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Swellboy on… Switzerland

It’s a fine country, but one needs a banker’s draft to buy a coffee

Swellboy on… Switzerland

October 02 2011
Nick Foulkes

Switzerland is a remarkable country and as you know I begin to get withdrawal symptoms if I have not visited a watch factory for a couple of weeks, so early autumn sees me almost overdosing on springs and wheels, pinions and arbors and getting back on first-name terms with the staff at Geneva airport. However, after an absence of some weeks I had forgotten just how expensive it has become – Switzerland may be a land of Cockayne where even typists (or executive assistants as I believe they are now known since typewriters have ceased being made) receive the sort of salary that in the rest of Europe would suit the chief executive of a small to medium-sized business. But then you would have to be raking it in to survive in a country where they charge like the Light Brigade on steroids.

I like to think that living in London I am used to a high cost of living – it is why I have bicycle – but, based on recent experience, I think I ought to keep my Pashley tied up outside Geneva airport. Three cab rides, and two hundred quid had gone; after a while I could not bear to look at the sinister LED that totalised the mounting cost of my foolish resolve to take a taxi rather than walk or hitch-hike. Shaken, I was just contemplating taking a mortgage out on a cup of coffee when a friend kindly lent me some money to tide me over, a sum that in England might have met a term’s school fees and which I promptly blew on a half litre of mineral water and a Coca-Cola Zero.

Still, it is nothing if not convenient; I timed myself from the door of the plane to the door of my hotel: it took 20 minutes. On return to London, the odyssey from plane door to front door was a little over two hours. What is more, there is something to be said for the quiet predictability of life au bord du Lac Léman.

And I often think that if I won the lottery I might have go at being Swiss, eating raclette for breakfast and spending my days touring watch factories. Then I think about the friend of mine who told me that he once tried being a tax exile in Switzerland in the 1970s and found that it drove him up the wall.

I am afraid that the really rich are something of a closed book to me. Instead of being liberated from worries about money, they are fettered by a fanatical desire to preserve their wealth even at the expense of their happiness, which leads to them holing up in such places as Monaco and Switzerland. Such behaviour puts me in mind of Galsworthy’s Timothy Forsyte and his extraordinary will reflecting his desire that even after death his “property shall be nursed to the extreme limit permitted by the laws of England”, tying up his money for perhaps as long as a century.

However, I have begun to hear that some people who moved to Geneva from London to benefit from a more benevolent tax regime have started to move back – for all its riots, banker-bashing, traffic jams and inability to deal with fluctuations in climate (I was recently stranded by a flood in central London), it seems that there is something about London that is hard to resist. Then again, it may be because you don’t need a banker’s draft to buy a cappuccino.