Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dear Frau: Expat or Local Swiss Contract?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It’s kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. Remember, if you’ve got a question about living in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland, don’t hesitate to contact The Frau.

Dear Frau,

I am currently investigating the option of expat versus local Swiss contract for work at a company in the Baden area.  As an American, what are the benefits of both from your perspective?   Also, is there a contact of yours that may be able to share their perspective of a local Swiss contract with elementary-aged children that initially came from the States?

Expat Or Local

Dear Expat Or Local,

Free flights home: one benefit of an expat contract
Unless you know you want to live in Switzerland forever, an expat contract is nice work–if you can get it. Unfortunately, more and more companies are taking away many of the benefits typically offered by expat contracts. So it’s hard for The Frau to tell you what’s best without knowing your exact options. However, expat contracts usually are financially advantageous (although they can be emotionally challenging because you’ll probably end up living in limbo).

The Frau has no way of knowing what your expat contract terms may be. So she will make them up, based on what many good ones often include in order to demonstrate why expat contracts are more advantageous to local ones.

Advantages of an expat contract:

Lower commitment level (typically expat contracts are between 1-5 years)

Includes a look-see visit

Air tickets home once a year (big benefit, especially if you have children, it is often hard to find cheap flights)

Tax assistance (big must for Americans)

Tax equalization (pay taxes as though you were living in your home country only)

Education assistance for school children (a company that will pay the CHF 30,000 international school fees for you…)

HR support (The Frau had great support from her husband’s HR department)

Housing stipend (typically over CHF 2000 a month, although it is taxed like income—also why your base salary may end up lower than it would be on a Swiss local contract)

Relocation specialist to help you find and secure housing in CH (necessary if you don’t speak the local language)

Language lessons

International insurance (great benefit, since Swiss insurance is very pricey and does not include dental or eye care…The Frau misses CIGNA International, sigh.)

Moving expenses (both there and back…unless of course, you go local later)

Job security (is a company going to let you go if it will cost them CHF 30,000 to move you back across the ocean?)

Transportation benefit (train passes or car lease, etc., cost also added to your salary and is taxable)

The option to go local later if you love it (like The Frau…)

Advantages of a local contract:

You won’t be living in limbo

You may invest more in learning the local language by knowing you will be here indefinitely

Higher base salary (you’ll need it without all the expat extras!)

Swiss child stipend ((an additional CHF 200/month per child (amount depends on the canton you live in–200 is for Baden) added to your paycheck))

You will be protected by Swiss unemployment (if you end up working long enough and with the right permit...)

Swiss pension (might be good, might not be good—depends on the company)

Paid only in Swiss Francs (a big advantage for Americans now, look at the dollar!)

Anyone else want to chime in and help Expat Or Local, especially those with children that came from the States? Merci vielmal from The Frau.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Frau's Swiss German Lesson

As most expats in Switzerland know, one of the reasons it’s hard to learn Swiss German as a foreigner is because Swiss German is only a spoken language and this is a country where strangers barely speak to each other.

The Frau has often wished for a more talkative Swiss population so she'd be able to learn a little Swiss German small talk.

Strangers don't usually talk to each other in Switzerland
As it is, the Frau can count on one finger the number of times a stranger on the train has spoken to her (asking if the seat is free doesn’t count). 

It happened on Saturday. The Frau was carrying a baby travel cot so she didn’t want to sit far from the door because the baby cot is big and awkward. As it happened, a man sitting in the second set of seats from the door actually smiled at her, gesturing at her to have a seat across from him.

Since the Frau was just off the boat from three weeks in the U.S., she appreciated the smile and the welcome so she sat there like a happy American and didn’t think twice about it.

But wait a minute. A Swiss person smiling and welcoming a stranger? She should have known this man was crazy. Her hindsight was correct. Because for the rest of the train trip, this friendly gentleman did his best to make the Frau uncomfortable.

He sat on the edge of his seat for the entire 15-minute train ride and touched her jacket, complimenting everything from her red-tag sale coat to her bandaged finger.

Now the Frau was proud to be able to understand some of his Swiss German advances and even reply to some, but in the end when she ran for the door, she couldn’t help but think that she learned a very important lesson: be careful what you wish for. Maybe a non-talkative culture is best after all.

Have you had any Swiss strangers strike up a conversation with you?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

The Frau descended on the United States for a few weeks this Christmas. In this special edition post that proves Reverse Culture Shock is alive and well, here are some of her observations.

Things about the United States that offended her Swissified sensibilities:

People leave their cars running forever and ever.

One U.S. strip mall. So many possibilities...
People have trashcans that are bigger than some Swiss apartments.

Stores leave their doors wide open in winter (The Frau personally shut them).

Waitresses and waiters visit the table way too frequently.

Prices are annoying. Like paying an amount like $7.72. How uneven and sloppy.

Most towns have little charm or character.

Chain stores have taken over everywhere.

You can’t walk to anything.

People wear pajamas in public.

The strip malls never end.

Football is always front-page news. Despite all the other issues that should be.

There is an obsession with material things.

The concept of layaway.

Things about the United States that she loved:

Americans say „sorry“ all the time, even when they have nothing to be sorry about, like when they get within one foot of the Frau at a store. (In contrast, today a Swiss man ran his grocery cart into her at Migros and wasn’t sorry at all. And on Monday, a man on a Swiss train kicked her by mistake on the train and also said nothing). Sigh. There appears to be no middle ground.

No cigarette smoke in her face.

Lots of personal space.

Movies with no subtitles in the way.

People that smile a lot.

Free water.

Free tea refills.

Shopping on Sunday.


Root beer.

Deep dish pizza.

$20 hair cut.

Family close by.

Not feeling like a foreigner.

Charging a purchase as little as $3.52 on a credit card.

What does your version of reverse culture shock involve?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Frau's very Swiss moment

Swiss train (photo by Brian Opyd)

Over some melted cheese and bread one evening, The Frau’s neighbor asked her what time she would be leaving for the airport.

The Frau answered, “I’m taking the train at 10:30.”

The Frau’s neighbor cocked her head to one side and said, “But doesn’t the airport train leave at 10:29?”

Genau. Hasn’t The Frau learned anything about living in Switzerland the last 6.5 years? How could she have been so inexact?

Have you had a very Swiss moment recently?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year from One Big Yodel

The Frau was trying to figure out the best way to wish everyone a Happy New Year when she thought, ha, what better way to do that than with a little German jingle. After all, this blog isn’t called One Big Yodel for nothing.

Ja, ja the Frau’s spoken German may leave a lot to be desired, but she can singt. She even recorded this jingle auf Deutsch for a Swiss ski brand a few years ago along with a prominent Swiss entertainer. The commercial never aired, but the Frau was so proud of her Deutsch that she set the song to a few winter photographs so she could allow her linguistic abilities to linger a little longer. Apparently, the song these new winter lyrics are based on, “Wann wirds mal wieder richtig Sommer,” is a popular song in Switzerland made famous by Rudi Carrell. Most Swiss don’t realize the tune is an American one. Recognize it?


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