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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So I walked into a Swiss bank with a fistful of cash …

I hope the money doesn’t get soaked.

Winter has slid off the mountains and into our valley. Snow falls in mean pellets. Slush rides up pant-legs, soaking the calves. Shoppers move along at a crabbish gait, picking their steps carefully over the ice-slicks.

At the lake, the water is chalk-green from the silt washed down from the Jura’s limestone slopes.

Mysteriously, the swans have lined up alongside the shore,  parked horizontally in rough waves only a few feet from the sharp rocks and cement bulwark, paddling madly to keep themselves from smashing aground.

Seagulls hang suspended in the air by a walking bridge, dropping down to try for the snug spots beneath, but the mallards will not allow them in.

And in the midst of all this froth, I walked to our Swiss bank with a fistful of cash, more than I think I’ve carried down a public road before. I feel like I’m in Mission Impossible, surrounded by suave German and French-speaking clients, striding across marble floors, hoping that the teller does not ask where I got all this money.

Changing money doesn’t have any real tension to it, but we’re in a foreign country where we don’t have a clue what the laws are regarding moving money around – and there are rules. We  have only the vaguest recollection of them, however, so I dive into the bank and take my chances that I won’t be arrested for some monetary misdemeanor.

Of course, no one raises a brow. This is Switzerland. They think nothing of changing large Swiss bills into a stuffed envelope full of U.S. cash.

What fun. And that’s all there is for today.