Monday, August 06, 2012


People warned me that they would come.

They would turn up in the evening, unannounced and demand to be let in.

They would be in plain clothes and not in the mood for excuses or complaints.

"You must let them in," they told me. "If you don't, then life will be far worse for you and you'll end up paying very, very dearly."

"Don't think you can dodge them. They will find you out eventually," they warned.

Frida from ABBA summed it up perfectly in The Visitors:
"I hear the door-bell ring and suddenly the panic takes me
The sound so ominously tearing through the silence
I cannot move, I'm standing
Numb and frozen
Among the things I love so dearly
The books, the paintings and the furniture
H-e-l-p me........"

Never did I think that a song from a Swedish band I heard on vinyl in Scotland in 1981 would be so appropriate for French Geneva, Switzerland in 2012.

They did come, at 8:30pm when LC was overseas for work and I was home with my daughter and our dog.

Two men had entered without having to announce themselves on the intercom or request permission.  Erhebungsstelle clearly brings power and automatic access to normally impenetrable buildings.  Both men were holding black clipboards and dressed in military style jackets and jeans. Neither were smiling.

Unlike Frida, who sang:
"Voices growing louder, irritation building
And I'm close to fainting
Crackin' up,"

......I was ready. No arguments, fear or surprisingly hypnotic* beats from me: instead my demeanour was calm and smiling, indicating that I had nothing to hide and was predisposed to doing the right thing. I was willing to let them inside my home.

"I have one of each," I said, pointing in the living room and then escorting them into our tiny study.

Seemingly surprised at my confidence and openness, they were silent as they took in our humble IKEA furnishings, dog fur dust bunnies and half-dead pot plants and scribbled something down on their notepads.

It was all over in two minutes.

Several months went by without another visit. Maybe it was all okay?  Maybe we weren't on their list any more; that their time and energies could be better spent elsewhere?

Of course not.

The dreaded letter arrived. Nobody likes a window envelope and one with 'Erhebungsstelle' in bold blue font was sure to get my palms sweaty, making opening it even more difficult.  A bill for 463 Swiss Francs, covering a television and radio licence fee for twelve months.....!  But we don't even watch or listen to Swiss, well, anything!

"They don't care about that," past victims consoled me.  "You pay always."

They'll be back again, same time next year.  Poo heads.

* Very catchy song from ABBA. An overlooked classic and terrific to run to. 


The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath - or should I say Guten Tag?

I Googled Erhebungsstelle and it came up as "collection agency". I'm surprised that it is in German. In Geneva it should be "agence de recouvrement" I would have thought.

But then again German is the official language in Switzerland (certainly most of the places I've been there).

In any language, though, they sound like officious robots, the kind that make me growl like my hellcat.




Nuttynoton said...

Sounds like the Tv licence people we have here, most cannot escape so you pay on-line and hope no one will come and check, 463 SF about twice what we pay in he UK for what I think is some of the best TV in the world! You describe it like a scene from the stranger!, Brilliant

Pandora Behr said...

Didn't you get the telly licence when you were in Britain? Though I agree, a bit rich having to pay when you don't watch Swiss television. Good post.

Windsmoke. said...

I remember those days way back in the 60's and 70's when we had to pay for a licence to watch tv.

River said...

They actually come in and check?
wow. You had me a little scared reading about men in black with clipboards, who arrive uninvited.
I remember when I was very young (7?)we'd get a form in the mail to fill out if we had a TV. Dad would post it back saying we didn't have one....

Hannah said...

This is one big pile of boo, really. And, yes, I changed the original "p" to a "b" to be polite.

Andrew said...

That's about AU$400?. Rather a lot. Did you ever see or hear of the detector vans in England. They were vans that travelled around with aerials on them supposedly detecting people using tvs and radios. They were mostly fake but back then people weren't aware of that.

Kath Lockett said...

Plasman, you're correct on all accounts. It seems like a very steep way of earning a lot of cash for, well, nothing. The bill I'm writing about is our second one - they found us within a fortnight of moving in!

Thanks Nutty - I think the visit in person is to ensure that no-one escapes. They're connected to the canton/commune we live in as we all have to 'register' as soon as we arrive.

Telly licence in Britain, Pand? In my bedsit, more commonly referred to as 'The Dog box' with a black and white telly I found on the street - NO WAY!

Windsmoke, did they visit you in pairs back in those days; in the evenings when they knew you'd be home ..... watching television...?

Yep, River. Despite being told by everyone, I honestly didn't believe it until the door was buzzed. They're *that* fastidious.

Hannah, I had a few other 'boo' words in an earlier draft, but toned it down. I'm all about class, me.

I never heard of those, Andrew and would have assumed (correctly, methinks) that the poms would not have been bothered enough to track down a black and white in a bedsit....?

Fenstar de Luxe said...

wow, sounds scary!
I never paid a license fee when I was in the UK (sshhh!) but I used to watch telly via my laptop coz I had a tv tuner attached to it. Easy enough to hide if need be!

Kath Lockett said...

I never paid either, Fernstar. Nor was I ever approached.... Bedsits perhaps didn't attract any financial interest....?

The Elephant's Child said...

This was a very scary post. In the finish I was very happy that it was only a bill for something you do not and will not use. Telly licence? Bah. They should pay me to watch the rubbish.

diane b said...

They sound like the Gestapo.

wilbo43 said...

Ah, but that is Switzerland, where every hotel in the country has to write a list of their guests every night which is collected by the police and they do check it too. If there is just the slightest hint of impropriety, they'll be back the next morning to find out about it. Welcome to Switzerland. If I was you, I'd move two streets across into France. It'd be cheaper too.

Kath Lockett said...

E-Child, it does seem a bit cheeky to get a substantial payment for, well, nothing.

The guys weren't unfriendly, dianeb, just doing a rather unenviable job. They'd surely rank down there with parking inspectors.

Wilbo, you're absolutely correct about the cheaper cost of living 5km over the border but we're settled now and our rent is set for five years which is significant. We do, however, do a weekly drive to Carrefor in Ferney to get our groceries!

drwife said...

I can't believe you never paid the tax in the UK. I paid there and was checked (visited) twice in the 2+ years we lived there. I've already paid here in Geneva....hoping that since I've paid they don't come to visit.

Dragonfly Daydreams said...

Personally, I have found that there is in fact an ABBA song for every occasion in life :-)

Kath Lockett said...

It was twenty years ago when I lived there, drwife, so maybe their methods of finding out Dog Box Dwellers like me weren't as sophisticated.

Dragonfly Daydreams you are exactly right. "Slipping through my fingers all the time....."