26 June 2009
The last time I worked in the Alps I was a GAP year ski-bum plongeur in a hotel. One of my fellow kitchen workers quit his job to become a drug dealer in his home town- it was less work and better paid apparently. That was Méribel, and 16 years later I am at the foot of the Alps in Geneva- and the two experiences couldn’t be more different.
A private client partner at Charles Russell opened the Geneva office 3½ years ago to service international clients and intermediaries. Since then it has expanded, both in terms of the number of staff and the services offered here, and I was recently asked to move to Geneva to head the office and the private client team.
I always regretted not doing a foreign seat as a trainee at Linklaters, so was keen to take up this opportunity. But my circumstances had changed a great deal since those days- now I had a family, a cat and two chickens to think about. Luckily my wife and daughters agreed, the chickens went to live with my sister and the cat successfully applied for a Pet Passport (complete with photo), so here we now are in Geneva.
The biggest problem when moving to Geneva is finding suitable accommodation within budget- it is hard to find, over-priced, and often in city centre apartment blocks. I eventually found a house (sadly without the de rigueurnuclear bunker and fondue room in the basement) in a small village 6km south of the city centre and 200m from France, at the bottom of a mountain called Le Salève. In the evenings we watch the hang-gliders floating around its summit- two dozen if the conditions are good. And at weekends we take the cable car to the top for a panoramic view of the city, the lake and the Jet d’Eau to the north, and the Alps to the south. My commute to the city centre takes 15 minutes by scooter, and only a little more by bus (which actually adheres to a timetable- a novelty for a Londoner).
Geneva is one of the top three cities in the world to live in, and it is easy to see why. There are many well-groomed beaches (some just around the corner from my office) on the shores of the lake with views of Mont Blanc. The city’s many parks are exquisitely manicured. Even the sand in the children’s sandpits is cleaned daily. Everything works, and runs on time.
My eldest daughter, now 3, has started at the local nursery school and is very happy. She arrived here suitably prepared by two terms in London of toddler French classes, clearly aimed at pushy parents (one English mother was overheard telling her three year old son that if he didn’t behave he wouldn’t go to his Chinese class the next day). She loves the fact that they are fed chocolate most days at school here (pain au chocolat one day, fruit to dip in molten chocolate the next).
The Swiss are notoriously private, but they have been friendly and welcoming to us. We are slowly getting to know some of the many Swiss regulations- it is said that anything that is not obligatory is prohibited. Virtually everything is closed on a Sunday, and one is not permitted to mow one’s lawn then or after 8pm on a weekday; this leads to a stampede of people leaving the office on summer evenings, not to help with children’s bed times but to mow the lawn before the curfew.
The main weekend activities for Genevois are (predictably) skiing during the winter- Megève and Chamonix are less than an hour away- and sailing and mountain walking during the summer. And with the German, Italian and Romansh speaking cantons to explore, as well as neighbouring France and Italy, we are looking forward to exploiting Geneva’s central European location.
Much has changed in the 16 years since I was last in this region, but it is a wonderful place to live, work and bring up a family. And despite the terrible exchange rate, so far none of my colleagues has left for an ‘alternative’ career!”
Henry Fea is a partner at Charles Russell