Category Archives: Zurich Money

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 – http://mobility.ch/ 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.

Costs

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.

Conclusion

\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!

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

Don’t Get Ripped Off For “Materials” At German Classes

 

Recently I started a Language class at the Alemania Deutchschule. While the course is quite reasonably priced at 580CHF for 4 weeks of intensive beginners classes, I was not prepared for the additional charge of 70CHF for the “materials”. Assuming the materials were books I decided to do some of my own research and try and source some cheap or second hand books from the internet before the class started.

My search was not too fruitful, especially as the schools secretary had not been very forthcoming with details as to what constituted 70CHF of materials and had not provided me with the exact name of the book we would be using. But there was the suggestion that any German course book would be available in the Orell Fussli bookshop here in Zurich, but unfortunately I had left it too late to go shopping as it was Sunday and I did not even specifically know what books I should be buying.

As a result I ended up attending the first day of class empty handed and was given a book, cheap ugly school bag with “alemania” written on it and a pencil. Since I then knew exactly what book I needed I later that day went to the Orell Fussli on Fusslistrasse 4, this is the biggest bookshop in Zurich and has 4 floors of books. Armed with a photograph the cover of the book I found it for 21.90CHF there. A massive saving of 48.10 CHF.

Then when I went to pay on day 2 I said I had bought my own book and returned the brand new one I had just bought along with the other “materials”, the receptionist really didn’t give me any problems about this, and I only paid 580CHF for the classes.

The “materials” cost quoted on my invoice was 70CHF, which I find ridiculous considering that the book is 21.90 CHF and the only other materials I received during 3 weeks are a pencil, a really ugly cheap school bag (which I returned) and 10 photo copied pages. This book (A1/1) is used until half way through the second month of classes, when at this point the school will once again try to charge 60CHF for the next level book (A1/2) which is also just 21.90CHF .

I would recommend that anybody doing any German classes at any school here in Zurich purchase their own books, especially if they are not included in the price of the classes. Make sure to tell the person that you book the class with that you intend to buy your own book and would like to know the exact name of the book you will be using. Zurich is already so over priced that you should not let yourself be massively over charged because you were to lazy to buy your own books.

Cheap Train Tickets In Switzerland

 

As someone who has just arrived to Zurich I have not yet purchased a “half price” train card or a “GA” reduction card. Especially since the cost of using public transport encourages me to cycle as much as possible. This however has its drawbacks and the exorbitant costs of full price train tickets becomes painfully clear when you try to book an intercity train.

Paying anywhere in the region of 6-60 Swiss francs for a one way ticket is not the ideal situation for someone on a budget. However there is hope for people here visiting or just without a card, as the National Swiss train company the SBB are currently running a “Supersaver” ticket scheme. This scheme allows you to book tickets on line at a much cheaper price than buying them at the train station.

Supersaver Tickets can be a whopping 60% cheaper than the regular fare, making them even cheaper than what you would pay with the half price card. The supersaver tickets are also available for half price card holders, but here the reduction is only a few swiss francs.

The catch. Obviously this is not just a cheap ticket free for all, and there are only a certain amount of cheap tickets available per route. Also the tickets are not usually available for more popular travelling times. The most important point to note these tickets are only available until the 20th of February 2012.

While the scheme is limited until the 20th of February it has been popular before and this is the 4th time these types of tickets have been available, so hopefully they will relaunch the scheme again after February or even make it permanent.

A couple of quick tips on Supersaver tickets.

 

    • the ticket is only valid for the train you booked so don’t try and change it after

 

    • you can only book the ticket a maximum of 14 days in advance

 

    • print your ticket at home. you can not print them at the train station and they do not accept smart phone screen shots

 

    • be flexible as the availability of tickets can sometimes be limited

 

    • make sure you type in Zürich correctly with the “ü”. The search wont recognise the city with out it.

 

However on one of my journeys the first train was delayed and as a result I missed my connection. Worried about receiving a fine I went to the ticket office and the clerk stamped and signed my original ticket making it valid for the next train. Remember though I missed the connection because the train was late, not me.

Another point to note about buying tickets at the train station is that recently they have added a 10CHF charge for this service. Kinda of like a tax for the non computer savvy. But I suppose there is a point to this concept and the SBB could only be considered to be falling in line with cost reduction policy’s that certain airlines have been pioneering for quite some time.

So if you are planning on travelling around Switzerland and need to book a train do it on line and print it at home.

Cecily

Don’t Get On A Train Without A Ticket

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On the train this morning, Samichlaus (Santa Claus) and his friend Schmutzli were on the train giving out promotional cakes to remind travellers that from 11th December 2011, you cannot legally board a train in Switzerland without a valid ticket.

This has been the case in Zurich for some time but is now also the case on inter city trains, where you could previously buy a ticket on board.

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