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GENEVA

Great salaries but ‘no human warmth’: Your views on living and working in Geneva

Geneva is one of the world's prettiest and most peaceful cities, but as our readers revealed, living there can come at a price.

A boat sails on Lake Geneva under a Swiss flag.
What is actually cheap in Geneva? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

At the start of October, we asked your opinions on living in Geneva. From being one of the world’s most beautiful towns to concerns about affordability, we wanted the inside scoop on life in Switzerland’s second-biggest city. 

While Zurich might have the most expensive neighbourhoods in all of Switzerland, Geneva’s high median prices make it the most expensive city to rent in the country. 

We also brought you the story about Geneva mums rushing to give birth early just to get their hands on a nursery spot, pursuant to the city’s strict childcare laws. 

READ: Geneva still among the world’s most expensive cities, but where to get a cheap haircut

All of our respondents – bar one – lived in Geneva, while many had chalked up close to two decades in the city. 

What’s living in Geneva really like?

When asking our readers to rate their views on Geneva on a scale from 1 to 5, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. 

Nobody picked “I can’t wait to get out”, while only 15.4 percent of respondents said they were sure they wouldn’t be sticking around in Geneva for ever. 

The biggest response to the question – which attracted just over two thirds of responses – was that our readers were happy in Geneva and had “no complaints”. 

Despite this, the same readers managed to find the time to complain when given the opportunity later in the survey. 

In a great endorsement of the city, just under eight percent told us that life was “perfect” in Geneva. 

The best things about Geneva?

Our readers were in agreement about many of the positives of Geneva. From peacefulness to cleanliness as well as safety, our readers largely agreed. 

JF told us Geneva was “Quiet, easy to manage, kids friendly, safe, a bit of everything! Close to all big European cities. Easy airport. Clean and international”. 

Mahesh agreed, saying “Great quality of life, high degree of safety, short-commutes, proximity to nature and an accessible airport”. 

Brian simply responded that the best thing about Geneva was “you can swim in the lake”. 

Not all agreed however, with one respondent, Albert, saying the best thing about Geneva was the road to Lausanne. 

And the worst things about living in Geneva?

Almost half of our respondents told us that it was expensive, echoing a sentiment we’ve heard frequently over the years from our readers. 

Parking problems and a lack of nightlife were other concerns. 

Mahesh gave a list of Geneva woes: “The gloomy winter weather and high costs (especially rent), difficulty for new expat arrivals in getting to know the local Swiss related also to the language barrier (particularly for english-speaking newbies).”

Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Work Work Work Work

With a thriving economy and some of the world’s best-known businesses and NGOs, Geneva is a major draw for workers. 

But what’s the major advantage of working in Geneva? Money – and lots of it – say our readers. Several told us that high salaries brought them to Geneva and kept them there. 

Short commuting times and being part of an international environment were also pointed to as major benefits. 

The downsides to working in Geneva sound like a top list of gripes from anywhere, indicating Geneva perhaps wasn’t that unique. 

Suhaib said “public transport (to work)”, Roman said “taxation” and Memphis told us “starting work rather early”. 

Tyu’s opinion of the biggest disadvantage of working in Geneva? “Having to work at all”.

Local readers’ view of the locals?

Recently we’ve been asking our readers to give us cultural insights, where we found that the Swiss were polite but tended to be cold and unfriendly. 

The story is apparently much the same in Geneva, where readers like Roman told us the Swiss were “Polite, but officious, with no human warmth. It can feel very lonely.”

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Kaushik explained however that Swiss attitudes were cold towards expats as they didn’t want to invest in a friendship with someone who would soon be leaving. 

“It is hard to find locals, it takes years to become friends with any. People are polite and used to the fact that much of the ex-pat population is transient, it isn’t unreasonable not to invest in relationships with people that are likely to leave within a few years.”

Albert shed a little more light on his ‘road to Lausanne’ comments, saying simply that the problem with living in Geneva was that “no one cares” 

A local Genevan taking a dip in traditional headwear. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Advice for anyone moving to – or already living in – Geneva?

The main advice was simply ‘learn French’. Others said joining clubs with people around shared interests was the way to break the friendship ice in Geneva. 

Another hurdle may be based on your own interests. While Geneva is known for outdoor sport, Roman told us “If you like city life like cinemas, restaurants , operas etc. you will suffer.”

A version of this story was first published in October 2019. 

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For members

OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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