November 2008 Archives


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When you arrive somewhere new there are invariably a number of things you have to do. In Switzerland, there are things you have to do on a very short timescale or you're in trouble. Work were very concerned to make it clear that I absolutely had to register with the local authorities within eight days of my arrival in Switzerland or dire penalties would ensue. In the city of Zürich this is something you do at your local Kreisbüro (essentially, district office). This is not an optional step. If you don't register, you pretty much can't do anything else.

However, there is an advantage to this. Once you've registered (and have the temporary registration receipt that the Kreisbüro gives you), you just need to walk into the nearest bank, show your registration and an employment contract, and they'll most likely be happy to open a bank account for you on the spot. No need to dance around with gas bills and other half-assed forms of ID. You need to wait a couple more months until your official work permit / ID comes through in order to do things like get a credit card or a cellphone that's on contract rather than pre-pay, but that's still enormously better than the exciting adventure that is trying to get a bank account in the UK when you have no history in the country.

I've been, in general, very pleasantly surprised by my dealings so far with Swiss officialdom. People are helpful, knowledgeable and generally pleasant in their dealings with the public, the lady in the Kreisbüro being patient with my rusty German and the ticket seller at the Hauptbahnhof not only being swift and efficient but remarking on how pleased he was to see companies like mine choosing to send people to Zürich. I'd budgeted the morning to register at the Kreisbüro and open a bank account, but in the end I accomplished both of these things in 45 minutes flat.

So now I have an official piece of paper issued by the Stadt Zürich to say that I exist, a local travel pass and a half tax card (one of the best travel bargains out there, but that's a subject for another post), and the all-important Swiss bank account. All I need now is some Swiss francs to put in it and I'm good to go for the next few weeks - at the moment I'm spending money that came out of my UK account, and with the pound having plummeted from Fr2.40/£ not so long ago to about Fr1.80/£ today, that's a pretty painful thing to be doing.

Of course, soon the really scary part starts - house-hunting. I'll freely admit that from what I've heard about house-hunting in Switzerland I'm fairly terrified, but since Tara has ordered me to let her do most of it I'm happy to take a back seat. I think she's leery of my well-known tendency to hate house-hunting so much that I take the first place I see, which once found me living in a horrible, overpriced, dank basement flat in Surbiton that had slugs (really). Avoiding slugs would of course be good, although I suspect that slugs are illegal under Swiss law anyway or, at least, are subject to deportation if they've been found to be resident in the country without registering at the Kreisbüro.


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"Arrival" is the name of the first episode of The Prisoner, where a grumpy Patrick McGoohan (who remains grumpy throughout pretty much the entire series) finds himself transplanted from the UK to a suspiciously clean, efficiently-run place. Being British, he clearly finds this highly bewildering. Having moved to Switzerland yesterday, I know how he feels.

An amazing thing happened at Heathrow. My flight was absolutely rammed full, but everyone showed up and was on board by quarter of an hour before the scheduled arrival time, the doors were closed and after a few minutes of waiting as we were so far ahead of our slot we pushed back 5 minutes early. Clearly Swiss people do not get distracted by shopping in the airport and fail to show up for their flights on time. Then, to make things worse, the flight landed and was on stand 20 minutes early. And this was only BA, not Swiss. The only bad part of the flight was a woman in the row behind me inexplicably taking such offence at being asked fairly reasonably to put her bag under the seat in front for takeoff that later in the flight that later in the flight she flagged down the stewardess concerned and Took Her Name in order to Make A Complaint. The stewardess did not seem to be quaking with fear at the prospect of being reported to management for doing her job properly, not only happily giving her full name but helping the complainant make sure she had the spelling right.

Anyone who's flown through it in the last couple of years will know that Zürich airport is a pleasure. Even as one of the last off the plane and with the wait for the transitty thing to the main terminal (although you get a smooch from an animated Heidi as a reward for waiting) I was in the baggage hall within 15 minutes. More impressively, so were my bags. Down to the railway station, bought a ticket, and was on the train to Zürich Hauptbahnhof barely half an hour after landing. Unheard of!

