Douwe Osinga's Blog: Settling in Switzerland

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Finding an apartment in Zurich turned out to be easier than predicted by many an insider. The word was that in order to get an apartment you needed good references and as a foreigner that should be very hard. May be the backing of Google helped – people do recognize the name (some bankers here may be more because of the IPO than of the kick ass search engine, but still). Anyway, we found this great place smack down in the middle of town, one minute from the Niederdorfstrasse, two from Google and three from the Central Station. The lake is maybe five. All minutes in walking time, of course.


Google Switzerland is a strange mixture of a European Internet start-up and satellite office of a multinational. There are some new people (Nooglers in Google speak), but a lot are old hands, mostly Europeans who worked in Silicon Valley for quite some time, always contemplating that some day they would return to the old continent and now they have the opportunity to have their cake (Google) and eat it (live in Europe). Maybe the fact that there is no capital gains tax in Switzerland played a role too.


Europeans tend to think that the quality of living in Europe is just the best in the world and therefore if we would open up the borders, everybody would come in here. So far the Zurich office has attracted mostly Europeans (admittedly that was what it was for), which suggest that this thinking is rather chauvinistic – otherwise we would have lot’s of Indians, Chinese and even Americans here. But the truth is that for most talented people outside of the US and Europe, Europe is only second choice; if you can’t get the US to accept you, Germany is a nice alternative.


So while we discuss whether we should keep the borders closed or open them up a little to let in the talented to save us from a dramatic pension crisis, the talented move to America. I talked to one guy at Google from the Ukraine, asking him whether he wouldn’t prefer to work in Switzerland, since it would be closer his family. He said No. In Western Europe everybody thinks if you’re from the Ukraine, you must be Mafia. In the US he was just another talented European engineer.