Follow by Email

Monday, February 25, 2013

Meeting Greeks in Switzerland

My wife and I spent a few days in Zurich to celebrate birthday with our younger son. The good news is that we returned without having to declare bankruptcy: Switzerland is incredibly expensive in terms of Euros. Hardly a pizza below 20 CHF. Hardly a good main course in a reasonably good restaurant below 30-40 CHF. Wages/salaries are very high: median wage/salary 5.716 CHF. How a country like that could have recorded record exports in 2012 is a mystery to me. On the other hand, many, many foreigners in Switzerland. Message to Greeks who are in economic pain: look for a job in Switzerland; they need foreigners!

Shortly after arrival at the hotel, we went to the restaurant in late afternoon to have coffee. With unswerving intuition, my Greek wife found the one table in the full restaurant which was occupied by Greeks. Very pleasant Greeks!

Within minutes, it was like having been friends for our entire lives. Where do you live in Greece? We live here (about 300 Km from our home). Great! We'll get together the next time we are there! What are you doing in Zurich? Oh, your daugther just arrived for studies here? Is she perhaps lonely? Our son lives here and he can help her (I almost felt like hearing upcoming wedding bells...).

But there was a message in this encounter.

One of the Greeks told about his daugther who lived in Greece. She had completed her studies of law and she was now looking for a job; and she hadn't found one yet. My wife expressed sympathy for the poor girl who deserved better in life than what Greece could presently offer. The Greek father explained: "There is no need to worry. We have had a Golden Age for 20 years. The reserves we accumulated may not suffice to support our grand children but there is enough to support our daughter and her children". 

This reminded me of a cousin of my wife's who worked like horse for about 20 years in his own business to sell it and to retire at age 45. His business was to produce fashionable T-shirts. By the time he retired, he considered his net worth to be about 1,5 MEUR and he thought he could live forever on the rent. Today, none of his tenants pays rent; he has little income and the value of his assets (on which he has to pay property taxes) has collapsed.

I later asked my wife how many people she knew in Austria who could accumulate enough reserves in only 20 years to fully support one child, much less than supporting their grand children. I explained to her that a young Austrian who earns 4.000 Euro/month (way above the average!) has to save for at least 10 years to have enough equity to buy a house. And only when he gets into his fifties, he may have repaid the mortgage on that house.

My Greek wife thought that this was a typical 'Germanic' interpretation.

Then my wife requested support for another one of the Greeks at the table. He had 100 TEUR in his pocket and he wanted to make a bank deposit in Switzerland. I, having retired from banking 3 years ago, should be able to advise him. I told him that I didn't think any Swiss bank would accept that cash deposits anonymously over the threshhold for money laundering (about 15-20 TEUR). My wife didn't accept that for an answer. She wanted to call our son at Credit Suisse. I succeeded to prevent her from doing that on the grounds that our son was in corporate finance, that he was in the midst of major projects which required him to work about 16 hours a day and that he would explode if someone asked him to advise about how to invest 100 TEUR.

I offered to go with the Greek to a branch of Credit Suisse which was next-door to the hotel. They would be able to explain exactly what the rules where. That offer was declined.

It can be very difficult to make someone happy who doesn't want to be made happy.


  1. "It can be very difficult to make someone happy who doesn't want to be made happy."

    It is clear that much money brings a lot of problems, so much, that trust is gone, and nothing in life is shining anymore. The man lives in a kind of a money-coma.
    He was lucky that I was not there. I would have called Samaras, at least the Greek newspapers, photographers, ERT, SkaiTV....

    I like your son's maybe exploding, showing that he has a healthy view on assertiveness.
    I like your understanding him, respecting him.
    I like this way of blogging and I would like also that your wife starts a blog.
    She must have much to share.

    I will be her first follower.
    But again: if I was your wife, and loving Greece and a healthy new system there, I would have confronted the man with many questions, triggering for a kind of a consciousness, ethics.
    In my eyes he is a crook. Not a kind of a business man with a legal amount of money, just trying to find a place to hide it. The snake.
    He did not trust you. He knew that your way is the legal way.
    That is not what he wants.

    Why should you make the man happy?
    He does not deserve to be happy.
    Let him.
    Or was it your cynicism that wanted to make him happy..... And your wife a kind of a secret agent, knowing that you would give and advice that would bring the man indirectly straight to prison.....(?!)

  2. Great writing Her Klaus, showing not only a different approach. You can't imagine how simple things altering people's interests, motives and predisposition.
    You have change, your title? ObservingGreece is a much more distant title.The previous title reminiscent a constant journey, this is a bit static, distant.

    PS: Her Klaus something irrelevant, about "internal devaluation", do you observe implementable exelixis?