14 Oktober. 2021

As I am sitting here waiting for COOP to make a delivery I decided to write a little. It has been another quiet week here in Der Schweiz. Fall has arrived, but considering the way most people dress here you would think we are in the middle of January. The temperature was 3 degrees (C) this morning. When it hits 4 I wear a long sleeve shirt while jogging. When it hits – 1 I add long pants to the mix. I realized about half way through my 5 miles that it is obvious I am not a native. With one exception everyone I saw was wearing a winter coat and hat. Even the people jogging where wearing more clothes than I wear when the temperature is -5 or -6. Switzerland does not have “The Farmer’s Almanac”, but all the indicators are for a cold winter. I have not been able to determine if it is cold to Wisconsin standards but outside of the mountains I really doubt if it is going to be THAT cold.

I think I have mentioned in earlier posts that Julie and I have made some new friends. This is another US couple that has lived here about a year longer than we have. Anyway, we went out to dinner last Saturday. I have not decided, yet, if the bar was an Irish Bar that served American Food, or an American Bar that served Irish Beer and Whisky. It was a great night. Julie had a big ole juicy cheeseburger, and I had chicken wings. I have not had wings in over two years, and they really hit the spot! It was also the first place we have found over here, that really knows how to make onion rings.

This week actually felt like home. We have been having cable problems. Just like in the US, it is actually cheaper to get TV, Internet, and Phones all bundled together, than to get any one separately. Because of that we have cable TV, but it is only turned on for about 30 minutes every morning. That way we can get some BBC news while we are eating breakfast. The rest of the time we watch either HULU or Netflix. Anyway, the cable box has been acting up for about a week. Every morning at 7:10 the box reboots. Most mornings it only reboots once, but Wednesday it rebooted 5 or 6 times. I have tried updating it, resetting it.. You know the drill. Everything that you have to do with any kind of computer device. I finally gave up and psyched myself up for the dreaded Swiss German phone call that would have me curled up in a fetal position within 90 seconds of talking to someone. The call went just like it would have gone in the US. The only difference is that you have to listen to the introduction in German, French, and then Italian before you can start pushing buttons to get to the write department. I spent 45 minutes on hold waiting to talk to someone, of course, this was after I got hung up on twice. I got the first level technician, and he told me to reboot the box two times. Still was glitching out. He passed me on to the second level tech. He told me to “hard” reset the box. All of these things of course having been done multiple times over the last week. Finally after spending another 30 minutes on the phone with the 2nd level tech, he agreed to send out a new cable box. This is exactly what I tried asking for when I was on with the the first level technician.

I had to take a break to accept the delivery. I think grocery delivery is something I will miss when we move back to the US. I do not use the delivery for fruits and vegetables, but I really like using the service for the bulky and heavy things. The delivery service gets everything right to the door, and I only have to move the stuff one time. It is so much nicer than having to load everything in the car or use the shopping trolley and move things two or three times. I guess I am more lazy than I thought!

So for all my other Gen X and Boomer friends, have you heard the new Mellencamp song? If you have not; do yourself a favor and give it a listen. The collaboration between Mellencamp and Springsteen is really good, I think they should do more together.

The job search is still not going anywhere. I am really thankful we were able to negotiate a deal where I do not HAVE to work. The thing that frustrates me is seeing the same advertisement for a job come up time after time. I have a spreadsheet going of all the jobs I have applied for. I have seen multiple jobs still up 6 or 7 months AFTER I got my rejection notice without ever getting an interview. I am coming to the conclusion that the employment market in Switzerland is NOT as good as people claim. Though I do keep finding people online that talk about looking for jobs for years before finally finding a company that will hire someone outside the EU. It also makes me wonder why the government even bothers giving out work visas to people that do not have an employment contract, yet. Oh well, all I can do is keep going.

Last thought for the day comes back to taxes. You have all heard me rant multiple times that it stinks having to pay US and Swiss taxes. I understand why the US doesn’t want to change the tax rules. The number of people living outside the US is so small, that there is no lobbying group making it worth the politicians time to even discuss it. I do think the US needs to do something to make filing taxes less onerous. Another US citizen talked to Julie about something his accountant in the US discovered. The company that has been doing our taxes has not been taking advantage of all the tax loopholes. Apparently there is something called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Housing Exclusion that allow you to “exclude” part of your income and write off part of the cost of housing. It is designed for countries that have tax levels below the US and I guess is a benefit of still having to pay US taxes even though we get nothing from them. The catch to this is that it is not an automatic thing. You have to file specifically to take advantage of them. You would think a company that has a special department of US citizens that live in Switzerland would know about this but apparently not. We have not been happy with the company doing our taxes anyway. If they missed this exclusion it will make sense to forgo the company benefit of someone doing our taxes and finding someone ourselves. The fix to this would be so easy. Just have the US go to a flat tax over all work income and investment income. Then allow you to deduct any foreign tax paid. Of course that solution is way to simple so it will never be implemented.

Honestly, the Swiss system is so much easier. Income tax is graduated based on income. I believe that all income is taxed the same no matter where it comes from. You get charitable deductions, and some kind of deduction for owning a home. Everyone also gets hit with a wealth tax which is figured from all Non-Retirement assets you have. The tax form is like 1040 EZ form. One page long. The only downfall I see to the Swiss method is that if you have a permanent visa or are a citizen there is no withholding. The individual is expected to simply save the money to pay one time per year. I know a lot of people in the US that would never be able to handle that. I think the tax rates are able to be so much smaller than the US and other European countries, because the military industrial complex does not have the same control as the US, and health care is mandatory but the responsibility of the individual. That being said, I pay a lot more in fees and other hidden taxes than I would in a lot of other countries.

