First Job in Switzerland

Swiss FlagSomebody asked, how I found my first job in Switzerland.

I actually got hired here by mistake.

Some background. I’d been holidaying in Switzerland for years, since the ‘seventies in fact. Not every year, just when I could afford it. Which wasn’t often. I never forgot that first time though, in the glorious Summer of ’76. Nikki Lauda had just crashed his Ferarri at the Nurburgring and suffered serious burns that ruined his bid to win the driver’s championship, and Queen Elizabeth the Second had been fired from her job, one of her jobs that is, and was no longer the Head of State of Trinidad & Tobago. Her role had been off-shored to a locally-hired Republican Presidential candidate who was willing to do the same job for a fraction of the pay. But I knew of none of this, absorbed as I was watching the fireworks that August 1st from a family-owned camp-site somewhere north of Geneva. I cared not about events in far off rainy England nor motor-racing.

A few days later we were in Interlaken and tragic news arrived from London that Big Ben had broken down and, heart-broken, we consoled ourselves with a walkabout in Grindlewald. A day or two later, in the old town of Bern, we happened to see a copy of a British newspaper and were shocked to read that Britain’s Postmaster General, John Stonehouse MP, had been sent to prison for fraud, theft, forgery, and conspiracy to defraud along with other charges including attempting to evade arrest by faking his own suicide, and he had even continued to serve as a member of parliament while in prison. Ironically the stopping of Big Ben that day, and corruption in the post office, from the perspective of the Berner Oberland, seemed to portend a silent death-knell on Empire’s lost glory. A glory that Britons of my generation never had, nor ever would experience. It had been lost in the post.

That summer in Switzerland made a big impression on me, and I have returned many times for holiday-making. I never thought of working in Switzerland though. In between infrequent Swiss holidays I spent most of my early adult life atop Thatcher’s scrapheap, wondering how in the hell I’m going to finance my next trip. A master’s degree was the eventual answer to that, and as soon as I had been awarded one I discovered it acted as a key to the door on the British coastline marked “exit”, and through I went.

First stop Brussels. One-year consultancy contract for a dotcom, $100.000, ka-ching. Luvvly jubbly. Followed by nine-month contract extension based at their HQ in San Jose, CA, $75,500 plus expenses. Ka-ching. This is good, I thought to myself, fully intending to pack up my bags upon contract expiry, return to Blightly, pay-off the mortgage, and do whatever. Bag-packing day came and I couldn’t do it. I’d sell the house, stay on the continent, and invest everything in building a life outside of England rather than go back to a jobless society where one gets rained on every day.

After the dotcom crash work became harder to find and as the money started to run out, as it inevitably does, I began to look further afield and took on a variety of jobs around Europe over a period of five years, keeping a home-base in Brussels. You meet a lot of people in Brussels, and most of them are drunk at the time. There was one particular drunk I got to know quite well. Downturns came and went, and sure enough I once again found myself on my beam ends. But I wanted to follow Roger Waters on his Eastern European tour, so with the last of my available credit I booked the concert tickets and set off in the car towards the first gig in Munich. In was in the Olympia Halle, where Nadia Comeneci scored her perfect ten, and which had been designed with acoustics in mind. It was a good gig, and I continued following the tour until Warsaw.

Stuck in Traffic

Warsaw was, perhaps, the biggest dump I have ever seen. I appreciate that they had to rebuild the place under arduous conditions, but I’m sure they could have done a better job. Polish plumbers might have a good reputation but I would not recommend you engage their urban planners, and their traffic managers must have been hired only after the Soviets had shot anybody actually qualified to do the job. So there I was, stuck in a downpour in a Belgian-registered VW Golf, unable even to get back to the car park whence I’d came, and without any reasonable prospect of driving more than 50cm in any direction.

Blogger's Belgian-Registered VW Golf in Poland

Traffic lights laboured through their red, orange, green, sequence, and nothing moved,other than the rain that fell both persistently and aggressively, almost as if it had been specially imported from England. And grid lock like you never saw. With now both my petrol in addition to my money running out, the phone rang. It was that drunk I used to know in Brussels. He was now drunk in Zurich and evidently had mistaken my number for somebody else’s since he was apparently asking me to come and assist him in managing a multi-million Franc project for “six-to-nine” months in Zurich.

Being faced with either taking the job, or telling him, “nah, I think you want someone else mate” and then returning to the UK-style poverty from whence I came, I took the job. What else was I going to do? After about six months they sacked me, essentially invalidating my pre-bilateral L, and I returned home to Brussels in order to celebrate what I regarded as a wholly successful six months. That celebration ended up in hospital, and, even though I had no job at the time and had left Switzerland, I was still fully covered by my Swiss insurance that paid for everything and even paid out 80% of my previous salary for the next three months. And, unlike the attitude you’d find in some English-speaking countries I could name, the Swiss insurance only took into account my insured salary that I earned in Switzerland and was unconcerned at my present salary (zero) at the time of the accident-cum-celebration. Upon recovery I took a job in Antwerp working through a recruitment agent in London who found a splendid loophole in UK employment law that allowed him to keep all of my wages and pay them to himself.

Potless, again! I started looking for another job when, the phone rang, and once again it was Switzerland calling. I instantly recognized the number. It was that girl in Chur! The one I met the last time and swore I would never forget. What”s her name. What ever happened to her? I took the call. She had been away for a year and was back in Switzerland herself and was wondering if I was still around and wouldn’t it be great if we got back together. We planned to meet up in Bienne that Friday, but I wasn’t yet sure how I could get there as not having been paid for six months work made two tanks of petrol an issue. Next day, the Wednesday, I get another call from a different Swiss number. My heart raced, thinking maybe she’d want to bring a friend along this time, and one whose dad owned an oil company maybe, but it was from a recruitment agent. He had a copy of my CV that I’d sent out a few days before and he wanted to know if I could come to an interview in Schwyz that Friday. As it was such short-notice he said their client would pay for my flights and hotel. Bingo.

I flew down and was offered the job on the spot and, having just lost most of my last six-months salary, I took the job. What else was I going to do? I could start as soon as my ausweis was authorized, and with the bi-lateral having come into force that meant the following Wednesday. I spent the weekend celebrating in style – with the girl – in the expenses-paid hotel. Result. Or so I thought. I did meet another girl in Zurich after my first day on the job, as it happens, but all was not as it seems. She was infatuated, nineteen years old, about to go to university, and with her young hormones running wild. I treated her accordingly for a man of my age and moral fibre, bought her an ice-cream and some book tokens and told her to sling ‘er ‘ook. Besides, I already had one.

Blogger's VW Golf With Bullet Hole In WindShield

Without going into the awful details of working day-to-day sitting next to what turned out to be a psychopath at work, or the dubious wisdom of returning for the fleeting amusement of a former girlfriend whose name I can’t even remember, that job ended up pretty much the same way as the first. Except this time there was little to celebrate:, My car was shot and subsequently blew up on the way back home, and when I got there I found in my letter-box a bill from my landlord demanding the 36-months rent arrears I owed him. Ouch. I managed to do a barter deal with him involving him writing off the debt in exchange for the remains of my car, which was still technically drive-able at the time of the exchange.

Undeterred, I summonsed up the courage to come back to Switzerland for a third attempt. I had to wait fifteen months for it and turn down an opportunity to move to Prague. I’ve now got my C, a wife, we own a little bit of Swiss property, I have evened the score on the falling out with one’s employers front, and am determined to take root and stay, if not bloom. Wie ein edelweiss.

Update: Outlook brightens for Swiss economy in 2014 – The Local

See also: Blind Pulling

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