Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why the Swiss don't smile and the Americans do

The Frau’s American experiment is teaching her a lot about the Swiss.

Namely, why the Swiss are like they are.

To understand this, she has been studying Americans for the last three weeks.

Americans are very effervescent in public. Perfect strangers bubble over with smiles and life stories. And then they disappear into their big cars and their big houses, lost forever to the person they just met. They don’t walk anywhere. Two steps into the car. Two steps into the grocery store and two steps back into the car to go through…the Starbucks drive-through. Or the ATM drive-through. Or the library book drop off drive-through. Therefore, Americans dress as if they aren’t going to see anyone for more than a few seconds and they are generally pleased to talk to anyone they see.

By contrast, most Swiss live in small apartments in buildings with many other people. They walk down pedestrian streets. They ride public transport. They go into coffee shops and stay two hours. They go into banks. They live a public life. So they dress like they’re going to be in public for a while. In other words, compared to Americans, they look really nice because they are on public display. But with all of this public life in Switzerland, The Frau is really beginning to understand why the Swiss keep to themselves. If they smiled at everyone they saw in a day, their faces would hurt. If they bubbled over with enthusiasm every time they saw a neighbor, it would be over the top.

All of this also explains why people in New York City might not be as friendly as people in a small US town. They can’t be. They would go crazy because there are too many people around to be nice too.

The Frau’s conclusion? The more life one leads in public, the less friendly one will act towards the public. Any yodelers agree or care to disagree?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Swiss customer service nostalgia

The Frau never thought she would miss Swiss customer service, but it has come to this, yodelers. 

Now. As some of you may know, The Frau used to complain about Swiss customer service. In particular, she complained about those charge-you-by-the-minute-for-the-pleasure-of resolving-the-issue-we-probably-caused customer service calls in Switzerland. And after being in the US for approximately 16 days, she wants –at least the toll phone portion– of Swiss customer service back.

She would pay any amount of franc-per-minute to have it. Because, interestingly enough, a Swiss toll call ends up being cheaper than an American toll-free call. Here is proof.

Swiss customer service toll call

The Frau calls SBB to resolve a train ticket issue. She must pay CHF .50 per minute between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to call the number. When she calls during those hours, someone answers right away. This is a real live person and they are located somewhere across the canton rather than across the world. For simplicity, The Frau imagines that they are in Canton Aargau. This person in Canton Aargau speaks five languages, including English. He may not sound thrilled to talk to The Frau, but the call takes five minutes and the issue is resolved.

Total time: 5 minutes
Total cost: CHF 2.50

American customer service toll-free call(s)

The Frau calls Comcast because her Internet service is not activating automatically. Thanks to Comcast’s 24/7 service line, she can call at night. She can call during the day. And she can call during lunch. But no matter what time she calls, a technical reason shuts down her call. Soon, she learns the truth about 24/7, toll-free calling. It means that no matter what time she calls, an automated voice answers. It means that it’s her lucky hour when someone on the other side of the world who speaks something kind of representing English finally talks to her. But this chance, as The Frau is calculating based on experience, is only 1 out of 5 calls. And then the chance that she will understand their English is only 1 out of 5 of those really lucky calls. And this is even with 8+ years of training in understanding strange English accents, yodelers. Imagine normal Americans who have never left America trying to translate such so-called English. This is why, twenty-four hours after trying to activate her Comcast Internet service, The Frau is still trying to activate her Comcast Internet service.

Total time: 41 minutes and counting
Total cost: $4.10 in prepay minutes and counting

Which service would you rather have, yodelers? The Frau knows her answer.

Oh, and by the way, The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known was published in May. If you still haven’t read it but are enjoying this blog, you really have no excuse–unless of course you are living in the US and are still on hold with Comcast. In that case, veil Gl├╝ck.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thanks for spending 250,000 francs with us. Now about that scratch…

The Frau has one word for her apartment handover meeting. Amazement.

She was prepared for the best that Swissness could offer. And still. She was…here is a nice way of saying it…dumbfounded.

It’s more the concept of the thing than the thing itself. It's the fact that you could spend over CHF 250,000 on rent while living 8+ years in a place and still be subjected to scrutiny over a small crack on a light switch plate (not her fault! already noted on the move-in protocol, yippee!) or be shown that a piece of 40-year-old plastic is broken with a sad shake of a head and point of a finger. It’s almost unbelievable except it’s Switzerland, so it’s believable.

Here are a few highlights from the handover:

One of the apartment managers actually ran her finger over the top of one of the doorknobs and proclaimed it not clean enough. This same woman proceeded to pull the lining out of the fridge to check the cleanliness of that. Thanks to the fact that The Frau spent CHF 2,000 getting the place cleaned, the cleaners kept working as the woman kept criticizing so The Frau got her money's worth.

Two 40+ year-old pieces of plastic that held the window shade cranks were documented as broken. Yes…they were 40 + years old. Should this be surprising or The Frau’s fault?

The glasses in the bathroom that the movers packed by mistake were pointed out as missing and it was recommended that they be shipped back to the rental agency from the USA, once they arrived. This seemed stupid and costly to The Frau. The issue was resolved after a quick run to Migros when The Frau proved to the rental agency people that yes, the glasses could be replaced for a mere 5 SF and a little last-minute moving stress.

How much will all of this “wear and tear” cost The Frau beyond the 250k she already spent in rent? She’ll let you know in two months. Apparently that’s how long it takes to get any of your deposit back. Perfect timing, since by then her Swiss bank account will be closed and she will get to pay bank transfer fees on top of any small remaining pocket change. Yippee.

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