Bienne, Switzerland

My town, Bienne: Steep mountains, steeper living

There aren’t many countries in the world whose name alone makes you think of 'wealth'. But Switzerland is one of them. Living in the land of chocolate, however, is not always as sweet as you might believe. Ernie Stairs explains all...

Most people, when I tell them I live in Switzerland, think I’m rich. For a brief moment, I did too.

When I accepted my job in Bienne, I quickly promised my wife an abundance of dreams. On paper, my wage was greater than at any other time in my career – almost three times what I’d been earning in London. Together, we mapped out a budget. We could have a dog-sitter, a cleaner, pocket money, nights out in the old town, trips away to the lakes and even skiing lessons in the nearby Jura Mountains.

Just a few years after moving here, the skis are sitting forlorn in the basement and most trips away take us as far as the budget supermarket. As it turns out, that wonderful wage has melted like fondue cheese into all of Switzerland’s many costs, taxes, fines and insurance.

The cost of living here often verges on extortionate. To choose a home, we weren’t prepared to pay the high prices of the tiny apartments in town. Bienne is not as expensive as Zurich, but even here, you don’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. So we drove up into the nearby mountains. Many people would call our village 'typically Swiss' - the meadows full of cows, bells are interspersed with strawberry fields, chalets and hiking trails. The rent prices are much more affordable up in the clouds, but for my wife, the distance away from civilization has come at its own cost.

Rock Hall, Bienne

Surely, we thought, the famous Swiss lifestyle would make up for the smell of shit that wafts through our windows. Many times, it has. Bienne is peaceful. It sits on a lake that's perfect for refreshing swims. It's surrounded by vineyards, hills and forests. There's a charming old town that's gradually picking up pace (it’s only taken a few hundred years) and a Hawaiian bar that plays rock and roll.

If it wasn’t for reality, everything would be great. But when the dog needs an operation, the car needs new brakes or the dog needs a second operation (yes, that happened), Switzerland can quickly drown you. All of those things are super expensive and that’s on top of what you’re already paying for the privilege to live there.

Yes, there’s a lot of money in Bienne, and all over Switzerland, but I haven’t yet worked out the secret of hanging onto it!

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