Monday, May 31, 2010

Why does it take so long to get your permit?

As an American in Switzerland, every year, I must renew my B-permit in order to live here legally. In 2008, it took over four months to get my permit renewed. That's a third of a year. Yes. To process one sheet of paper. Other times, it's taken two months, sometimes three. This year is still to be determined, but it's a snail's pace so far--I've already waited over a month.

Because of these amazing lengths of time, I have often wondered what exactly the Migration department in Canton Aargau does with my renewal paper.

Are they making complex origami figures with my paper and displaying it at the Kunsthaus? Are they doing experiments in dust collection? Or are they just too busy looking at porn to bother with my application for B-permit renewal?

Well, now it's official. We can blame the porn.

At least in Zurich, porn is one of the reasons given for problems with the Migration department. Zurich-based solicitor Ueli Vogel-Etienne has cataloged a list of failures on behalf of the migration department: disregard of working hours, routine circulation of porn via the department's email system, staff surfing the Internet during working hours, office workers not ever reachable during office hours. Wow. Switzerland isn't innocent, after all.

As far as I know, Canton Aargau's migration department's efficiency has yet to be investigated. But since I've already waited over a month for my permit to be renewed so far this year, I would recommend a little Aktion on Mr. Vogel-Etinenne's behalf.

After all, it just doesn't make sense that when a Swiss train is one minute late it is cause for a heart attack, but when a foreigner's piece of paper delayed for four months, it is no big deal.

How long have you waited for your permit to be renewed?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dear Frau: This weather sucks!

Welcome to the latest edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about life in Switzerland, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe you're little Frage will be in the next Dear Frau column. And as always, the Frau does not have all the answers and welcomes your solutions to these questions in the comments section.

Dear Frau,

What is up with the weather in Zurich? It rains almost every day. And what the heck is there to do when it’s Sunday or a holiday and all the stores are closed and the weather still sucks?


Soggy in Zurich

Dear Soggy in Zurich,

Look on the bright side. At least you don’t live in Bergen, Norway, where it rains about 235 days a year.

Zurich does get more rain than many European cities and The Frau has a friend that got so depressed by the gray skies that she bought a sun lamp.

It can be frustrating to watch, but the Swiss are so used to bad weather, they don’t even seem to notice it (maybe you’ve seen them sitting outside in cafes when it’s 5 degrees outside). The Frau’s neighbor even goes flowering picking in the rain.

Anyhow, if you’re the type that would like to stay dry, here are some Sunday and holiday suggestions for making all this rain tolerable:

Visit the Frau’s recommended Swiss museums worth your time and money

Read a good book. The Frau has collected a list of especially good reads for expats.

Go to the spa or to your nearest indoor pool.

Go to a movie. Movies listed as E/d/f, for example, are in English with German and French subtitles. Remember that movies here come with an intermission. No, the film is not broken even though they may have cut Tom Cruise off mid-sentence. It’s just time to get a beer.

Read a good blog. Here’s a new arrival to the Swiss Blogging community: Expat CH by Bill Harby. Or check out the latest on swissinfo's Write On blog. They change writers here every two months, so you'll always get a fresh take on things.

Take a cooking class. For example, Hiltl often offers Sunday classes.

Plan your next vacation. Ideally to Dry Valley in Antarctica.

Ok, the Frau is running out of ideas. Anyone else want to chime in to help Soggy in Zurich? What do you do when it rains on Sunday?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Zurich’s Opposite

After conducting much research (uh, I mean travel) in Europe over the last four years, I have come to the conclusion that Zurich’s sister city should be Copenhagen. Copenhagen appears to be the complete opposite of Zurich, so they would compliment each other nicely.

People in Copenhagen:

Wear sweats

Wear bright colors

Wear tank tops and shorts

Go barefoot

Shop on Sundays


Make small talk with foreigners (and with each other)

Wait 15 minutes for a bus before checking their watches

Anyone else have a take on what city is Zurich’s opposite?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Seven Things That I Should Clean

Living in Switzerland has redefined my definition of clean. In fact, after living in Switzerland, it's hard to travel anywhere at all without being utterly disgusted by so much lurking filth.

For instance, will you just look at this pollen. What nerve to just fling itself down on a Swiss street. It will be sorry. The street sweeper can't be far.

Anyhow, here is a list of seven things I never considered "dirty" before I moved here:

1. Orchid leaves (use face oil to really make shine)
2. My gutter (should have drinkable water in it)
3. Public trash can (you have seen these being shined in Zurich, haven't you?)
4. Sink spout (my relocation agent was disappointed that mine weren't cleaner before I moved in)
5. Washing machine soap dispenser (soak in vinegar for maximum gleam)
6. Planter (they get dusty without rain–no problem with that this spring!)
7. Concrete (for maximum shine, borrow my neighbor's
Hochdruckreiniger. She wants you to use it.)

Oh, Switzerland. How much you've taught me.

