Moving to Switzerland
This is the first chapter of my journey to Switzerland. I started working for Elektrobit AG
(Elektrobit Group's subsidiary in Switzerland) on 15.8.2005, and at least for now, the contract extends to the end of February 2006. For those who don't know me, I've been looking for positions outside Finland (my home country) for some years now. I've been working for Elektrobit Group
for eight years now, I have a Master's degree in Physics, with emphasis to telecommunication and microwave & RF. As Elektrobit is a multi-national company, I've been keeping my eyes open for positions in other countries' offices. For some reason beyond my knowledge, all promising prospects have fallen, until this summer.
In the end of May 2005, I was contacted by the Managing Director of Elektrobit AG, and he told me there might be work for me in Switzerland. With most of the foreign prospects, it usually starts with lot of bustle, and after few busy weeks, it cools down to boring waiting for the decision, usually for several months, and after that, the rejection. However, this Switzerland-case seemed to be on the wings. In just couple of weeks time, I had signed the contract and was supposed to move to Switzerland on 15.8.2005 to start working for Elektrobit AG.
During July, I had most of my summer vacation, two weeks of which I spent in Thailand travelling. After vacation, I was supposed to work for two weeks in my current project, possibly handing over my work to a new guy replacing me, and then leave to Switzerland. After returning to work from my vacation, things were going on quite slowly, so I had good time to go through all RF parts of the projects with the new guy. I think (and hope) he did learn well enough, so they don't need to bother me too much afterwards. There haven't really been contacts this week, so I guess everything continues to work just smoothly.
There was some confusion about buying the plane tickets to get me to Switzerland. First, I did agree with the HR people (they do much more than HR, but can't name them in a better way so from here on I will call them HR persons) in Elektrobit AG that they would purchase tickets for me and send them to me. When I asked about the tickets one week prior to my supposed departure date, I was told that the tickets had not yet been purchased. I ran a search in the Internet for different tickets and prices, and it seemed easier for me to get the tickets myself. For me, the best route would have been from Oulu to Zürich via Copenhagen with Blue1 and SAS airlines. The downside for the Swiss HR people was that the plance would have arrived after office hours. Therefore I did book the Finnair flight from Oulu via Helsinki. The downside for me was that I had to get up quite early, around 4 AM (Finnish time, 3 AM Swiss time) to be on time at the airport, as the plane was leaving at 6 AM.
In Helsinki, there was quite short transit time, 35 minutes. After rushing to the other plane (and hoping that my luggage was also rushed), the plane was towed from the gate after some time. Then, after maybe 10 minutes, the plane was towed back, and the captain announced that the engines refused to start for reason which he told but no ordinary mortal did understand. After sitting there for almost an hour, the plane was again towed out from the gate and this time the engines did start. So we were off towards Zürich about one hour late from the schedule.
After arriving to the Zürich airport, and walking to the luggage belt, I started to wait for my luggage to arrive. As I was moving to another country, I did carry rather heavy set of hand luggage, but also my luggage did contain quite huge amount of material inside. After waiting for some time, I was beginning to fear that the transfer time in Helsinki had been too short for my luggage, and I started to crawl to the claiming of the lost luggage desk. Several others were also going that direction, and a que was formed. After the clerks did notice us, they told that if we were looking for the luggage from Helsinki, there's still some of them arriving in near future. So we went back to the belt, and there were new set of luggage. For the other people, not for me. My luggage was still lost. So back to the claim desk.
After I told my story to the clerk, she did look from her computer that indeed, my luggage was still in Helsinki, and would arrive on later flight this evening. She also told that because it would arrive on 7 PM flight, it would be delivered the next day. I told her I couldn't accept this, as I was moving and my all things were in there, and that I needed the luggage the same day, no matter how. She said that it was impossible, and I asked her what would I have to do to get my luggage the same day. She did call the Elektrobit's HR person to get the address where to deliver the luggage, as I didn't know the address at that point, and again she confirmed that they cannot be delivered the same day. I asked cannot they simply put the luggage into a cab and tell the driver the address. She did call someone, and told that it's possible, but it would cost 100 CHF (approx. 70 euros), and I would have to pay half of that.
