Category Archives: Articles

What Is A Swiss Finishing School?

There was a time when any self-respecting debutante would know that she would spend some time polishing off her etiquette and deportment at a Swiss Finishing School. More recently, you would be more likely to hear a reference to Swiss Finishing Schools in a joke, such as the woman downing an entire pint of beer being told “and are your parents glad they spent all that money on your Swiss Finishing School?” Some people wonder if they still exist, other whether they ever existed at all. Not only are they genuine, but they are evolving with the needs of the modern world. In order to find out more, we asked some cliché-laden questions to the Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Gilon.

The portrayal is of young ladies learning how to behave at formal dinners, gracefully enter and exit a vehicle and carry themselves in a way becoming of a young lady. How does the real world of the Finishing School differ from the misconceptions we may have been fed over the years?

The real world of the Finishing School today is about learning to be a good hostess but also how to understand and appreciate the customs and manners of other cultures, creating a harmonious atmosphere in the home and developing practical skills so as to be more efficient.  The “cliché” of learning how to walk, get in and out of a car and learning to be graceful at a dinner party is only a small part of a very large and varied curriculum.

How does the Finishing School fit in to the education system?

The Finishing School is an excellent complement to academic studies (after secondary school or University), an excellent preparation for one’s future professional and social life or a great addition to this life.

What kind of time commitment does one need in order to attend a Swiss Finishing School? Is it a permanent residence over a year or can someone attend for a longer or shorter period of time?

You can attend a Finishing School in Switzerland for a full school year but will then also learn French or consolidate English, not only have classes of the Finishing programme. Or you can choose to take only some parts of the curriculum, without learning the language and come for one to six weeks.

What would you say is the national background of the attendees at the School?

Students come from all over the world and nationalities vary from course to course.

Does an equivalent Finishing School exist for young men?

For the moment, there is no equivalent Finishing School for men as it developed as a tradition of female education.

Finally, if a parent is wondering what the Finishing School can do for their child, what benefits would you highlight in particular?

Finishing School can give a child greater self-confidence, better general culture and more efficiency in daily practical life. We would like to thank the Institute Villa Pierrefeu for their time and answers. If you are interested in their curriculum or just in learning more about the Institute, the Institut Villa Pierrefeu website contains some great information.

Another Fare Increase From Swiss

Sigh …. Another Press Release from Swiss, another hit in the pocket of its customers.In February 2012, Swiss announced an increase in their Fuel Surcharge due to the increase in oil costs. On the day of the Press Release (February 22nd 2012) the price of crude oil closed at $106.3. Today, they announced another revision of their prices. Not related to the oil price, just a nice revision.But incredibly, although the price of crude oil closed yesterday at $89.9, a drop of more than 15% from the date of the Fuel Surcharge hike, the announcements is of yet another increase. In what is described as an ‘innovation’, they have also scrapped the treatment of sports equipment as separate from the baggage allowance, which meant that you could carry golf or ski equipment for free. From June 1st, this equipment will form part of what they laughingly call the ‘free’ baggage allowance. I say laughingly because it is of course, not free. You have paid for it in your fare. Just as you have paid for the same cheese sandwich on every single flight. Not only is the weight of the item calculated as part of your luggage allowance but the very existence of it means that if you are bringing a pair of skis, you cannot check another piece of luggage without incurring a charge. That’s a truly wonderful Swiss innovation! So my question is, where is the announcement of a response to drop in the price of oil? Can you believe that for a European flight you are paying 44CHF for fuel each way? There has to come a time when the price gouging must stop but what sticks in the throat more is the way Swiss refuses to treat customers fairly and reduce the Fuel Surcharge as swiftly in response to oil price drops as it zealously increases it when the price of oil goes up. For example, the February 22nd announcement states that the Fuel Surcharge increase was because “the price of crude oil and aviation kerosene has seen a massive increase since the airline’s fuel surcharges were last adjusted in December 2011″. Note the use of the word “massive”. When the Surcharge was last raised, the price of crude oil was $100.1. So the increase they describe as massive is from $100.1 to $106.3 – roughly 6%. But as I say, the drop in the price of oil since February is over 15%. So if an increase of 6% is massive, how would they describe a decrease of 15%? It would be nice if the national carrier treated its customers fairly. The February Press Release states “SWISS constantly monitors oil prices, and will continue to adjust its fuel surcharges in response to further fuel price trends on the commodities markets” but that is very clearly not what they are doing. What do you think? Am I being fair or do I have my sums wrong?

