We’ve been here just on two weeks now, and alongside exploring our new country we’re slowly starting to learn the ropes about life in Switzerland. There are many similarities, but just enough differences to make our day to day life slightly surreal, like we’re in a dream or a parallel universe. Or, say, another country. Some of them are blatant and expected – the other side of the road thing, language and money differences, opposite seasons, weird powerpoints. But there are a handful of other quirks – some minute (like the different alert sound the train station makes) and some large (like the tax system) that are slowly infiltrating our consciousness as we adapt our daily lives.
Apartments seem to the be the primary mode of residence. We’re staying in one now, and as I’ve been walking the bub around our town and further afield, it’s apparent that this is the main way people live. Ours is comfortable and spacious (we lived in The World’s Smallest Darkest Apartment in Marrickville for many years though, so our benchmark is pretty low), and happily seems to be fairly soundproof (our girl is currently protesting bedtime. Like, for hours at a time. I felt for our neighbours until I did some Laidey-scream-testing and it seems to be not too bad – which is a relief, because otherwise you could probably hear her in Australia). The coolest thing about it, though, is the lift. You get in it as normal in the foyer of the building and you need to activate it with a key, as the lift opens up directly into our apartment. I don’t know how common that is, but it’s awesome and every time I use it I feel like I’m in Big. (I also just fell down an epic late 80s and early 90s movie spiral. Thanks, internet.)
We don’t have an apartment number either – just our street and block. Names are put on the door and the postboxes. When we moved in, we were ‘Fam. Purtell’. Adelaide and Tim received their Swiss permits and bank information without any hassle, but the days dripped on and there was nothing for me. I had my panic on for a while – my photo was pretty bad, perhaps I was rejected due to Inappropriate Hairdo? – but when we went to the post office I was advised that they did not know I was living at that address, as I am a Noller (this was extremely difficult to explain. It just didn’t seem to be understood that I was a Noller but my husband a Purtell. For the first time I was quite pleased we were both too stubborn to drop either of our names from Adelaide’s: her hyphenated Noller-Purtell enabled me to explain out family getup a little easier). Not a major pickle by any stretch of the imagination, and easily rectified (door plaques changed, as opposed to my name), but just something we didn’t consider at all.
Recycling is an epic deal here. Prior to arriving, Tim’s colleague commented on the magnitude of this but we sort of shrugged it off. It’s recycling, people. How big a deal could it be? Joke is on us, it turns out. A major component of our ‘welcome to Switzerland’ relocation induction was about focused on this (and despite the amount of info we received then, we’re still somewhat confused). Switzerland has a goal to reach 50% of its 1990 emission levels by 2030 and the whole waste system has been set up to support that goal (in comparison, Australia’s goal is 5%…although, this has a number of caveats that actually put us at 61% above, according to Tim’s research. We’re the second worst per capita, exceeded only by Russia) (blush). Every apartment block has two receptacles for waste – normal rubbish and green waste (all food scraps sans meat). For normal waste, you must use their official garbage bags which cost CHF2.9 each (about five bucks). Putting such a high price on garbage (in an already expensive country) means that people really observe the waste rules. There are centres in every town to take all your waste, but they are only open restricted hours. Also, at train stations, supermarkets and other designated spots around town are the various recycling plants – paper, PET, glass, cans and the like. It’s quite confusing though as there doesn’t appear to be a standard system for these – some supermarkets only take PET, for example, but it doesn’t seem consistent. I see parents walking around with their kids and stopping to offload the day’s recycling at various points in town (and have creepily followed them to work out where to go) – it feels complex enough that it could easily become my part time gig. I’m sure we’ll be used to it soon enough however, and it’s an excellent incentive to reuse and recycle (also, the fivers saved on garbage bags can be put towards my wine time).
One of the main incentives to move here (other than the girl learning to speak multiple languages, as opposed to Westie and Bogan, the native languages of her parents) are the significant tax advantages in Switzerland. I’m confused slash disinterested by tax at the best of times*, but it’s been another topic that has been drummed into us. Here, we have a federal tax of 1%, and then each of the 26 Cantons (like states, I guess, but smaller and with apparently much more control. Also, bear in mind that the entire population of Switzerland is less than that of Sydney, so we’re almost talking the equivalent of local government areas in terms of population) is able to impose its own tax, which goes directly to expenditure on roads, schools and the like. Naturally, each Canton competes to attract high flying rich peeps and businesses, and the taxation is generally quite low. For example, Canton Zug, where we’re currently living, taxes at 4.15%. Across the border in Lucerne, where we’re contemplating moving, is a ‘hefty’ 10%. In addition to this, there’s a wealth tax based on assets (of which we have none here, other than our firstborn but happily she is not claimable, because otherwise we’d probably owe them money). Also, being married and having no religious affiliation has a significant impact on our tax status – hurrah for our shotgun civil nupitals! The doozy, though, is consumption tax: the day to day is expensive. There are rumours** of people crossing the border to smuggle back meat and other goods. There is also no social security or healthcare included through taxation – the former is done conjointly between employer and individual, and the latter through insurance. Interestingly, the social outcomes here are apparently the same as the Scandinavian (complete welfare state) models; we don’t know enough about it yet to have much of an opinion on that one.
Finally, perhaps most strangely and definitely most amusingly of all, people totally rollerblade here. There are signposts for walking, pushbikes and…inline skates. Maybe that 80s/90s spiral wasn’t too out of context after all.
*Although my lovely cousin Kylie is not. This bit is for you as requested, and apologies if it’s not detailed enough but I was falling asleep writing about tax as it was.
**We’re planning our trip in the near future.