Saturday, May 3, 2014

Disappearing trust

The Swiss are trusting. They use honor boxes to sell cheese; train passengers are expected to punch their own tickets before boarding; florists leave thousands of francs worth of flowers, plants and packaged soil outside shops over the weekends; car salesmen hand over keys before receiving the money; and businesses extend credit to customers by allowing them to purchase by invoice.

According to the Swiss Mail Order Association, 89% of Swiss online merchandise is purchased using invoices.

But times are changing. The use of credit checks, credit cards and Paypal is increasing. Insurance companies are starting to sell credit insurance.  Businesses are getting wiser. When I applied for a credit card a few years ago, the bank required me to deposit the equivalent of my maximum credit limit into a savings account.

Recently, an architect friend has run into problems with an American client, who is refusing to pay his and other contractors' bills using outrageous excuses and tactics. All the workers are stunned. They don't understand how people can behave this way. My friend said such clients are ruining the Swiss way of doing things.

What can I say? A sign of the times...


  1. The Swiss Germans always have harbored deep insecurity and envy relative to America. When something is wrong in Switzerland it is always the fault of America - amazing! I'm sure it is our fault there is a McDonalds and Burger King on every Swiss corner as well.

  2. I was at first perplexed by the Swiss system of payments. Yes they invoice you for all kinds of things for which upfront payment would usually be demanded in (say) New York. What I noticed however is that it’s extremely difficult to buy anything under these conditions without proof of Swiss residence (itself a significant control). You are only allowed to move your household goods beyond the Swiss border after a very rigorous check by the ‘offices des poursuites’ which acts almost as a credit bureau. No one can leave with an ‘attestation de non poursuites’ which means any debt no matter how trivial is secured by ones total household value at all times.
    I’d also observe that being caught without a ticket on the Geneva transit system results in a pretty brutal fine, and likewise on the trains (as in much of Europe buying from the conductor is not an option as it is in the USA.) Here again, the lack of day to day controls (a conductor always checking every ticket) is replaced with prohibitive fines if caught violating the honor system, or even being ignorant of the rules.

  3. Thank you Alex for your explanation. I didn't know about this "attestation de non poursuites." Interesting!! I guess harsh consequences could be a reason why the Swiss have been so trusting. On a separate note, I've noticed that consequences are harsher in the pubic school than in the private international school my kids attended. I would say that the advantage of the public school is that my kids have become more independent, punctual and organized than when they were in the private school. It's painful but the result is nice for me, as I don't have to nag as much!