A Guide To Mobility Car Sharing

One of the things people mention first when talking about the benefits of living in Zurich and Switzerland is the transport system.No doubt, being able to plan a journey and have no fears as to the accuracy of the information makes getting around much less stressful and the all-important reliability is a blessing. Not to mention making it easier to stick to appointments.But sometimes a car is necessary and on those occasions we have possibly the best Car Sharing system in the world – Mobility.This article is intended to serve as a comprehensive guide to using the Mobility system in Switzerland.

How It Works

It all starts at the Mobility website – Mobility has locations (stations) across Switzerland. Usually located by rail stations and city centres, there are over 1,700 vehicles available from 140 towns and cities. Each station has its own vehicles. This is an extremely important point. You cannot pick up a car in, say, Luzern, and drop it off in Zurich. If you pick up a Mobility car from one Mobility station, it can only be returned to that station. If anything this is the only restriction (apart from cost) but of course, it makes perfect sense otherwise you would have dozens of cars being dumped in city centers and nothing in more remote locations. So, having found the station you want to rent from, you pick your vehicle from one of the ten categories available, which range from small electric vehicles to full-blown Mercedes vans. If you need a specific type of vehicle, say a cabriolet, you can search for a vehicle on the site and see where the nearest one is located. If you want a fairly standard vehicle choice, you can most likely find it at your nearest station. As for the cars themselves, Mobility favours Renault, which are producing some very nice cars indeed. But you can also get BMW, Honda and Skoda cars. Note that the Combi is an estate car. With your station and vehicle selected, you book the car for the period of time required and away you go. You can get confirmation of your booking by email, SMS or via the smart phone apps. For the final step of actually getting in and driving away, you need a Mobility card which you get as a result of a Mobility membership. You can use Mobility without a subscription but more of that later. When you go to your vehicle at the time of your booking, you touch the windscreen where the reader is located inside the vehicle and the doors open. Keys are left in the glove box unless the car selected uses an electronic key. There is a display unit above the windscreen that shows you the detail of your reservation. You can use this unit to extend your reservation if available, or end it early. 

You can also call the Mobility center via the unit.

Once you have returned to the original station before the end of your reservation, you end the reservation from the unit above your head, leave the car and lock it again with your Mobility card up against the windscreen reader.

Regarding petrol, the cost of this is included in your hire cost but it is your responsibility to ensure that the car does not run dry. If you need (or want) to fill up, there is a fuel card inserted into the on board computer from one of the major fuel retailers so as long as you use the correct retailer, you will not have to pay.

If the card is missing or the particular retailer is not available you can still buy fuel and get the cost refunded from Mobility as long as you send them the receipt.

There is a FairPlay rule at Mobility that states that you should leave the vehicle at the station with at least one third of the tank full.


Rates for using Mobility vary based on your subscription but basically the rental cost you will pay consists of:

  • the hourly rate
  • the per km rate

So the lowest-priced rental would be a short term one with low distance traveled. Full rate information is available here.The Mobility website is very conscious that the system is right for you so it offers a cost calculator where you can select a vehicle, rental duration and estimated distance to see what the cost is likely to be. For longer rentals they will also show the cost of hiring a car from one of the rental partners.

Membership Types

An Annual Subscription currently costs 290CHF but a 100CHF discount is available if you have a Half Card or General Abonnement. If you hold an annual pass for one of the regional transport companies (eg the ZVV in Zurich) then you can get an annual subscription for just 25CHF. Interestingly, a Trial Subscription of four months is available for 70CHF or 40CHF if you have a Migros Cumulus card. For all subscriptions you must provide a copy of your driving licence.

Using Mobility Without A Subscription

nIf you are willing to limit your choice of Mobility stations to SBB rail stations, you can use Click & Drive. Here, you can reserve a vehicle at an SBB station, collect the Mobility card from the ticket office and pay for the rental by credit card. No need for a subscription and ideal for those who will use Mobility a couple of times per year.