I think that about covers it for today. I need to get my German studying in, and still have to get to the store so I can make dinner! Talk to you next week.

8 Oktober. 2020

Taxes and mt pilatus

I had an interesting experience with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) last night. This is kind of a cautionary tale to anyone contemplating living as an ExPat for a time. Make sure you have thought about the tax implications of your move, and that you have a CPA, or other tax expert, work with you on your taxes. The first year was really rough. We went round and around with the tax preparer over the effective dates that we moved. This literally took a couple of weeks to get ironed out. What made ours seemingly a little more complicated was that even after Julie moved, she continued to get paid from the US for a couple of months. Then I threw in a complication, because I added two more important dates in the mix. The day I quit work in Wisconsin, and the day I moved to Switzerland. Anyway, the taxes took a long time to prepare, but that isn’t the story!

I had been making some “estimated” tax payments beginning the month Julie moved. I made two estimated payments in 2019, and then a larger estimated payment in February. Once the taxes were completed I made (what I thought was the final payment) a larger payment. Then two weeks later the accountant messaged us saying they were not quite done, because now they got the FINAL number for the Swiss taxes. So I made a fifth and ultimately final payment to the IRS. All of this is done online through the IRS website. Really nice and I thought it was an easy system to use.

Yesterday we got one of those nasty surprise letters from the IRS claiming that I had underpaid the taxes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars so not only did we owe that, we also owe almost a thousand in penalties and interest. After the initial panic, I looked through the letter again, and saw they had not counted the last three payments I had made to the IRS. So girding myself for a fight, I dug up all the documentation I had stating the payments had been made. Even got the transfer numbers from the bank with the amounts and dates of the payments. So I called the number on the letter. I was only on hold for about 10 minutes and then got the best service I have ever gotten from any Government! After about another 10 minutes of proving my identification, and tax situation. The lady on the other end said, “OH, I see what happened.” Long story made short. The estimated taxes I made earlier got applied. The last two payments did not, because I made the last online payments using MY SSN. The tax forms the IRS got had Julie’s number as the primary tax person; so even though I was on the tax form, the IRS didn’t apply the payments.

I think that is kind of weird, but at least I was able to get straightened out with one 30 minute phone call, and we don’t owe any penalties or interest!! Now to the real reason you follow this blog: get to our last weekend trip, and the pictures!

Julie on the Terrace

There are a few different legends as how Pilatus was named. The first legend is that Pontius Pilate was buried on the mountain. The second is that when you look at the “range” from Luzern the mountain looks like a fat man (Pontius Pilate) laying on his back looking at the clouds. (See the picture below and look for the head on the left and then the belly.) Third and most likely is that it is a derivative of the word pileatus or cloud topped! Unfortunately, the most boring explanation is probably the true one. There is also a very old legend about a dragon on the mountain. I’m not going to recap the whole story here, but if you would like to know more here is the Link.

Picture from Wikipedia

We lucked out with the weather. It was predicted to rain the entire time we were there. The rain held off on Friday; so we were able to get up the mountain, check into the hotel, and them enjoy the views from the one peak visitors have access. I truly believe the view from this peak is one of the most beautiful views in Switzerland. You look out over the valley, and see Luzern and Lake Luzern (Vierwaldstättersee). Turn around and you see this beautiful skyline of the snowcovered Alps. See the next two pictures!

Looking over Lake Luzern

I am really glad we were able to stay at the top. It was something we will remember fondly about our time here. The staff in the hotel was fabulous. The hotel price included the trip up and down the mountain, as well as two meals per day. I thought the food was outstanding, Julie unfortunately was underwhelmed. I have to admit, my venison dinner on Saturday was MUCH better than her seafood concoction. Unfortunately Julie is not a big fan of venison. 🙂

If you saw my last post, the videos show what we woke up to Saturday morning. The weather reminded me of January and early February in Wisconsin. The snow was blowing so hard that it actually hurt your face. We went outside for a while, but then went to the bar, and had drinks and read. The sun started to come out, so we decided we were going to go partway down the mountain, and spend a couple of hours at Fräkmüntegg. There is hiking, and other activities down there. Julie was going to ride the Dragon Glider with me (really long zip line) and I was also going to take the summer bobsled run. Unfortunately, the wind did not cooperate. We went to get our ticket, and we were informed, that the wind was predicted to get stronger, so the gondola was going to close for safety reasons. Oh well, another reason to go back. I really like Luzern, so we will head back there for a long weekend, and take a day and go back up the mountain!

We went up the mountain on the gondolas, so we decided to go back down the mountain via the train. (Look at my last blog post for the train video.) The train was amazing. The entire ride down the mountain my heart was racing like a kid on Christmas morning. The views were breathtaking, and the thought that the train was basically going straight down the mountain kept the anxiety level high. I knew this train had been running for over 100 years, but I still had a hard time understanding what kept the train from running down the tracks completely out of control. The average grade on the tracks is 35%. At one point, however, the grade gets to 48%. The train advertises as the steepest train track in the world. I believe it. To get an idea of how steep the train is; the image below is of a 48 degree angle. One of these weekends, Julie and I will have to head back and try hiking up the mountain!

48 degree angle

One final plug before I get to the pictures: I keep running almost every day to stay in shape for the St Jude Marathon Weekend. This year the race will be virtual (which works out very well since Julie and I won’t be getting back). I have signed up for the 10K and the 1/2 Marathon. I run this race to support two of my old friends from Indiana (Paul and Julie Barlow). They lost their youngest to cancer, and now sponsor a team to raise money giving back to St Judes Hospital. If you can find it in your heart, please click the link and donate to Team David. The money goes to a fantastic cause. Thanks!!

Link to the Team David web page.

I hope you have a wonderful week. Talk to you soon. Enjoy the pictures.