An expat experiences the adrenaline of joining the Swiss workforce, after full-time motherhood and a return to university. As ever, rules must be obeyed!
There were about fifteen lawyers and other legal staff in the legal department of the bank. It was my first day at work. That morning I had woken up very early and had taken great care with my make-up and hair. I was very nervous and excited. I put on one of my favourite dress suits and boarded the train for Lausanne. I was happy to be going back to work.
The bank was in the centre of Lausanne. From the station you have quite an uphill walk to reach the enormous building. From door to door it had taken me an hour and ten minutes but that didn’t bother me at all. It was a glorious, sunny day and Lausanne is a beautiful city. The people getting off the train and heading for the offices were smartly dressed in suits and ties. I had missed this world of working people running in all directions clutching plastic cups brimful of coffee.
I felt a surge of adrenaline as I got near the bank’s offices. At last I was feeling active and productive; I was no longer a desperate housewife or a late-graduating student. For a moment I remembered that I was thirty-five and still only a trainee, but the sight of people having breakfast outside the city bars distracted me. I would soon get to know this city and be having lunch in beautiful restaurants in the centre with my new colleagues. A new era was beginning for me.
I arrived at the staff entrance. I rang the bell and the door opened. I went in and, with a smile, gave the doorman my name. He motioned to me to wait and called through to the secretary in the bank’s legal department. A few minutes later a cheerful, smiling woman called Maria arrived and introduced herself as the secretary of the manager, Mr Hunziker. Maria asked me to follow her. The bank was enormous, full of people scurrying along its wide corridors. We went through a series of doors, each of which opened automatically after Maria inserted a magnetic card. We took a lift to the fifth floor. She took me into the secretary’s office and pointed to my office: a desk hidden behind a bookcase.
Maria informed me, ‘This is the trainee’s office. I’m here for you if you need any information. Mr Hunziker will see you as soon as he can.’
‘Thank you, Maria, you’re very kind. As we’re in the same office, I’m sure I will take you up on your offer.’
Shortly afterwards, Mr Jaker approached me. A very kind and good-humoured man, he was in charge of organising my training at the bank. He showed me the legal department’s cafeteria, where all the legal staff were enjoying their coffee. One by one, they introduced themselves. They struck me as easy-going, funny and very sociable. There was a very relaxed, informal atmosphere. I sat down and had a cup of tea with them. I felt at ease and had the impression my colleagues all got on very well with each other.
A few minutes later Mr Hunziker, the manager of the legal department, came in. Everyone greeted him and he smiled at me. ‘Welcome. As soon as you have finished your tea, please come and see me in my office.’
Flustered, I stood and said, ‘I have finished. If I’m not disturbing, I will come now.’
I followed him into his office and he explained to me what my job would involve. We then spoke about my family and the reasons why I was in Switzerland. I felt I was getting on well with my new boss and that I would enjoy working for him. I returned to my office and Maria gave me a magnetic card to get into the bank. I would have to clock in and clock out, and I would work eight hours and twenty-four minutes every day. Maria told me:
‘Never forget your magnetic card; otherwise there is no way of calculating how many hours you have worked, and the bank’s security people won’t let you in.’
I smiled and replied, ‘Don’t worry, there’s no way I’ll forget it. Look, I’ll put it in my wallet now.’
The next day I left my wallet, with the magnetic card in it, at home. When I arrived at the bank and realised I had forgotten it, I decided to try my charm on the security man. Maria was doubtless exaggerating; he was bound to let me in!
I smiled at him and said, ‘Good morning! You know, this morning I was really busy what with one thing and another… I live in Geneva, you see, and it takes me an hour and ten minutes to get to work. I had to drop the children off at school – they’re still really small – and it was one of those terrible mornings…I don’t know if you have children yourself and can understand what I’m saying, but…well, the thing is, I don’t know how it happened but I’ve forgotten my magnetic card, the one for getting into the bank. Could you let me in anyway?’
Without even looking at me, he brusquely replied, ‘No.’
I was aware that flexibility was not a strong point in this country but I wasn’t going to give up so easily. ‘I really must get into the bank. Can we find a solution?’
‘Let’s see if your boss will give me authorisation. How long have you been working in the bank?’
‘Only since yesterday. This is my second day at work.’
‘Can you show me some proof of identity?’
Instinctively, I began rooting in my bag but then remembered that I didn’t have my wallet or any of my documents with me, ‘Unfortunately my documents are in the wallet which I have left at home. I’m sorry.’
‘How can I be sure that you’re telling me the truth? If you give me your name and surname I have no way of checking that you are that person. Give me your boss’s name, please.’
‘Certainly. Mr Hunziker, director of the legal department. He’s my boss.’
The man tried to call the director but got no answer. He must have tried at least ten times. Then I recalled, ‘Sorry, I just remembered that Mr Hunziker is on holiday for a week starting from today.’
‘Then give me the name of one your colleagues.’
‘Maria or Sandrine. But… their surnames… yes, the secretary is called Maria. I’m sorry, but I don’t know her surname and I don’t know the surnames of my other colleagues. As I told you, I only started working here yesterday.’
‘Madame, do you realise that there are two thousand people working in this bank? How do you expect me to find Maria? Do you have any idea how many Marias must work in this bank?’
After a long search and various telephone calls, he told me that Maria was coming to get me. She arrived laughing and assured the security guard that I was indeed the trainee. Then she consoled me:
‘Don’t worry. The same thing happened to me after I had been working here for twenty two years. They didn’t want to let me in. It’s normal practice. They’re just very strict in their checks.’
I liked Maria. She was always smiling and it was good sharing an office with her. Then I found out that she was from Malaga, Spain, and I liked her even more. I have lots of friends in Malaga and the first time I went there I felt like I was in Bari. They have the same easy-going attitude as the southern Italians and a real love for life. I felt at home straight away.
With Maria I often ended up talking about Spain and her family. She was born in Lausanne to Spanish parents. Her parents then went back to Malaga to enjoy their Swiss pensions. She married a Spanish guy, had two children, but had never lived in Malaga. She often went back to see her family in Spain, but her life was in Lausanne.
Every morning, with some considerable difficulty, I woke up at 06.30. At 07.20 I caught the train and at 08.30 I was in the office. It was a struggle for me to get up that early. I felt like I was arriving very early at the office, but a lot of my colleagues had already been there a good while by the time I got there. Maria got up every morning at 05.30, had breakfast with her children about 06.00 and arrived at the office at 07.00. It seemed to me like a hellish way of living, having to cope with such anti-social times. But she wasn’t the only one. There were lots of people getting up very early in the morning. The pace of their life was very different from what I had been used to in Bari!