\r\nAlong with the SBB service, Mobility is one of the first things I like to brag about when I talk about living in Switzerland. The process of walking up to a car you have reserved, holding your wallet up to the windscreen and then getting into the vehicle feels like the stuff of magic. The service center is also very good. Just before a recent rental I got a call to say that the passenger door of the car I had reserved was stuck and that they had switched my reservation to another nearby station. As I was driving alone the door was not a problem so they just switched it back.You must bear in mind the limitation of having to bring the car back to its “home” station and also keep an eye on cost. Renting a cabrio for a day to drive 500km is going to cost you a lot of money. Conversely, I rented a combi (estate) to carry some furniture around Zurich for a couple of hours and it cost me 13CHF. From the cost perspective, make use of the Cost Comparison Tool. strongly recommend the Mobility system, you only need to see how many of the bright red Renault Combis are parked at Ikea on Saturdays to see the benefit!

Learn About Wines And Spirits

Zurich Expats interested in learning more about wines and spirits have an English-speaking course at their disposal, run by Byron Catéchis. To find out more, I askled Byron a couple of questions about the courses, and about himself. Hello Byron, tell us a little about yourself I first came to Switzerland in 1985 and worked in Berne and completed the Hotel School in Lucerne. After which I left. Came back and taught at a Hotel School in the Canton de Vaud from 1994 to 1996, left again, returning in 2000 and have stayed. I currently live in the Jura Bernois with my family, but run courses on Wine and Spirits throughout Switzerland in the following languages: English (my mother tongue) French and German. Tell us a little about your Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses, what can one gain from attending? The advantage of following the courses on wine and spirits is that they are recognised in over 55 countries around the world and you follow a programme of study that has been validated by the Qualifications authority in the UK. The programme of study starts with the Level 1 Qualifications where we cover the difference of white, rosé and red wine, and also a food and wien matching exercise (a one-day course) The Level 2 covers the world, but we go through the world by grape variety, so you taste a Pinot Noir from Burgundy alongside a Pinot Noir from New Zealand and a Pinot Noir from Switzerland – you taste on average 40 -odd wines during the three-day course. The level 3 goes into much more detail with a blind tasting of a white wine and one red wine at the end of the course, you taste around 60 wines over 5 days. What do you gain, knowledge of the acceptable price and quality of wine in the Swiss market as well as being able to choose wine with authority. Should you wish to continue, you could then follow the WSET® Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits which is the same level as a Bachelor degree. Swiss wine courses are also available in all three languages. We also offer similar courses on spirits inlcuding the fruit spirits as per the tradition in Switzerland. How vibrant is the drinking scene in Zurich? are there any trends you have seen in recent years? The main difference between the French-speaking and the German-speaking part of Switzerland is that in the German part – especially in Zürich, the average consumer is open to wines from around the world. In the French-speaking part, Switzerland, followed by France dominate the market. For Champagne, Switzerland in the 7th most important market, however, the majority is sold and enjoyed in the French-speaking part of the country. The trend in Zürich is to search for something new, with the wine bar and the greater variety of wines available as well as the places where to enjoy them, means that Zürich has a vibrant wine scene. In other parts of Switzerland it is not quite to the same extent (if at all…) In terms of places to relax and enjoy a drink, do you have any recommendations? Personally, I really enjoy the old town of Zürich, but this is more of an open secret known by everyone… on a mild spring evening, walking down by the lake to go and enjoy a simple meal in the old town on a terrace, is one of the best things in life…More info on the courses can be found at

Interview With Ray Bär, Zurich Comedy Club

The Zurich Comedy Club presents their production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband from May 2nd and we took the opportunity to ask a few questions of Ray Bär, President of the ZCC.

Can you give us a background of the Zurich Comedy Club?        When the Zurich Comedy Club was founded there were very few activities with, for or by English speakers. In 1954 a group of English ex-pats got together and put on a play, ‘just for fun’…. first in the Neumarkt Theatre and then in the old Kaufleuten Theatre.

The activity of play reading and socializing on Monday evenings, combined with play production at least twice a year attracted an enthusiastic membership, which now numbers 135.

