Friday, August 14, 2009

Swiss Economy and shopping

I always wanted to shop in Europe because the toys, children clothing and chocolates are so much better there. We set aside Aug 7th for just shopping.

Switzerland is plain expensive. For a group of 3+ traveling by cab is definitely cheaper than travel by train. A 24 hour train ticket costs 8CHF. The automated ticket vending machine is a complex maze even for a tech savvy guy like me. That a ticket has to be validated in a machine after buying from a person at the counter is perplexing. Traveling on NJ transit I often wonder as to why we still have conductors on trains, an anachronism in the electronic age. Zurich is excellently networked with trams and buses. All public transport is ultra swanky, punctual to a second, very eco-friendly. The route is displayed on a LCD screen with the time to reach the stations displayed and its an accurate prediction. If it says 1 min to "Radiostudio" it is 1 min.

Food is very expensive in Zurich. A Jack Daniels burger at TGIF near my home is $8 the same burger at a TGI-Friday near Grand Central Station NY is $14. Zurich takes a NY price and multiplies it. Americans used to ordering off "dollar menu" at McD beware. Indian restaurants are in a class by themselves, any dinner at their restaurants would rip you off by $100 minimum for 2 people. I am talking regular janata Indian restaurants.

I inquired the hotel about shopping and as helpful ever they gave a nice brochure giving the store layout on Bahnhofstrasse the primary shopping street. One half of the street was supposedly affordable shopping the other half well if you can afford it congratulate yourself. My dad needed a pair of slippers badly and we were glad to find a....BATA. Yes Bata it is. So we bought a pair of slippers, pretty OK at 30CHF. The toy shop was cool but we could not find anything suitable to pack or bring over. That was a disappointment. However we found a good toy at the airport later, never seen such nice faux fur on toys in US. Our dress shopping was very unsuccessful. When you see a Tommy Hilfiger knitted T-shirt at 80CHF, after 50% discount what can you do but just keep it back. The same T-shirt costs $30 at a nearby factory outlet. Ag well in US we have factory outlet for LIndt chocolates too, where 'irregular shaped' chocolates are sold at disccount. I was very surprised to see the Tommy shop located close to Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss and Zegna. The latter 3 are uber luxury brands. Having been used to buying Boss shirts in Nordstrom during Men's half yearly sale at $50-70 I coud not fathom the prices there.

We stopped by a perfume shop. We saw the usual brands of Chanel, Bulgari etc. We got a ladies perfume of a brand not sold in US. I saw a piggy bank like bottle with a tap and inquired. Its a refil bottle with 1 liter perfume costing $3500. I found the idea of refilling a perfume to be unique. Make up sets from Shiseido were there. Shiseido factory is just 2 minutes from my home in NJ and they hold a mega annual sale at throwaway prices.

Finally we decided only one thing could be genuinely bought in Zurich. Chocolates. We spotted Sprungli. Sprungli is the producer of Lindt chocolates and is famous for chocolates and ice cream served at their cafe. The ice-cream was truly delicious. Lindt sells only a fraction of the flavors in US. The "luxemburgerlies" macaroons were just too good. We were advised by the cashier to eat them ASAP. They are delicate. Check out the Lindt history at . I bought some champagne filled chocolates and few other varieties.
By the way Swiss watches are certainly more expensive in Zurich than in NY.

Given the cost of living, standards of living I was curious about Switzerland's taxation. I thought it must be much higher than US, but its actually lower than US. By every economic criterion other than GDP Switzerland is a better place to be. But US remains the super power with a 12 trillion dollar economy. It may be as easy to start a business in Zurich as in NY but it is certainly easier to hire immigrants and access a much wider talent pool in NY than Zurich. Walking through NYC one can sense that it is a cauldron of ethnicities, Zurich is more homogenously caucasian. NYC, especially Times Square, throbs with life, its a city that never sleeps. Zurich goes to sleep at 8 PM. Well that's true of entire Europe including UK. Switzerland has a Germanic influence mostly, the Eastern part comprising Geneva is distinctly French. Military service is compulsory in Switzerland. They claim it is to defend their neutrality.

We finally wound up on Aug 8th. Zurich airport is sprawling and would put to shame JFK in NY. Terminal 5, the new terminal, at Heathrow and Zurich airport are ages ahead of any US airport.

When I flew out of Heathrow to US I chose Virgin Atlantic. I experienced first hand why Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic rails against British Airways being treated favorably since it is government owned. BA has monopoly over the multi-billion new terminal 5. Virgin Atlantic shares a terminal,3, that would make central station Madras look more organized.

As we boarded the flight from Zurich to Heathrow I saw an in-flight magazine with a cover story titled "Surviving the family vacation". I survived mine but hey its family after all.

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