This is where things get a little interesting, or at least where I could have planned better. I figured that bringing my bike (well, one of my bikes) with me would give me a way to explore a little, so as well as 25kg of wheely duffel bag I also had a bike in a huge, unwieldy bike bag to wrestle. The bag has wheels, but they're small wheels on a big bag, and the bag itself isn't rigid. The wheels are also only at one end, and the other end has to be lifted up a long way for them to work properly. Add the carry-on backpack I was also wearing and you'll probably get an idea of the fun I'd let myself in for.

I successfully wrestled the dread combo o'bags through the Hauptbahnhof, overtaking a gaggle of soldiers returning for weekend leave and being grateful that they didn't remark on my astonishing abilty to schlep heavy loads and conscript me on the spot, and onto the train to the nearest station to the security office where I needed to collect the keys.

Okay, I won't describe my every move. Let's say, though, that I finally arrived at the apartment building after schlepping this dread combo (alternately wheeling the bike bag and carrying it over my shoulder) across an airport, a train, the undercroft of Zürich HB, another train, a not insubstantial walk to the security office, down to the nearest tram stop, onto a tram, off the tram again, and finally a short walk to the apartment block. I then discovered that my apartment is on the third floor and there's no lift. You can probably imagine the joy of lugging that lot up three floors sometime after 11pm on a Sunday when everyone is supposed to be asleep and if you make too much noise one of the neighbours will suddenly call the police.

I finally got in, located the most important bits in the apartment (DSL modem, place to plug in Airport Express, toilet - more or less in that order) and studied the sign in the bathroom ordering me to air the apartment regularly (ideally three times a day). Clearly Switzerland takes the menace of mildew seriously.

This morning, the workout the bike gave me last night (more comprehensive and varied than I'd have got for riding it for an hour) means I have bruising and red patches across both shoulders and the sort of aches and pains normally associated with, if not a day of wrestling, at least a hard day of DIY. I guess I need to practice my bike-schlepping harder in order to get into shape.

Anyway, here it is. I guess I'm now resident in Switzerland. Scary, huh?


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Tara drive me to Heathrow earlier. Terminal 5 is quite shiny now they've solved the "minor teething troubles" it experienced. My flight is about to board. Emigrating, see you on the other side.
This blog is about to wake up because once again, I'm going travelling. Emigrating, even. In fact, I'm relocating to Zürich for work, leaving tomorrow. It's all been arranged in rather a hurry, so as Tara still has a doctorate to finish she'll be staying in Oxford for the time being to work, teach, and feed the cat, and we'll be finding a place in Switzerland in the first months of next year. I've been commuting about two-and-a-half hours each way to work since we moved here and I'm looking forward to getting several hours of my life back every day, but at the same time I'm going to miss Tara a lot. Fortunately it's relatively easy to get from London to Zürich, so regular visits will be happening, although the number of days I'll be allowed to spend in the UK is something I'll have to keep an eye on in order to make sure I'm not liable for British tax as well as Swiss.

All the arrangements are made. I have temporary accomodation lined up, and my flight arrives fairly late tomorrow evening. Right now I'm in the putting-off-thinking-about-packing phase of things. The bike bag I bought so I could take one of my bikes with me was far easier to get the bike into than I expected - just took the wheels off and turned the bars, without the hours of dismantling and wrestling and taping I expected to have to undergo. I've done all those things you do before going away for a long trip - getting a haircut, tidying up loose ends of administrivia, researching the byzantine rules the Inland Revenue use to decide if you're resident or not, that sort of thing. I even bought a new pair of glasses for the first time since something like 2001. They're rimless and look rather Germanic, so I should blend right in.

I'm looking forward to seeing which of the stereotypes are true (I've been there before, and it's certainly a very clean place, so that's one) and which aren't (are there really apartment blocks where it's forbidden for men to pee standing up after 10pm?). It'll be an adventure to be living right in the heart of Europe, and even more of an adventure to attempt to speak Swiss German. I can speak High German after a fashion, but the local dialect is something else entirely, and as someone who likes to be able to communicate with other people, the language barrier is one of the things which worries me the most. This worry is of course irrational as most of Switzerland speaks English better than how I does, but as a native English speaker this, of course, fills me with guilt.


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