What role do you think it plays for Zurich’s English-speaking expat community?

The Club is a very important part of many members’ lives. It is where we go on Mondays to meet friends or, if new to Zurich-to make friends-, chat over a drink, and take part in…or listen to…the play of the evening.

We communicate entirely in English, which is especially reassuring for ex pats who haven’t yet picked up German.

What about aspiring performers? Can they play a role in the Club?

Everyone can play an active role in club life, whatever their interest. Our activities are all in English, and this includes the plays we stage. If you enjoy acting and speak English well enough to take a part in one of our productions, and do well enough in the auditions to convince the casting committee that you are perfect for the part you want….then that’s all that’s needed.

In addition, there are so many teams involved in staging a play that anyone can have a great time without actually appearing on stage.

Something a little personal, what are your thoughts about living in Zurich?

I have lived in Zurich for over 50 years now and the Zurich of today is a wonderful city in which to live. It is a busy place that functions well. Public transport is clean and punctual and reliable and nothing is too far away.

The mountains, countryside, Italy, France Germany and Austria are all within easy reach. The food is lovely , the air is clean…and this is where my friends are.

Off the top of your head, one place in Zurich you consider to be a well-kept secret.

There is a little patch of green grass, just outside Zurich, where I swim in the lake when we get those warm summer days. Not many people know about it, but my friend and I will picnic there and bask in the shade or sun and swim… It’s like being on holiday!

(Editorial Note – Ray is no fool, she doesn’t actually tell us where this place is!)

Finally, who would win in a fight between a one-armed Karate expert and a one-legged kick boxer?

The winner would be the last man standing!!

Many thanks to Ray for her answers.

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde plays from May 2 – 5 and 9 – 12. Tickets available from TicketCorner and more information on the Zurich Comedy Club is available at their website.

What Next For Swiss / European Union Relations?

In 2011 Switzerland took some drastic steps to limit its exposure to the Eurozone debt crisis, including pegging the franc to the euro at 1.20. How might relations between Bern and Brussels fare in 2012?

1. For one the Swiss National Bank will continue to keep down the value of the franc at whatever cost. In 2011 the SNB bought something like €45bn to prevent the franc rising too much against the euro (which had absolutely hammered its exports until then as investors sought a safe haven.) This looks set to continue, as the markets continue to view Switzerland as a safe option. The trouble is that if the Eurozone implodes, suddenly Switzerland is left with countless billions in useless euros. That could spell disaster!

2. In addition, tensions regarding banking secrecy in Switzerland could easily boil over. Eurozone countries including Spain and Italy are imposing huge spending cuts right now, and as a result are clamping down on tax evasion in a big way to boost revenues. In consequence, Switzerland has become a big target for Eurozone ire as it’s believed tens of billions in lost revenue are being held in Swiss banks. These banks might hence be forced to hand over the names of their clients in 2012.

3. Swiss independence of the European Union looks set to be eroded. Right now, the Swiss government passes equivalent laws to the European Union as they impact Swiss-EU relations. The problem though is that as these relations become more complex, Swiss independence becomes more of a problem. For example, in 2010 a Swiss refusal to extend the Schengen agreement to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens (granting them free movement inside Europe) could have resulted in the annulment of several free trade agreements. (In the event the Swiss people agreed to the extension.) Brussels will therefore pressure Bern to give up more of its sovereignty, to try and speed up changes.

4. In other ways the European Union will become more like Switzerland. The Swiss government passed a balanced budget law in 2003 that has since become the envy of Europe, as Swiss debt drops to just 1/3 the European average. Last December the Eurozone imposed an equivalent law, requiring all members to run a balanced budget from now on. The question of course is: will Eurozone members be able to restrain themselves from spending, and match these good intentions?

So how might all this affect expats living in Zurich? It could contribute to a general feeling of unease, as these are turbulent times that make people worry about their job security among other things.

In addition, there’s likely to be a sense that all is not well between Bern and Brussels, as both sides strive to defend their interests. On the other hand, it means that transferring money to and from the Eurozone will become easier, as the Swiss National Bank holds fierce to its 1.20 peg.

Michael Smith at foreign exchange specialist Pure FX