My eyes dropped. Imagine, they lose my luggage and they want me to pay part of the costs for delivering the luggage. I asked for other options, but she gave me none. Then I asked if I could come to pick them up myself later with a cab, and she said that it's possible but they wouldn't pay the fee, but only for the cheapest transportation method. Using a train that day would have taken me my whole evening to get to the airport and back, so train was out of a question and also it would be stupid to pay for the taxi if I had to pay the bill. Then I asked if I should wait for the next plane to arrive to ensure I get my luggage the same day, again she told it's possible but it would be stupid to wait that long at the airport. I was getting slightly pissed off about the situation, but I wanted my luggage, so I agreed to pay half of the transportation costs, and left towards train station to get to the Elektrobit's office.
After about 40 minutes in train, I arrived to the Bubikon station, which is very close to the office. During the train travel, when watching the scenery from the train, it was very rural filled with forests and fields. Fields included at least corn, but I couldn't recognize most of them, as I try to avoid eating too many vegetation, so I don't recognize them even in my plate, let alone in the field. When I arrived at the station, it was raining, but the distance was supposed to be only few hundred meters, so no big deal. I took the northern exit from the station, and started walking in the direction I assumed the office should be. After walking a short distance, and not seeing anything familiar, I asked some man if he knew where that particular street was located. He pointed to the same direction which I would have taken, although for several hundreds of meters there were no sign of any offices. After walking for some distance, I did arrive to Elektrobit office somewhat wet, and noticed that I should have taken the southern exit from the station, which would have left me about one hundred meter from the office.
In the office, I found a HR person waiting for me, and she did tour me briefly around the office. After that, we went with her car to leave my hand luggage to the apartment, which was reserved for me. As we had agreed earlier, Elektrobit was to offer me some sort of apartment for my first 30 days in Switzerland, and during that time I should find myself an apartment of my own. This apartment which Elektrobit was offering, was a studio about 3 km's from Bubikon. The studio included about 12-15 square meters room for myself, and the common rooms, like kitchen, shared with 4 other occupants. At least it was nice and decent, and surprisingly well kept for common areas, but still for a person who had come from a apartment size of 80 square meters, it had to feel a little bit smallish.
A view from Elektrobit's office
After leaving my things in the apartment, we head to some office, something residential or immigrational, I guess. Can't remember the name, and even if I could, I couldn't yet translate it, so I really don't know what place it was. If you don't know, they speak several languages in Switzerland, but in this region close to the Zürich, they speak mainly their own version of German. I have studied german in school for 5 years, and with a former colleague of mine, whose german was very good, occasionally we did have small conversations in german just for fun, so I should be able to have some level of communication with the locals.
At this office, I did fill a paper which was to apply a residential permit for me. After there, we did leave to two different banks to ask about on what conditions they would give me a bank account. The other one was bigger and international, but the smaller one seemed to be more flexible in all terms, so I decided to go to the smaller one, Die Post. After deciding, I went to the bank by myself, and managed to open the account speaking only german, as the lady behind the counter didn't speak english. After few days and the papers for the bank account not yet arrived, I did have to call to ask the account number, so that the company would know to which account pay my salary. Again I managed to handle it all in german, so I guess I should have some capability to survive even when the HR persons would not be around helping me.
A view from the Rüti apartment
Things were looking slightly brighter, after the not so good morning. The bus connection from Bubikon to my apartment was just great, however it could run slightly more frequently. There is also good train connection from Bubikon to the same village where I lived, but the bus did stop by my apartment, and the distance from the train station was about 1 km, so it was much wiser to use the bus. On my way home, I had bought a Donald Duck book from local store, in german, so that reading it would improve my german skills. After first day in the office, I went home to see when they would bring me my luggage. Actually, they did not have my number or address, but Marianne's, whom they did call from the airport when they asked for an address for the delivery. I had given her the 50 CHF to pay the driver, although I had planned to make a complaiment about the money and ask for a refund. However, she did call me late in the evening that the luggage had not arrived to her place, and she would go to bed. Not so happy news, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Second day at the office, nothing special, just getting to know the places and people, and also some familiarization to the project where I would be working at least for part time. The local IT support guy did help me a lot, as I had my computer from EB Finland with me, it did have some different settings which prevented it from working in the local network. The stupid thing, although I did have administrative priviliges in the computer, I could not alter some of the settings. Instead, we did have to call the finnish support to make the changes. After some retries, we got all working. I also did apply for a internet connection to be connected to my apartment, as I would have to have some method of surfing the Internet and playing on-line games. I did scan with my WLAN card, and it showd several open WLAN hotspots in the area, although the signal levels were usually too weak to make a connection. Occasionally I managed to have longer connection to the internet.
