Zapped to Zürich

After a five year expatriate assignment in The Netherlands, as The Martin Family thought that we had seen the world. In fact, we thought that we had
changed the world. We moved to Europe in October, 1989; the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. Coincidence? Of course not!
Living in The Netherlands, and taking advantage of the ‘cash option’ in lieu of annual trips back to the States, the family had seen Europe: trips to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, France, Czechoslovakia (before the break) and Switzerland. Through his job, Dan had added stops in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It was a grand adventure. The kids grew up in an international environment. They developed confidence and tolerance. Wonderfully, the driving license age was 21, a spectacular arrangement that we didn’t fully appreciate until we moved back to New Hampshire:
“The city installed two speed bumps between our house and the high school,” my wife, Nazy, said.
“This occurred two weeks after Melika got her driving license, right?” I replied.
“It’s not a coincidence is it?”
“No. The police stopped me…”
“… He thought I was Melika. He wanted to flirt.”
“So that’s how she avoids tickets.”
“Didn’t work for me, Dan.”
It had been difficult to ‘come home’. We had changed as a result of our time in The Hague. Nazy coped by establishing the International Women’s Club of the Upper Valley – an organization that is still going strong 20 years later and many years after we departed. The kids were equally adventurous:
After graduating from Princeton, Mitra found a job in NYC with a small marketing company which had somehow landed the Exxon account. She managed to arrange a customer-financed, round-the-world trip to ‘fully understand how people culturally respond to gasoline stations’. In Buenos Aires, she was introduced to The
Tango – which quickly became her passion. Her parents were always supportive:
“Tango?” I asked. “Couldn’t you think of something a little more obscure?”
However, proving me wrong, and with her partner, Stefan, she subsequently established Oxygen Tango, the world’s greatest Tango School.
During his undergraduate days at Syracuse, Darius flew to Venezuela because “it was the cheapest flight to another continent.” He celebrated his Ph.D. by trekking through the Cambodian jungle. He vacationed in Ethiopia.
“Ethiopia?” I asked. “Do you want to lose weight?”
He is on the faculty at the American University of Beirut – a location selected from choices that included Lahore, Pakistan and Shandong, China.
After graduation from UC, Santa Barbara, Melika chose Law School.
I was astonished. Melika had used the internet search term “party school” to narrow her choices for undergraduate studies. Another requirement? A beach. And, finally, the winning school had to be at least ½ a continent from the parental home. This new idea seemed to be less than fully baked:
Law School?” I asked. “Do you want to be a lawyer?”
“Lawyers make a lot of money, Dad.”
“Do you want to make a lot of money?”
“Because I spend a lot of money, Dad.”
“Finally,” I thought. “Something we can agree on.”
While we lived in The Netherlands, there was a Dutch tax regulation that offered a very good deal to expatriates – for 5 years. We stayed in The Netherlands for 5 years. Although we liked New England, we really missed Europe. So, when Melika, our youngest, entered university, I started looking for an international assignment. It took a year - and even then we had to agree on residency.

It was, the company told me, a European-level position. And:
“You can live
anywhere in Europe that you want, Dan.”
“Wow!” I replied. “How about Rome.”
“Well, eh. We don’t do a lot of business in Rome and it’s sort of on “the edge”. You can, of course, live
anywhere in Europe. Our European headquarters are in Zurich.
“Really?” I replied. “What about Barcelona?”
“Dan, Dan, Dan. Barcelona is also on “the edge”. You can live
anywhere. Of course, European HQ is in Zurich.”
“How about Zurich?”
“Excellent choice, Dan.” (The response was immediate.)
As Nazy and I were flying to Zürich for our house hunting trip, I explained the good part about this job: “I like Theo, my new boss. And I like the job – I’m going to leading adoption of a new business model. It’s a
great opportunity.”
“Even better, Dan,” Nazy enthused. “Zurich is rated as the number one place to live.”
After settling-in at the zum Storchen Hotel, Nazy and I divided the tasks. I stopped by the office to check-in with Theo and she joined Ralph to look at houses.
Upon arrival at the office, I walked to Theo’s office. But..
That’s funny,” I thought. “Somebody named Robert has taken Theo’s office.”
“Who are you?” Robert shouted.
“Where is Theo?” I replied.
“Theo is gone. I’m running the show now. Who are you?”
“I’m Dan Martin, I’m here to rollout adoption of the new business model for..”
“So, you’re another one of Theo’s mistakes?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“We will not adopt the new model, we will adapt it.”
“Right: ad
apt. Is it to late to cancel your move?”
“Yes, too late.” I replied. “
But hopefully not too late to negotiate a repatriation clause,” I thought – presciently.
“Well I hope you can find something useful to do.” Robert walked back into his office and slammed the door.
Well. That went well,” I thought. The phone rang as I was about to start on my expense report. It was Nazy.
“You have to come!”
“Already found something wonderful?” I asked.
must come.” Nazy gave me an address and suggested that I get a lot of cash for the taxi. It took a while, but eventually I arrived.
“This place is really remote, Nazy.” I noted. “I thought we wanted to live in Zurich.”
“Ralph says that
this is what we can afford.”
“Ralph?” I turned to the realtor.
“Yes,” Ralph spoke up. “This,” he said, pointing, “is the communal laundry. You will be able to use it ever other Thursday.”
“See, Dan.” Nazy whispered.
“Frau Stickelrule will give you the key. Make sure that you leave the facility neat and tidy. Remember: no laundry after 9:00 PM.”
“You’re putting me on, Ralph,” I replied.
“Where is the dryer?” Nazy asked.
“I think that you’re supposed to hang the wet clothes on those strings,” I said – glancing at a network of cords hung from the ceiling.
Dan..” Nazy was whimpering. I knew that this wasn’t going well. Ralph didn’t notice.
“You have a terrace, so you can sit outside and..”
“… look at the building next door.
Right next door,” Nazy interrupted.

“And this,” Ralph exclaimed, “is the kitchen.”
“Don’t wave your arms,” I replied. “You’ll break something.”
Meanwhile, Nazy, wandering through the apartment, saw a sign in the bathroom:

zurichGentlemen using the toilet after 10:00 PM are kindly requested to sit down.
What does that mean?” She asked Ralph.
“It is a shared building, Mrs. Martin. So after 10:00 PM, you’re expected to keep the noise down.”
I looked at Nazy and turned to Ralph. “Listen carefully, Nazy,” I began. “You’ve never heard he say this before.” I turned to Ralph. “I am afraid, Ralph, that you’re going to have to show us something
a lot more expensive.”
“This house is fits your budget.”
“This apartment is
small and far away from everything.”
“But the budget…”
“I know, Ralph. I used my mortgage payment as a benchmark. After all, our property in New Hampshire is bigger than your whole country. Our driveway is wider than the motorway from the airport – and it is not under construction. We have our own, dedicated, washer
and dryer. Nobody checks to see if it is neat and tidy. I can urinate, standing up Ralph, at 2:30 in the morning. I can flush the toilet whenever the desire moves me. Take us back to the hotel and arrange something very, very different for tomorrow.
Ralph wasn’t fazed. As we walked out, he pointed to a flower that was planted in the middle of a square meter of dirt. “That would be your garden. The current owner will, of course, take his plant. You’ll have to replace it and keep the area weed free and well-pruned. Remember, no gardening on Sunday.”
“The hotel, Ralph,” I replied. “The hotel!”
Over dinner that evening, Nazy was philosophical. “I’m sure we will find something nice.”
“Nice?” I replied. “Maybe. Affordable? Unlikely.”
“At least you like your boss and you have a dream job.”
“About that, my dear….”