How has Switzerland redefined your definition of dirt?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Have Your Fondue and Be Fit Too

Guest post by Noah of

Many years ago I resolved to live a fit life. Exercise, sweat wicking t-shirts, brightly colored drinks… all that good stuff. So I felt fortunate moving to Switzerland; it's one of the healthiest countries in the world.

Then came the shock.

-Gym memberships: 95 CHF per month.
-Exercise equipment: Underpowered, overpriced.
-Energy gels: 3.20 CHF each, compared to $0.90 back home.

These are the meat and potatoes of amateur athletes! Yet they weren’t just a bit more expensive here; they were prohibitively expensive. All of a sudden, Switzerland felt like a giant beer gut.

So I asked a friend – against all accounts I made Swiss friends quickly – how Switzerland is so healthy. "Is it because of exercise?"

"That, and the food."

"Fondue?" I teased.

But the more I thought about it the more it made sense. “Bad” food is the exception, not the norm. Many Swiss live healthy lifestyles by default. Trying to shoehorn my idea of fitness into theirs was where I went wrong. I wasn't doing as the Romans do.

With that in mind, here's how to get/stay in shape, the Swiss way:

  • Eat well: Junk food isn't a staple of the traditional Swiss diet. Trips to the farmers market and home-cooked meals are.
  • Forget the gym: Choose an activity you see Swiss people doing. Biking, tennis, soccer, skiing. There are great deals on used equipment at pawn shops, and
  • Forget exercise equipment: Pieces of machinery like recumbent bikes and treadmills are too big and noisy to be compatible with this country.
  • Order abroad: If you really need fitness foods, buy from abroad and swallow the associated fees. It's cheaper.
  • Get outside: There's an excellent selection of trails and activities set across an awe-inspiring landscape. Take advantage of it!
  • Use those Sundays: I used to wonder where everyone was on Sundays. They're skiing, they're hiking, they're biking.

There you have it: how to be fit in the land of cheese and chocolate. Have anything to add? How do you stay in shape in Switzerland?

Noah Arobo lost over 50 lbs despite his love of raclette and rösti. Read more at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dear Frau: How to find a Job in Switzerland?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby except with an international twist. If you have a question about life in Switzerland, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe your little Frage will be in the next edition of Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

I have been looking for a job in Switzerland and am confused by what the (m/w) means after the job title in the listing. And what is up with the age thing. I’m 38 and some of the jobs I’m interested in give an age range of 25-35. Am I over the hill already?


Job Seeker

Dear Job Seeker,

Looking for a job in Switzerland can be tough. The Frau can relate. She once had an interview in Switzerland that involved reading in German, reading in French, writing in English, and naming the acronyms of Swiss political parties. Ja.

If all the language requirements weren’t tough enough, there’s also sexual and age discrimination to be concerned with. In this country, the discrimination is right there in the job listing: in Switzerland, jobs are still listed as whether they are for males or females or both. If you see (m/w), that means both men and women are welcome to apply. And the age thing, yeah, since you have to put your birth date on your resume, there’s no way to pretend you’re 35 when you’re really 38. And many jobs do specify an age range up front. This sometimes also has to do with the pay level. In general, older people get paid more in Switzerland.

The Frau doesn’t necessarily enjoy all of this upfront discrimination in the Swiss job listings, but she’s come to accept it. Because even though some countries, like the United States, would never be so openly discriminatory in a job listing, it doesn’t mean that the reality is any different behind the scenes. At least in Switzerland, you won’t be wasting your time at an interview if you don’t really fit the job specs.

Anyhow, the Frau wishes you luck with your job search. If you’re looking for more information or advice on how to find a job in Switzerland, check out a few more posts from the Frau:

How to Find a Job in Switzerland
10 online resources for finding a job in Switzerland. Included are sites especially for those in finance, communications, academia, as well as general job searching sites.

Trailing Spouse Advice on Finding a Job in Switzerland
How the Frau found her Swiss job and tips for finding yours. Hint: if you can, start looking before you move.

How to Land an International Assignment
You're Young. You're starting your career. You want to move abroad. What to do first.

Does anyone else have advice on how to find a job in Switzerland? What do you think of the open discrimination in Swiss job listings?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tax-free shopping: not worth the trouble

I have long lamented my laziness in requesting my tax back from purchases made in other countries. So in March, while on a weekend trip to Barcelona, I decided to do something about that. When paying for my Spanish fashions, I requested a Global Refund. It seemed easy enough.

1. Fill out the Global Refund receipt that the store gives you.
2. Take it to the tourist office.
3. Get your tax back in cash.
4. Get the receipt stamped upon your departure.
5. Mail it back in and hope you filled it all out right.

Anyhow. I spent 138 Euros on clothes, got 17 Euros or so back in cash after standing in line at the tourist office for a half hour, ran around the Barcelona airport almost missing my flight for the silly stamp (it is my impression that the tax-free customs guys hide on purpose--you'll see why below), and then spent 2,40 CHF on a stamp to mail the thing back to Spain. Worth it? No way.

