Things we learned the hard way about Switzerland

July 30, 2011 and July 30, 2014

The end of January marked 3.5 years of expat living. Or as we like to call it, 3.5 years of not killing each other in a foreign country.

Yup, we set the bar pretty high.

We've learned  a lot living here. Things about ourselves, things about our relationship, things about living abroad. So many many many things.

We've learned we can live comfortably on just one income but super comfortably on two. We've learned we can completely change how we eat. We've learned that when forced John can get by in the little German he has and when forced I can say at least 2 or 3 sentences in French (one of them being "I want my grapefruit.")

We've learned how to miss each other but also how to take moments to love each other. We've learned how to remain a vital part of peoples lives even when we live across the ocean. I've learned that my grade 10 gym teacher was wrong about me and that I probably should have paid more attention in grade 9 French and John has learned walking in the foot steps of his globe trotting Uncle is a gift and that just because I speak German to him doesn't mean I'm yelling at him.

We've learned to appreciate moonshine from around the world but also wine. John has learned how to politely accept food such as cobra, bull genitalia and bugs. And I've learned to like green olives (the jury is still our on black olives.) We've learned to love the neurotic Swiss and how to survive tourist season. We've learned about history and culture and we've learned we're still two idiots who moved to Switzerland without so much as googling it most days but as long as we have each other and snacks we'll be okay.

We have learned some things the hard way though.

The 5 CHF oops

Did you know that the Canadian passport and the Bern Libero transportation pass are almost identical in size and colour? Yup they are. Not long after we got here I was still getting use to our train schedules and one day I was rushing to leave the apartment so I could meet a friend in town for a trip to the local zoo. Yes, Bern has a zoo. I grabbed off the table what I thought was my transportation pass. Nope, it was my Canadian passport. And wouldn't you know it that was the day the train I was on was randomly inspected. Something you need to know is that public transportation here is largely on the honour system. But a random inspection could happen at any time. No ticket or pass you get a fine. I think after being caught a few to many times you can actually have your pass privilages suspended. In that moment on the train when I realized I didn't have my pass I proceeded to forget every word of German I had ever spoken in my life. The nice inspector (no really he was quite nice he told me all about his recent vacation in Canada) wrote me ticket. It actually took him longer to write me the ticket then it did for us to get to the Bern train station. He handed it over and highly recommended I pay it today and next time make sure I had my train pass and not my passport. My fine was 5 francs if I paid it that day. So off I went. Paid the 5 chf fine...and then another 10 for a day pass. Another thing happened that day...the beginning of obsessively checking my bag for my train pass every single time I leave the house...mulitple times...just in case.

The 50% off oops

Fun fact: if you use public transportation to get to Ikea, you get 50% off your delivery if you present your ticket (in our case it was our train ticket.)

Now I don't know if this is a universal Ikea policy. BUT it is the policy of the one we go to. If you remember correctly John and I rebuilt our lives here right down to the dishes and cow hide throw rug (which I refuse to take any responsibility for, that was all John.)We did it in shifts. First we got the essentials. Something to sit on, something to eat off of something to sleep on. Then we went back and got the rest of the stuff and away so it would look a little less like college kids lived in our apartment (let's be still kind of looks like that.) It worked out that we had 27 boxes delivered to our place. Now that's pricey. Quite pricey. Lots of money bucks were spent not only on the items but on getting them to our place.

A few weeks later we mentioned this insane amount of boxes of stuff to expat friends of ours. They mention, "so did you get the 50% off for delivery with your train ticket?" Exsqeeze me? A baking powder? No, no we didn't. So not only did I get a hard time from the delivery guys for not having an elevator (because you know...that's my fault...) I didn't get cheap delivery...dukes.

The 1500+ CHF oops

When the mood strikes I have been known to play the "I'm a Canadian I didn't know" card and the "I don't speak German" card. The latter only works when I remember not to say that in perfect German. We recently discovered Switzerland has a TV and radio licencing fee. At no point in the last 3.5 years were John and I informed of this. Not when we set up our cable and internet way back in 2011. Not when we rented our apartment. Not by some random helpful expat when talking about the differences of living here versus back home. Not ever. Now we wonder if this is something we might have found out if we registered with our canton. Here's the thing, due to the nature of our permits, we are not suppose to register with the canton...we're actually not allowed to. The reason for this is we don't pay taxes due to being here with the United Nations. Now you might be wondering this would then make you excempt from this licencing thing. No, no it doesn't because while we don't pay taxes this one isn't considered a's a fee and it's the law. Apparently as much as we like to think we are, we are not in fact above the law (no we don't have diplomatic immunity...well John does when on mission and it's incredibly limited.) I arrived home after work while John was in Kenya. There was an envelop in our mailbox. In very nice penmenship was written "ganz wichtig" (very important). I read the letter...and that is when I learned about the whole thing. Now my options were risk getting a fine or just register and pay the fee including the retroactive ones. Double dukes!

So I dutifully register online that evening. On top of that I was honest about the date we started having TV and radio service (though we have never once listened to Swiss radio at home...we still own a radio therefore we could listen to it and therefore we still have to pay that fee too...) so August 2011. And then I waited. It would take them a few days to tell me how much I owed them through my online account.

1,579.75 chf

Triple dukes.


Unknown said…
Oh my gosh! I had to Google 1500 CHF in CAD... :O was pretty much my reaction. That hurts.
Anonymous said…
OMG. That's a plane ticket home (the radio licence). EEK.