Stories about Estonians

Hey Liis, how’s Santiago?

Last winter designer and start-up entrepreneur Liis Peetermann spent 6 months in Chilean capital Santiago, taking part of Start-Up Chile program, which is an initiative of the Chilean Government to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent into their country. This was Liis’s first impression of Santiago at the time:

It’s warm. +30C during the day, only because it’s summer. At the same time it’s a winter in Estonia and the pipes are freezing over there – I miss everything else, but I am glad to skip this fun…

It’s noisy. There are around 6 million people living in this city. So it’s kinda like New York. It means noise.

It’s smoky. Everybody is smoking. I just can’t believe how many people can smoke in here. From a teenager to a grandma.

It’s trashy. Well ok, I haven’t been to other Latin American countries, but if in some countries trash is in some ways a part of the natural habitat, then in here it’s a part of a pure laziness. How lazy can you possibly be that you spend the whole afternoon lying in the park and are too tired to throw all the garbage to the trash bin after? Makes no sense, right – because someone will come and pick it up in the morning anyway…

It’s full of abandoned dogs. They’re everywhere – sleeping on the street, hanging in the parks, barking all night long. And of course jumping on top of me every time I do my exercises in the park. They’re mostly friendly, but for me it says a lot about the community if these things are considered normal. Or maybe they’ve always been here and it IS normal? How come the city isn’t yet drown in dogs then?

It’s surrounded by mountains. Extremely nice. Especially in the sunset.

It’s like a real summer. For example, I have a pool on my rooftop – how much more summer can it get?

It’s unhealthy. People eat a lot of crap – fast food, street food, white bread etc. They also don’t exercise much and are in a quite bad shape in general.
Pisco sour tastes good. Pisco is a grape brandy, the most popular drink in here. Strong but good.

It’s green. Soooo many parks and trees everywhere.

It’s full of taxis. And the taxi is cheap.

It’s soooo slow. People walk slowly. The food is served slowly. Everything goes slowly. Like slowly, just slowly. Extremely annoying.

And the people are friendly. Especially the locals when you say you don’t understand much in Spanish.

So don’t get me wrong. I really like Santiago and I enjoy my time in here. But guess I’m just a bit “spoiled” with the crazily busy New York, plus well-structured and hard-working tiny Estonia…

How our age defines where we like to live: 25 – New York, 35 – London, 45 – Zürich

From time to time a magazine or a think tank publishes a study or survey, comparing the cost of living for different cities. In recent years, Zürich has come up on the number one spot invariably, and as more expensive than for example London or New York. Consequently, I have been getting questions from various parts of the world in a line of “Can you afford to take public transport anymore or do you have to walk to work?” and “Would I need a second mortgage to be able to eat at restaurants there?” I would like to address these concerns and explain why Zürich is expensive and why it is a good thing – and finally also put the discussion of New York vs London vs Zürich in bed once and for all.

Why is Zürich so expensive?

London commuters fear strain on the trains

Zürich is expensive for one simple reason – labour and service here is expensive, because people get paid a lot. In fact, another survey shows that the highest salaries in the world also happen to be in Zürich. Now, because almost every product or service we see around us is touched by human labour at one point or another – whether explicitly as in taxis in the form of cab driver pay, or implicitly in groceries in the form of transportation costs and check out girl salaries – everything you can buy, costs more money here. The good news is that the extras seem to be going to service staff, and everyone seems to be happy.

To illustrate this story, I recall one of the first occasions when my wife and I visited Zürich and ate at a small restaurant in downtown near Münsterbrücke. We could not help but to notice that the entire floor of about 10 tables was serviced by only one guy, who was not only taking orders and cleaning the tables, but also processing the payments. I finally pointed out to him that in New York or London there would be probably five people doing his job. He replied that it is only him here, but luckily he also gets paid five times as much. That is probably true, as people immigrating to mega-cities are willing to work for almost nothing and sometimes tend to feed themselves only by looking at the incredible skylines those cities have to offer.

Expensive is good – optimising on constraints and valuing time

One of the least recognised benefits of expensive cities is that they teach you how to optimise both time and money (which often amount to the same thing). When things are expensive, you begin questioning if you really need them, and as a result you notice collecting and consuming less “rubbish”, which in itself is a good thing -one could argue.

Because time is expensive in expensive cities, people do not hang around or loiter there aimlessly and idly on the streets. They are also more punctual, as they begin valuing not only their own time, but also that of the others. Then it should come as no surprise that when they measured the speed of postal clerks or the punctuality of trains in a study quoted by the book A Geography Of Time: On Tempo, Culture, And The Pace Of Life, Zürich postal clerks and trains easily came up on top.

Consequences of expensive cities – skinny people in large spaces

One of the consequences of living in expensive cities is that people find it too expensive and tend to stay away from them. As a result, there seems to be a lot of space – for instance, real estate here is less expensive than in many densely over populated mega-cities like New York, London or Hong Kong – but on the other hand food is expensive. One of the clear consequences of this for example is that people in Zürich tend to eat less and are skinnier but live in bigger spaces, whereas people in hyper-cities like London tend to be fatter and live in smaller spaces. A casual visit and a glance at the street picture of these two cities will certainly confirm this observation.

Where should I live then? 25 – New York, 35 – London, 45 – Zürich

A natural question arises that if some cities are more expensive than others, where should one live if you are an expat and if you can choose where in the world to live? The answer is that it depends on your values, which in turn depend mostly on you age.

To add a bit of colour to this argument, an older British gentleman living in Zürich once made an observation that your value system and your preferences for certain cities will change over time. He summarised it with a simple expression: 25 – New York, 35 – London and 45 – Zürich, which I thought is quite catchy and quotable.

The reasoning is that in your twenties you want to be in a place like New York, which resembles a giant night club, thronging young people who live and party as though Friday is the last day of their life, and on Mondays begin working like it is the first day of their life.  As you grow a bit older, you realise that there are other things besides living in a compact grid and being able to attend multiple gallery openings in a single night and so you move to London which is a bit more serious place. Finally, as you graduate to the later part of your youth in your forties, you want to live in a place where you can also raise a family, have a lake view, be close to nature and have a bit of breathing space.

There are many expats that have certainly followed this path.


Cover photo: Zürich.

Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.

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