22: Corral Your Corporate Crew

Life overseas can be a bear for a migrant worker, blue collar, white collar or otherwise.

Some have asked how this week’s banking fiasco panned out. The answer is that our results were mixed, but more importantly, here is a real tip for foreigners who run into trouble.

Get your employer involved.

We turned to our company’s human resources department to deal with the bank. This is an advisable route for problems with any foreign service-provider be it the post office, the bank, the landlord, you name it.

This is not the entrance to our bank, but some days we feel like it is.

Here is why: You are but passing through their country. You are a visitor; they know you will not be around forever, therefore they lack a sufficient degree of motivation to see that you are satisfied. Not only are you not a second-class citizen, you’re not any kind of citizen. Citizenship has its benefits and you will never know this more clearly than when you are not entitled to any.

Your employer, however, has all the benefits of citizenship and then some. This is especially true if you work for a high-profile, vital-to-the-economy employer. Banks don’t want to get a lot of phone calls from the Swiss Cow, Pig & Goat Association* complaining about how they are treating SCPGA’s migrant workers, especially not specialists who the company have already paid big bucks to bring into the country.

Besides equalizing the power-differential in negotiations by creating a corporation-to-corporation duel, the business that is giving you ‘the business’  knows that long after you have left the country, they will still have to cope with the loss of reputation with your employer who may steer their migrant staff to other service-providers.

There is also the benefit that your company’s representatives speak the local language and understand those sneaky cultural nuances that trip you up, even if you are fluent in the local dialect.

If your employer has a relocation agent who facilitated your move, ask that agent for assistance. If you are not satisfied with your relocation agent’s response, ask them for details on the contract they have with your employer. This is a polite way of suggesting they might be in breach of their contract. They will be highly motivated to keep your employer happy, and sometimes just asking this will trigger a better response.

As a foreigner, by the way, you must always be polite. You have no choice about this. Deal with it.

In the end, you may not get everything you hoped for, but there’s a good chance you will have gotten more than if you had just tried to go it alone.

We did not get everything we hoped for, but while our debit cards are gone forever, we did end up with our bank account still active, which was our bare-bones necessity in this dust-up. With only three weeks to go, we shrugged our shoulders and moved on with our lives.

* I have made up an employer’s name. There is no Swiss Cow, Pig & Goat Association, and if there is, I apologize that someone named you that. 

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57: Stats-urday

Our Swiss town is in bloom from the ground all the way up to the treetops. The air is delicious.

Everyone complains about McDonalds food, but does anyone appreciate its value as an economic indicator?

Believe it or not, the price of a Big Mac tops the list of economic indicators at an international statistics website, which makes perfect sense to us because at some point, we all have to rely on a Big MacAttack to raise our blood sugar levels when overseas and surrounded by local cuisine aka unidentifiable food.

NationMaster.com reports that in Canada a Big Mac costs $3.01 while in Switzerland it costs $4.93. I don’t want to cast aspersions on NationMaster.com, but hamburgers here cost more than that. Dave estimates we pay $6 (Cdn) for a Big Mac, or $12.50 if we decide to live it up and order the Big Mac Meal. To be fair, NationMaster sources this particular piece of data back to 2006.

Nonetheless, Canadians will be thrilled to know that according to IMB International, while the Swiss are renowned for their fidelity to modelling to the world how to stay on-time and fiscally sound, Canada still ranks higher for business efficiency at 5th place. Switzerland was 8th. This data is seven years old, but it makes my homeland look good so I’m not going to search for more recent figures.

Our GDP per capita is six per cent higher, too. That’s another figure I’m not going to update.  And our gross national income is a whopping 146% higher – take that Switzerland! Canada rules.

On a more personal financial note: Dave’s Swiss salary is on par with his Canadian salary, but our cost-of-living is significantly higher here. I should emphasize significantly (the triple-threat of emphasis – bolded, italicized and underlined!), all the more so because we are living a very green, pared-back lifestyle here compared to our lives in Canada.

In Canada, we have a 2400-square-foot four-bedroom house; here we have a 400-square-foot single room bachelor suite. There, we have two cars in our garage. Here, we walk everywhere we go and rely on trains for out-of-town trips. There, we eat restaurant food probably once a week, more when we were both working. Here, we dine out about once every three months (this excludes sandwich and hamburger joints where we fill up while touring). By all counts, we should be spending less money here, but we actually spend more. A lot more.

And now for less painful statistics …

BlogBits

This week on Hobonotes stats page:

  • Top three countries: Canada, U.S. and Switzerland. Oddly for some reason, Canada pounds out everyone else with over 200 hits while the U.S. logged only 60. I know Americans will not take this sitting down.
  • Bottom three countries: Greece, Denmark and Austria
  • Readers from Japan: Two.
  • Oddest search term: “Loads of people riding elephants in India.” As this blog covers neither crowd issues, pachyderms or India, I am at a loss to explain how Google brought this reader to this site.
  • Blogoddity: This week is the first when the topic of Paris food did not make it to the top ten of most read posts. I know the French will not take this sitting down.

84: Unesco heritage status for Swiss Fondue?

Fondue served at waterfront cafe on Lac Neuchatel, Switzerland. Yummy.

In Swilderland news of 2011 it was announced that Unesco is looking into conferring special heritage status on Switzerland’s cheese fondues.

I like to think I keep on top of important world news, so I’m banging my head against the wall at having missed this. Switzerland’s keepers of culture at the Federal Culture Office are worried about disappearing traditions, rituals and practices, hence the hoped-for special designation for this cheese dish.

Fondue is not a shoe-in for the Unesco list. Switzerland’s cantons produced something like 380 proposed items for status, which oddly, they are keeping secret, except for two cantons who went public with their lists. The culture doctors have spent the last year winnowing through the items and are expected to announce their abbreviated document of 150 items very soon, that will then go through another paring-down to an unidentified number that will be forwarded onto Unesco for consideration.

The puzzlement over cheese fondue making the list is this. On a 300-metre stroll through town, I pass almost as many restaurant signs boasting fondue as I do street lamps, which is to say: A lot. Chocolate made the list as well, and again, there is so much chocolate here that it is all I can do to keep myself from sliding into a chocolate coma.

Perhaps there is more to Unesco-designation than culture.  An online Swiss news publication, Swiss Info, quoted Pius Knüsel, director of the Swiss Arts Council as saying, “They are seeking recognition first and only secondly financial support.” Aha. Money. Is it possible Unesco will subsidize fondue-consumption?

About the time fondue got onto the proposed-protection list last spring, we were dining on this endangered dish at a cafe on the shores of Lac Neuchatel and that is when fondue’s peril became evident. For a humble pot of melted Corgemont cheese, a plate of bread cubes, two forks, a pot and a flame that had to be relit several times, we paid about 60 Swiss Francs. That was, notably, the last time we chowed down on cheese-and-bread chunks. Maybe fondue is endangered after all.

And so, if fondue does make the list, and if Unesco wants to cut us a check so we can dine out more on this tasty treat, we are prepared to accept their offer.

On an unrelated note: It snowed today. We pretended the flakes were seedlings from the trees, but we fooled no one.