Later that evening, after arriving to the apartment, I did make a call to the airport number which was in the missing luggage claim paper. There was some automatic answer machine, which prompted me to enter the code which was in the paper. It told me something in german, which I thought meant that the luggage was to be delivered at 6 PM. I did call the number again, and after not inputting anything, it did connect to a person. After telling my story, the person told me that they had my luggage, and it would be delivered the next day. I was about to lose my temper, as they had gotten my luggage on monday, and now they tell me that it takes several days to deliver it to about 40 km's distance. I told her in quite serious tone that I needed the luggage, and would take no explanation why it couldn't be done, and that I wanted the luggage the same day. I also told her that it could be delivered to my address, and not Marianne's as at this point I knew the address. She did go somewhere to have a talk or to make a call, and after that she told me that the luggage would be delivered to me between 6 PM and 8 PM. The clock was about 5:30 PM, so I went to a local grocery store to buy some food and return in time for my luggage. I waited until 8:15 PM, no luggage arrived, and I thought my talk with the Zürich office was done.
I managed to connect to the internet, and I fetched several Finnair service numbers. Most of them did not answer, as the time was quite late in Finland. The ticket sales number was open 24 hours a day, so I called them and explained my problem. They gave an another number which would help with my problem. I did call them, and after hearing my story, they did tell me they'd call Zürich to clear things out and then call me back. After few minutes, they did call me back and told that the luggage will be delivered today, and that I shouldn't pay anything as it's against their policy that the customer should pay for their problems. During this call, a swiss number tried to reach me. After finnishing the call with the Finnair personel, I did call back this swiss number. I suppose it was the driver, who tried to ask something about the delivery, but he was speaking difficult german dialect and I coulnd't follow him completely. After few minutes after this call, another swiss number did call me, and this time it was the Zürich airport personel. She told me that I should answer my phone when the deliverer calls me. I told her I did call him back immidiately, but she kept repeating that I should answer my phone. Supposedly she had gotten the call from Finnair, as she told that they would try to deliver the luggage later this evening, between 9 PM and 11 PM. I said it's OK, and she told me again to answer my phone.
Scene from the Zürich downtown
After waiting to 11:15 PM, I tried to call the Finnair number again, but it was too late in Finland, and also that number had been switched off. Again I called the ticket service, and told that I would need to contact someone. He tried to tell me that I should contact them tomorrow, but I told that I'm not going to wait anymore, and told him what had happened. He understood my urgency, and told me he'd forward my number to someone who would call me. After few minutes, I got a call and again I told this guy the full story. He tried to look what to do, but there was nothing he could do anymore as the Zürich Airport was closed for the evening, and would be opened next morning. He told me to ring him first thing in the morning if the luggage had not arrived until morning, which I didn't hold too propable.
At 00:30 AM, my phone rang. It was someone speaking in german, and he told that he has some luggage, and he's next to a big white building, and wasn't sure if it was the correct one. I went downstairs, and there it was, my luggage. Happy reunion. I signed the papers and went back sleeping after seeing that the luggage was all right. I will still have to fill the complainment paper to Finnair, although Finnair was responsible only for not being able to transfer my luggage to correct flight. Rest of this stupid struggle was caused my the swiss delivery system which for some reason couldn't deliver the luggage in time. I will make this clear in my complainment, but I fear it doesn't help for the next time.
As the train from the airport to Bubikon had diverted Zürich, I had never seen even a glimpse of that city with my own eyes. Therefore I planned to visit Zürich down town after work on Friday. After being for some time at work on Friday, someone asked about my participation to a company summer party & 10th anniversary. No-one had told me about such event, so I had to change my plan and visit Zürich next morning. After work, we went to some leisure & sporting center, which included some competition against each other, some food and some drinking. During that evening I did have several conversations with the company's Chinese member, Juan. He's been studying here in Zürich and is doing his internship in Elektrobit. (If I recall correctly.) It was nice to have chat with him, as I'm somewhat interested in asian cultures, having had one course in chinese some years ago, and also studying japanese language for last two years.
