By Gabrielle Tay
Former PR professional
SINGAPORE has been dubbed the Switzerland of Asia on many occasions. The obvious similarities that our affluent little island shares with this country include the high concentration of banks, compulsory military conscription for its young men, and its highly efficient transport systems.
Switzerland to me, though, was initially about its famed and breathtakingly beautiful scenery, fresh alpine air, chocolates and cheese - the latter two being my unapologetic vices. Hence, when my husband received an offer to work with Switzerland's leading telecommunications provider, my immediate response was: 'When's the next flight out?'
My enthusiasm was tested soon enough with any expatriate's immediate task: finding a roof over our heads. It was nothing like I have ever encountered. The search for a rental apartment in the bigger Swiss cities like Zurich (where we are) and Geneva is not only expensive but highly competitive.
Viewing potential apartments as if you were in the Louvre Museum during peak tourist season is normal. Except that tourists do not bring flowers for the Mona Lisa like some eager, or shall I say, desperate tenants do for the landlords here. Others try to up the ante with photos of their family bliss, some even complete with shots of their cuddly pets in their application forms.
Swiss landlords have the luxury of picking their perfect tenant among hundreds of applications, based on a long list of criteria such as references from previous landlords, occupation, salary, educational background, and even whether you have children, smoke or own a pet. I remembered filling out many a form grudgingly, half expecting to be asked for my shoe size next.
This quirk aside, I love every day that I have been here.
I love it that my main form of exercise is now running after trains and trams because the Swiss transportation system is just too efficient and functions like clockwork. Precision truly defines this country, probably because this is the birthplace of many of the pricey timepieces we adore!
Would-be tourists to Switzerland, take this piece of advice seriously - when the train or tram is scheduled to depart or arrive at 5.32pm, it really does. Not a minute sooner or later.
I also love it that the Swiss are extremely dog-friendly. Dogs are welcomed everywhere. On trains and buses, in shops and even restaurants. I have yet to spot a single stray on the streets. As a dog lover, I was even more heartened to learn that Switzerland has a law that requires anyone who intends to own a dog to undergo a compulsory course on ownership and its responsibilities - a law I feel other countries such as Singapore should consider implementing.
I also love how independent the children and old folks are. It is not uncommon to see senior citizens (and I mean really senior) on the Swiss public transport system, and they get really offended when you offer them your seat. It is also a common sight to see children as young as six years of age walking home from school without their parents in tow.
Finally, I love it that I have become more environmentally friendly. In fact, the Swiss obsession with recycling will certainly rub off on anyone. Get this: you can only throw certain types of waste in special bags that you have to purchase from the supermarkets. Throwing anything other than what is allowed will earn you a fine. In fact, they have people who actually go through your trash to ensure that you do not throw glass, paper, plastic, cardboard, metal or cloth in. There are special days of the month when you can dispose of those items.
There are at least five different types of recycling bins near our home. Green, brown and clear glass bottles each have their own silos, and then there are the ones for aluminium and metallic items and even batteries.
The sheer number of rules about recycling, pets and even housing was initially daunting. But adjustment has been relatively easy, thanks to the 'fine' city I grew up in. Yet, Switzerland is not Singapore. I would trade all the cheese and chocolates in the world for a hot steaming bowl of laksa anyday.
- The writer is currently taking a sabbatical.
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This article was first published in The Business Times.