Time is money. And unless you're spending thousands of dollars in a foreign country, forget the tax-free thing. It's just not worth the time and stress.

And here's the catch: my sister paid it. If you fail to get your receipt stamped at customs and fail to send it back after the fact, you are charged. A lot. My sister got a nice $25 charge on her credit card two months after the fact, even though she originally only got 10 Euros of tax money back. So the whole transaction ended up with her having a loss of about $15. (Spain told her Switzerland would stamp her receipt before her flight back to the U.S., but Switzerland wouldn't stamp it because they are not in the EU.)

Lesson: tax free, don't bother. Unless you are spending at least $1000 and are 100% sure of the rules and how to follow through--especially if your trip involves multiple countries that may or may not be in the EU.

Do you have experience with tax-free shopping? Do you think the time is worth the money?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Dear Frau: Where should I live in Zurich?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe your little Frage will be in the next Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

I'm moving to Zurich with my husband in August. My husband and I will be working in Adliswil (very close to Kreis 2). If you have any tips on cool areas to look for an apartment that would be very handy.



Dear Homeless,

Wilkommen! First off, it’s great that you are looking ahead of time. Finding an apartment in Zurich is not for the faint of heart, as vacancy is usually less than 1% and it’s not unusual for 600 people to show up for one little apartment open house.

Never fear. You will find something. Everyone does. Homelessness is not a problem in der Schweiz.

As far as “cool areas” in Zurich, that depends on your definition of cool. The Frau doesn’t pretend to be cool, after all, she lives in Canton Aargau, 15 whole miles west of Zurich (can you imagine living that far out?!), and goes around town with a little orange IKEA cart filled with plastic bottles.

But some people she knows are cool so here’s what she’s learned:

If cool means “exclusive,” like it does for one of The Frau's Swiss friends, you’ll want to be seen in Zurich’s expensive Seefeld area, which is on the lake on the “gold coast” side.

If cool means “old money”, like it does for many Zurichers, you’ll want to be seen on what is known as the Zürichberg, the area up on the hill near the zoo where many mansions have views of the city and the lake.

If cool means “walk to work”, then The Frau would live in Kreis 2, which you mention is close to your place of employment. It’s on the “silver coast”, but only Swiss people care about all that gold anyway.

If cool means trendy, The Frau would live in the industrial area turned art district, Kreis 5.

If cool means living in the old town, The Frau would live in Kreis 1/Niederdorf. (Note: old towns usually come with church bells and clock towers. The Frau speaks from experience).

If cool means living with a bunch of French expats, then check out Dübendorf. You wouldn't know it by the name, but this place is jumping with Frenchies. Oui, oui.

For more info on districts in Zurich, click here.

Ok Zurichers, it's your turn. If you’re cool (or even if you’re not), then please help the homeless. Are you happy with your locale? If you could live anywhere in Zurich, where would you live?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Smoke-free Switzerland?

People have said that I live in one of the most backwards cantons in Switzerland. People from Zurich especially like to point this out.

Now I've defended Canton Aargau before, but this time, I have to agree with my Zurich colleagues. At least when it comes to the new smoking law, Little Living In The Past Canton Aargau still can't admit what scientists have proven for years: smoking kills.

Even though Switzerland has passed a smoking ban, which began on May 1, like most things Swiss, the lawmakers in Bern let the cantons decide the actual rules--even when it comes to things like public health. And of course, I live in a canton that has the most liberal rules. This means that smoking is allowed in restaurants under 80 qm2--in other words, smoking is still allowed in almost all the of restaurants in my little town.

I guess I'm not going out after all.

Despite appearances otherwise, nothing in many parts of Switzerland has changed. Somehow, I'm not surprised. Whether it's women fighting for equal rights in a Swiss parade for over 20 years, or protecting workers from second-hand smoke when the facts prove it kills, change in Switzerland seems excruciating in its slowness.

According to Swissinfo, 21% of the population here is exposed to second-hand smoke for at least an hour each day. And what I still fail to understand are the numbers: Two-thirds of Swiss people don't smoke. So why are we catering to the minority, especially since we live in an über-democracy? I don't understand why restaurant owners are so worried about the smoking ban. If they only knew how many times I wanted to go out but didn't because I didn't want to come home and have to take a shower, maybe they'd realize just how many customers they will never see because of their "liberal" take on smoke.

I would also generalize that many non-smokers are probably better educated and have more money to spend in restaurants (especially since these people are saving hundreds each year by not buying cigarettes). But logic does not always seem to matter when it comes to laws in Switzerland.

To see if you live in a backwards part of Switzerland, check the smoking chart above, which I scanned from Blick am Abend. If you find yourself in the gray areas, yeah, you live in one of the most backwards places in Switzerland. So to see any real change when it comes to smoking, you'll probably have to keep holding your breath.

What do you think of the new smoking laws?


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