Then on the saturday morning, I went to Zürich with the train. I went somewhere around the city by walking, and actually it looked quite nice for a such big city. First impression was that it was quite clean and open, although my last visit to a big city was Bangkok in Thailand, which is heavily polluted and crowded. I found the downtown area very similar to the one in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. When walking in the pedestrian area in some older district, if you removed all the german speaking people and replaced them with tall blonde Scandinavians speaking Swedish, I could swear I was in Stockholm's Gamla Stan. From one of the book stores, I did purchase the latest Harry Potter, in english, and one japanese number crosswordpuzzle SuDoku. The difficult part of this SuDoku was, that I didn't know the rules beforehand, and in this book, they were in german. There was small examplatory section, and having read that several times each time with slower and slower pace, I finally got the hang of it. There's 100 pages of these, so I guess I will be spending some time doing the puzzles.
Another scene from the Zürich downtown
Today, as I'm writing this, the 21.08.2005, I went to work to make some progress on the project, and also to search apartments from the internet. When at work, I noticed I had forgotten the Formula 1 Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul. Luckily it was going to begin in one and a half hour, so I had good time to do some work, then go watch the first few laps, search some internet in between, finish the work and go watch the finish. Kimi Räikkonen did win, but unfortunately for him, Montoya who was running second before Alonso, did have some bad luck at the end and Alonso came in second, so Kimi did catch Alonso in the championship table only by two points. It's going to be interesting to see if Kimi can catch that lead in the remaining races.
So things are looking better now than it did seem at the beginning, with all the hassle with the luggage. Some things I have noticed here which still keep me surprised over and over again. One thing is, that when walking around (exluding Zürich), many people greet you. Just on the street, when you walk to someone, he will say "Grüetzi" (swiss greeting, possibly spelled incorrectly) even if you've never seen him before. Not all people greet you, but surprisingly many, and as a good policy, I try to notice these and return the greeting. As I'm used to the finnish mentality, where no-one can be greeted, even if you know him, this is something out of ordinary. Most people in Finland just try to avoid each other's gaze, and if they had to say something to each other, it would lead to a catastrophe, but it won't happen as people don't speak to each other.
Eating at McDonald's
One strange thing when walking is the zebra crossings. If you just look like you might step on a crossing in next few minutes, all traffic will stop until you have crossed the street. I've seen nothing similar in my life. And it's not just one or two occasion, it's all the time. When walking in the sidewalk, if you're approaching a zebra crossing, cars will slow a little and see if you look like you want to cross there, and eventually they will stop if you make wrong (or correct) move towards the crossing. Amazing.
Then there's phone call costs. I knew that they are higher in Middle-Europe than Finland, and that they are very cheap in Finland in general. At the moment, I think the cheapest at the moment in Finland is at 3.5 cents a minute (about 0.05 CHF / min), whereas it seemed that here the cheapest are around 0.4 CHF / minute, so almost 10 times higher. There's also much higher montly fixed fees, starting from 15 CHF and up to anything, whereas in Finland it's usually much cheaper, or in best cases, even without fixed fee. If you make a longer contract in Switzerland, you get free mobile phone with it, but still it doesn't explain the prices if you take only the contract without extra benefits. But as it turned out, my residential permit doesn't allow me to get a phone connection contract, but only pre-paid contract where the call costs are even more ridiculous than with the regular contracts. I tried to ask the lady in the residential office how to upgrade the permit to such which would allow e.g. the phone contract, but it seemed that it would be about as easy as getting green card to United States. Bummer.
This week it's been raining on quite many days. The local people tell me that it's not so common to have so much rain, so I hope the weather gets better. Actually, two people had died during the rain on Sunday evening to a landslide caused by the rain. I think I will continue to fill this page sometime, but I hope I don't have this much to tell you, or I fear then things have not gone so well as I hope they would have.
I have stored some pictures in the webpage, some of them are presented in these journals, but there might be also some which are not found anywhere else. You can find all the pictures in here