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The famous English comedian whose silent movies made the entire world laugh lived for over 25 years in Switzerland. Born in the Kennington district of London in 1889, Charlie Chaplin was raised in poverty by an alcoholic actor father and a singer mother who was in and out of asylums. Chaplin began his career in show business as a singer at the age of 5, and in 1906 he worked as a pantomime in several show troops traveling throughout Europe and America. In 1913, during a tour in the American music halls, the young Chaplin was hired as an actor by the Keystone film production company.
Charlie Chaplin's acting talent and genius for comic miming soon brought him to stardom. He made film after film, some of which have become silent movie classics, such as The Kid, The Great Dictator, Modern Times or The Gold Rush.
But Chaplin's success did not please everyone. Despite his immense popularity with the general public, he was under close watch by the justice for his leftist political activities. The witch hunt climate of postwar America, aggravated by the political putsch organized by Stalin's agents in several Central European countries, rendered any liberal political beliefs suspect and anti-American in the eyes of the Republican government.
In 1952, Chaplin and his family went to London to promote his new film, Limelight. The anti-Communist commission headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy jumped at the opportunity to cancel Chaplin's visa and forbade him from returning to American soil. Protest as he might, the actor's visa was not reissued and the Chaplin family began their search for a land of asylum.
The Chaplin family chose Switzerland and settled into Lausanne's Beau-Rivage hotel in 1953. Then they moved to the Manoir de Ban, a large property in Corsier, north of Vevey, with orchards and a large terrace with magnificent trees framing the view of the mountains and the lake in the distance.
The Chaplin family made friends in the area, particularly Victoria Eugenie, the Queen of Spain in exile. From his Corsier residence, Charlie Chaplin sometimes traveled to London or Paris. He continued to work and made A King in New York, for example,in 1956. The quarter of a century he spent in Switzerland saw the birth of four of his 10 children. They were all born in the Mont-Choisi clinic, in Lausanne. His last child, Christopher, was born when Charlie Chaplin was 73 years old.
It was at his Corsier residence that Chaplin ended his autobiography with these words: I sometimes sit out on our terrace at sunset and look out over a vast green lawn to the lake in the distance, and beyond the lake to the reassuring mountains, and in this mood think of nothing but enjoy their magnificent serenity. Charlie Chaplin passed away in Vevey, and now rests with his wife in the Corsier sur Vevey cemetery. Today there is a square named in his honor and a statue erected to his effigy on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Vevey.
CONTRACEPTIVES You can buy condoms (Kondoms or präservatives, préservatifs, preservativi) over-the-counter at all pharmacies and most supermarkets. If you use other forms of contraception, you should bring enough supplies to last the duration of your trip. Oddly enough, Switzerland has one of the highest per capita occurrences of AIDS in Europe.
ELECTRICITY 220v, 50Hz (the same as in the rest of continental Europe). Plug sockets are generally of the round or flat two-pin type. British appliances will need a plug adaptor, while North American appliances will also need a 220-to-110v transformer.
GAY AND LESBIAN LIFE You’ll find Switzerland to be generally very tolerant towards gay (schwul, gai, gay) and lesbian (lesbisch, lesbien, lesbico) lifestyles – in 1992, the age of consent was unified at 16 and equality of treatment under the law is guaranteed. All major urban areas have organizations lobbying local and cantonal governments on gay issues which serve as a focus for the local scene, while the Pink Cross in Bern is a national mouthpiece. Nightlife is varied and welcoming, with Zürich and Geneva enjoying the lion’s share of the action. You’ll find some bars and contacts in Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Bern and Zürich listed in the relevant guide chapters. There’s plenty of information online, with the co-ordinating site www.swissgay.ch as good a place as any to start surfing.
LAUNDRY Public coin-op laundries aren’t a very common sight, since all Swiss apartment blocks have their own washing machines for residents’ use in the cellar. University towns such as Geneva, Lausanne and Zürich have a few coin-ops for students living without such facilities, or otherwise you may have to resort to the many places offering specialist service washes, which are hideously expensive.
