's your top tip to help new arrivals settle in?
Simon Murphy: Plan your shopping. EVERYTHING is shut on a Sunday, most shops shut around 5 on a Saturday, most supermarkets shut at 7 or 8pm during the week. If you don't plan ahead its easy to go hungry, or have an unplanned dry weekend. (A few small 7-11 type shops are appearing now). Saturday is a high stress shopping day as all the office workers try and cram all their weekly shopping needs into one day. Traffic and parking are bad.
The Register: What advice would you offer someone considering the same move?
: Go for it, language is not an issue here, most people speak at least two languages and are happy to try. The Swiss aren't precious about their language(s), or self-conscious speaking foreign ones.
Make sure the finances stack up, what sounds like a great rate in the UK will barely pay the rent here. Health insurance is compulsory and around 500CHF per adult, per month. Get your employer to pay, if you can.
The kids get stellar support at school to learn the local language.
The Register: How easy is it to watch your favourite sportsball team in Switzerland?
Simon Murphy: Not much of a sports spectator, but for the kids' football every pitch here has a buffet bar with drinks (including beer and wine) and snacks and shelter, unlike the facility-free icy mudbaths of a Cumbrian match.
The Register: When I eat the Swiss melted-cheese-on-bread snack raclette and drink cold beer, nasty things happen shortly afterwards. How do the locals handle it?
: There is a special regime for eating these cheese-athons. I think you are meant to drink something warm or a certain type of wine. Best bet is to go directly to the beers.
We use the threat of fondue to make the kids behave.
The Register: Expat communities: embrace, graze when you need a reminder of home or stay away from those grumblebums who always complain about being here?
Simon Murphy: We don't really do the little Britain thing, although plenty of our mates are non-locals, many are Swiss, Germans or French. For a swifty after work though, you really need other Brits or Eastern Europeans.
The Register: And because this is the weekend edition, what can you do on weekends in Switzerland that you can't do at home?
: World class skiing and snowboarding is less than an hour away, nice family resorts 30 minutes door to piste.
In the summer, the lake is warm enough to swim in. You can take a cheap, clean, punctual train almost anywhere. Loads of free and cheap family and sports' activities.
You'll also find international standard, open (free) access BMX tracks near many towns.
And what can't you do? You can't cut the grass or make other noise on a Sunday.
Where have you lived and how did it go? We're always keen for more expat stories. Plus: we're also now looking for tales of odd things that have happened to you while working on-call.
Drop us a line to share either experience. ®
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