Switzerland is a cash-based society.
When you open a bank account, you are not issued checks. Instead, you receive a bank card you may use to withdraw money or use as a credit card. When you pay bills, you either arrange the payment online, or you go down to the Post Office, hand them the bill and the cash and they arrange the payment for you.
Credit cards are only recently popular in Switzerland. Most of the touristy-places have accepted them for years, but it is only recently that places like the grocery stores have. And imagine our surprise, the first weekend we lived here, when we stood at the cashier's desk with close to 2,000 chf in computer electronics, only to be told that it was cash only! Fortunately there was an ATM nearby.
For the most part, living in a cash-based society works well. We have grown accustomed to using cash instead of check or credit card. And since the crime rate is so low here, having large amounts of cash rarely presents an issue.
But occasionally living in a cash-based society is a pain in the rear-end.
Take this evening, for instance.
Although we generally either pay with cash or do online bank transactions, occasionally we have United States transactions that require a check. This evening we went out to the Zürich airport to mail a very important document along with a fee that could only be paid via check. We went to the airport because the document was important enough that we wished to send it via FedEx, and the airport drop-off location is open 7 days a week from 5 am until 10 pm.
There is a counter near check-ins that handles drop-offs for several different delivery services. We told them we wished to send something to the United States via FedEx.
Swissport Employee: "Is it a document? We cannot accept packages."
Us: "Yes, it's a document."
SE, peering closely at the small stack of papers: "What is that?" She points at the check.
Us: "It's a check."
SE: "You cannot send a check. That is not allowed."
Us: "What? Of course it is allowed. We have sent checks through FedEx for years!"
She consulted with another employee in rapid Swiss German.
SE: "No, checks are not allowed. It is against regulations. You cannot send money."
We believe the problem is likely that being Swiss, she has had no experience dealing with bank checks and does not understand that it actually isn't money. It is only a document that represents money. And then only to the person who can verify to a bank that they are the individual/organization named on the check.
We finally managed to convince her to accept the document for shipment. But she wrote, in large letters, that the envelope contains a check. Which actually didn't make us happy for security reasons, but such is life. She then wrote down our telephone number in case the people who come to pick it up cannot accept checks.
After verifying that the people who come to pick it up are indeed FedEx employees, who hopefully have a better understanding of such things, we paid for the mailing charges and left.
Who has ever heard of it being against regulations to send a check through the mail???
UPDATED 14 January 2008
Just checked the tracking information online. The envelope was picked up and sent to the USA with no further problems. Obviously sending a check via FedEx is allowed, even in a cash-based society!