One thing that I won’t miss about Switzerland when we return to the UK is the cost of, well, everything. Before we moved out here we knew that it was one of the most expensive places to live, with the highest cost of living in the world, but I don’t think it really sank in until I did my first supermarket shop which reduced me to tears in the tinned food aisle and was singlehandedly The Most Terrifying Experience of My Life. Admittedly this wasn’t only down to the cost of groceries but it was definitely a large part of the trauma.In the early days of our relocation (hark at me, I sound like a proper expat!) part of the initial culture shock was tied up with the price of everything. And by everything, I do mean everything. I remember tweeting about a purchase I had made which I felt was particularly good value – what was it?
A multi pack of toilet roll! Oh yes. At just under 15chf for a pack of 30 rolls I felt that this was a bargain. Not just a bargain, but one worth sharing with the world, this was the equivalent of unearthing a vintage Birkin bag for a tenner in a charity shop (which, by the way, there aren’t any of in Switzerland. Charity shops that is, not Birkin bags, I’m sure there are more than a few of those around). Early trips to Ikea and H&M revealed that their prices were approximately 10-15% more expensive than in the UK. Even the amount we pay out on rent is nearly four times the cost of our UK mortgage! What do we get for the princely sum of 3,875chf? Well, it’s modern and spacious 30 minutes south of Zurich, but it’s certainly not a four bedroom detached house with private garden and double garage.
Having come from the UK I was used to the price wars that are waged in the supermarkets, the BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free’s), the three for the price of two, the gift with purchase, the loyalty card points to get bonus items that I wouldn’t have dreamt of getting otherwise. On arrival in Switzerland aggressive marketing and the fights between retailers to make sure that you spend that hard earned franc in their stores seems to have all but disappeared. Yes, there is competition between Coop and Migros, but it is not as merciless as it is in the UK between Sainsburys and Tesco. Indeed, they appear to compliment each other, almost working together to meet consumer demands; Migros doesn’t stock alcohol but Coop does, Coop stocks the more famous brands whilst Migros is more about local producers.
Having gone through the Most Terrifying Experience of My Life in that memorable first week of expat life I now frequent four different supermarkets to complete the family’s weekly grocery shopping. This is to make sure that I get all the ingredients I need and that I buy for the best value. Let’s take the basics of milk, bread and eggs, as examples. In the local bakers, Migros and Coop you can expect to be charged around 3.50chf for a white unsliced crusty loaf whilst in Lidl’s it’s only 2chf. Oh and whilst we are on the subject of bread, in Switzerland there are over 200 different traditional breads, fantastic for a carb lover like my husband, but I haven’t yet found a decent sandwich loaf for the children’s packed lunches. Then there’s the milk, scandalously cheap in the UK, in Coop and Migros just one litre will cost 1.50chf although if you stop off at a local farm and purchase from their vending machine you’ll save yourself 30 rappen. Eggs, 3.60chf for half a dozen medium free range. I could continue with the grocery list but maybe the admission that our weekly shop (for a family of four) costs 200-250chf will suffice.
Yep, I shall definitely relish the opportunity to withdraw a £10 note from the cash point. Here the majority of banks expect you to withdraw a minimum of 50chf of your hard earned cash from the hole in the wall. Indeed a 100chf note has stopped being a novelty. You know you live somewhere expensive when the cashier doesn’t bat an eyelid as you handover a tatty(!) 100chf note in exchange for a 4.50chf cappuccino.
Sarah is a mother, wife and freelance writer who also happens to blog about family life and their expat adventures in Switzerland. Check out her blog, Life of Ryrie.