JEWISH TRAVELLERS The Jüdischer Almanach der Schweiz newspaper puts out the free “Jewish City Guide of Switzerland” four times a year, a pocket booklet with information on Jewish communities, synagogues, kosher hotels and restaurants, and so on. Contact the publisher Spectrum Press International, Raphael Bollag, Im Tannegg 1, CH-8055 Zürich (01/462 64 11, fax 462 64 62, www.jewishguide.ch).
RACISM Racism is perhaps the biggest current social issue in Switzerland, with ongoing, none-too-civil debates raging about the absorption of foreigners into Swiss society, and the high levels of asylum seekers arriving from conflict-torn parts of Europe and the world. Small-town Switzerland is hopping from foot to foot, forced to address the issue but unable to reconcile traditional Swiss hospitality and respect for others with the equally traditional mistrust and rejection of outsiders. While society is in flux, the fact remains that outside certain parts of Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zürich, non-white faces are a rare sight on the street. Across the country there’s some antagonism directed towards both refugees from the former Yugoslavia, who are commonly perceived as gangsters, and, on a different level altogether, tourists from East Asia, who are often seen as an irritant. Luzern is infamous as the major recruiting ground for Switzerland’s newly expanding extreme-rightwing political parties. Despite all this, you’re very unlikely to actually encounter any trouble, but some neanderthal attitudes – stares or condescension – may persist in out-of-the-way corners.
TIPPING All bar, restaurant and hotel bills are calculated with fifteen percent service included, and tipping is officially abolished. Nonetheless, unless service was truly diabolical, everyone rounds things up at least to the nearest franc; in restaurants, it’s common to add a few francs.
TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN is extremely easy and very rewarding, with facilities galore for kids of all ages, and endless opportunities for diversions and fun. Locals regularly travel in family groups for outdoor holidays in various parts of the country, family skiing is well established in almost all resorts, and there’s a host of perks to take advantage of. An add-on to the Swiss Half-Fare Card to cover partners and children costs Fr.20, while parents can also request a free Family Card, which lets your own kids (up to the age of 16) travel with you for free, and knocks fifty percent off the fares for Swiss Passes or Flexi-Passes for other children travelling with you.
WORK Permits are your first headache ; being expected to work like the Swiss – hard, and for long hours – is your second; and having at least a smattering of the local lingo is your third. The rewards are salaries and per-hour wages way above anything you’ll be able to get at home. The following are some pointers for seasonal jobs; longer-term work or permanent contracts are a whole other book. Key hunting-grounds are ski resorts, although you should note that you get no unemployment insurance: if the snow is bad and tourist levels are down, you may be summarily fired. Chalet-rental companies need staff to cook in and clean their hundreds of chalets. Qualified ski instructors and unqualified ski guides for foreign tour operators are always in demand, as are technicians for maintaining ski equipment and fitting skis and boots in resort shops, large hotels and for tour companies. In addition, of course, people are needed at big hotels as kitchen assistants, porters, messengers, dishwashers, cleaners and so on, summer and winter. All of these jobs can, if you’re lucky, result in a permit being organized by your employer within a few weeks, allowing you to start work on the spot. It’s more prudent, but not necessarily any more guaranteed, to write to potential employers months ahead of the season: August for winter jobs, March for summer ones. Resorts seeing a lot of English and American tourists (and so more likely to hire an English speaker) include Arosa, Crans-Montana, Davos, Grindelwald, Klosters, Saas-.Fee, St Moritz, Verbier, Wengen and Zermatt, but smaller resorts than these have the advantage of less competition from jobseekers. Working in Ski Resorts – Europe by Victoria Pybus and Charles James (Vacation Work, UK) is especially helpful.
The main other form of work in Switzerland is voluntary work, or work for nominal pay, mostly on farms. The Swiss Farm Work Association can place unskilled French- or German-speakers under 30 on farms around the country – long, hard hours pay you Fr.20 a day, plus board and lodging. Contact Landdienst Zentralstelle, Postfach 728, CH-8025 Zürich (01/261 44 88, www.landdienst.ch) well ahead of time. Otherwise, WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) can organize placements at 45 farms around the country, for which you get the experience but no wages. Contact WWOOF Switzerland, Postfach 59, CH-8124 Maur (www.welcome.to/wwoof).
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