Wednesday, 25 May 2011

On Switzerland: 'Mo Money, Why 'Mo Complaining?

"I just ate the most expensive Big Mac I've ever had in my life." - Shocked Forum User

I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say that if you are Don Gorske, that infamous Wisconsin native who averages two Big Macs a day and is said to have consumed over 25,000 of these burgers in his lifetime with an extra supply stashed in his freezer 'for emergencies', Switzerland will not be the country where he can afford to support this addiction.

A lot of expats experience sticker shock when they get here, and I was definitely no exception. My first day here, Dan and I went to the Migros to pick up a couple of things to fill our bare fridge and I needed a few toiletries. My first reaction upon reaching the shampoo aisle was to note that it was not in fact an 'aisle' at all, but rather only a couple of shelves holding a medium selection of brands; as a person who was always used to shopping in a chain store that offered, at minimum, forty different shampoo brands, I was surprised at this selection. But then I noticed how small the bottles were and how LARGE the prices were, and I staggered backwards and asked Dan if Migros was the Canadian equivalent to Safeway? Then we ventured further into the rest of the store for our groceries and I almost started sucking my thumb for comfort.

"Why are we shopping here?! We should save money and go somewhere else."

"You know sweets, the prices around here are all pretty comparable. I can't really think of one store that really undercuts the others in terms of all round pricing where you can get everything you need."

That was difficult to wrap my head around.

And it's not just groceries where we expats feel the sting of Swiss pricing.  Because Dan and I have chosen to not have a vehicle we rely on public transit, and if we choose to do a week of steady hiking in the mountains (keeping our apartment as our home base), the price we pay on transit (even with our half-fare cards), lift tickets, the mandatory alpine patio beer, et al, is the same as what we would have paid if we wanted to take a small and simple Italian holiday. So even though this defies my sense of logic, holidaying in Switzerland when you are a resident of Switzerland isn't always the cheapest option.

Getting your first dentist bill here will probably cause you to revert to your five year old self who vigorously brushed and flossed her teeth until they shone so the dentist would give her a toy from the toy drawer; except, this time you are brushing with a different purpose because you never want to have to see that mofo's masked face again: not here in Switzerland anyhow.

For the information of BC residents who are living as a couple, your monthly mandatory Swiss medical bill will not cost $95; just go ahead and multiply that figure by about seven.

Twice a year you will get a delightful bill in the mail that is charging you just because you have a cable hook-up in your home, thereby you have the option to have a television so you are being charged for that.

And what else? Well, lunch in a restaurant for two people will probably set you back about fifty francs, lunch at MacDonalds for one meal will set you back around fifteen francs, if you want to use the toilet in the train station that will cost you two francs, and if you want the guy who is selling cookies to sponsor street kids in India to leave you alone that will set you back at least five francs because if you give him four francs he will accuse you of being soulless.

Now, am I bitter about these costs? About these charges?

No.

Though, my feelings on the guy selling cookies are not exactly PG so I can't share them here. Let's all ignore him now.

I won't pretend to understand the fine details of the odd tax bills or our medical bills, but I do know they aren't bankrupting us. Not by a long shot. So with a shrug of my shoulders I pay the television tax bill, then enjoy watching an evening of Swiss television with no commercial interruptions (that means no one subtly telling me every eight minutes that I'm hungry, or I'm unfit, or my eyelashes are too stubby). Similarly, a frustrating auto-immune disorder that I have has painfully been back on the scene for quite a few months, but it sure hasn't been painful getting the medical attention that I need.

Now with respect to commodities, I can appreciate why the groceries and products cost what they do in Switzerland. It's as my Swiss said to me on our first trip to the Migros when I was almost curled up in the fetal position at the cash register watching the total go up and up and up:  "Don't even worry about it sweets. We always shop responsibly, and people get paid more money here than they do in Canada. It really evens out."

So yes, things are pricey, but you have to consider why. Though Switzerland doesn't appear to have a set minimum wage (someone please correct me if I'm wrong about this), it is frowned upon that employers would pay their employees any less than CHF 3,000 a month, and the generally accepted medium is CHF 3,550 a month. Now the pay figures I have come across vary from industry to industry and also employee work experience (are you an apprentice, first year on the job, etc...) so it's hard to nail down an exact national average, but for the purpose of this discussion I will use what is considered to be the 'acceptable' minimum monthly salary of CHF 3,550 for a non-apprenticed employee.

So if we consider that a minimum monthly salary is likely around CHF 3,550 and a work week sees your average person clocking in 42 hours, that means that the hourly rate is around CHF 21.00. So if the person packaging your 'grown in CH' potatoes, and the person hauling the delivery truck to deliver your 'Aus der Region' preferred products, and the person cleaning the grocery store, and the person stacking the produce, and the individual manning the checkout register, are all receiving an at minimum average of 21.00 an hour, can you not at least appreciate why your goods cost what they do?

Doesn't this help to put in perspective why your movie-going experience doesn't financially stack-up to what you're used to back home, when the person tearing your ticket there only makes $8.25 an hour?

And since expats who religiously complain about Swiss pricing are living in Switzerland, I  have to assume that they too are making a Swiss wage; therefore, though the sticker price might be shocking when you convert the price to what you would have paid back home for the same item, it still doesn't mean you can't afford the product. And obviously people, use common sense when reading that last line: you still have to live within the boundary of your wage, but the point is an individual can make a living wage here.

For those who live on the border, and can hop over to Germany or France for a cheaper grocery shop, all the power to them. Their Swiss wage should technically mean they have more buying power--even with the Euro--and they will still be saving money. You really do have to appreciate that.

So is Switzerland expensive?

Yes.

That doesn't mean it's unaffordable.

(But remember boys and girls: don't forget to brush and floss two times a day, just to be safe.)

1 comment:

M'dame Jo said...

The median salary is 5600.- net. If you're an expat working at an international company, you probably make more. Crappy unqualified job are paid around 17.- an hour. And the foreign lady at the tea room probably makes around 2500.- gross a month. And probably works 45hrs without breaks. So don't forget to leave 20 cents with your coffee: that's about 20.- a day for her and her expensive swiss groceries shopping ;-)