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Switzerland

Mademoiselle Chauffeur, A Young French Woman's Unlikely Career

Twenty-two-year-old Kamelia Benmira had a hard time assimilating into her new Switzerland home after leaving southern France.Then she landed on a genius idea that incorporated her love of nice cars.

Feminine private chauffeurs are still rare
Feminine private chauffeurs are still rare
Stéphane Herzog

GENEVA — Kamelia Benmira fled Montpellier, France, "because of a heartache" and headed towards the London fog. "I made it two weeks, no longer," she recalls. Born from an Algerian father and a French mother in Saint-Etienne, she grew up under the Hérault sun in southern France.

Desperate to get out of London, she made the acquaintance of a man on Facebook, who wrote her, "Do you like luxury, nice cars, work? Then come to Switzerland. This country is made for you."

When she met her virtual friend in Vevey, near Lausanne, he made unwanted advances. It was an unpleasant night, she recalls.

The next day, she found a job as a waitress in a bar nearby. A DJ helped her out by providing her with a place to stay. But life far from home was dull and Benmira drank to forget her disappointments. There was another man, another accommodation proposal, more declarations of love. "Eventually, I got my papers and found my own apartment, without any conditions," she says.

She settled down in Avenches, Switzerland, working as a waitress in a Greek restaurant, doing night shifts at Nespresso as a production operator, and occasionally modeling for magazines. It was time to think about a real project. She wanted it to include beautiful things, like a Rolex, "the cheapest one," and cars. Her first move was to pass her driver's license exam. Her second move was to buy a BMW. It would be a Series 1 Pack M limousine, acquired for 16,000 Swiss francs ($17,428).Â

Once every three months, Benmira travels to Milan to go shopping. She does the same in Geneva. In Germany, she visits car dealerships to discover the newest BMWs, but "never signs leasing contracts." Money is precious and should only be spent when you have it, she says. "I'm very thrifty. I only buy what's chic."

In Avenches, she met an architect who introduced her to people, "lawyers, CEOs, the marketing director of a French soccer club, and even a government minister." From which country? "I don't reveal the identity of my clients," she says.

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A Hummer limousine on a motorway in Switzerland — Photo: Cyril Vallée

Her friend helped her find a place to live in the heart of Lausanne, where she improved her English and classical Arabic, languages that she had already studied in Montpellier. "One day, I thought, "I enjoy driving. I like nice cars and luxury, and I know people. I'll become a private chauffeur!""

Oliver Ferrari, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as "a finance expert, philanthropist, author, lecturer, moderator and art passionate," says that throughout his 25-year career, he's never before seen a female private chauffeur. The head of the financial strategy company Coninco praises her "energy and conviction."

Driven

She passed the exam to get her private chauffeur's license, registered herself as self-employed, then set about getting a professional email address and phone.Â

Benmira has a baccalaureate in economics and knows the importance of social networks. "I put myself in the place of a potential Middle Eastern client," she says. "What is he going to type into Google? He'll type "Swiss private driver" and not "taxi Benmira,"" she says, laughing. Calls to hire her have been coming in since last March. The first client didn't show, but he still paid for her trouble. The second called from Qatar, asking if the LinkedIn profile was really for a female chauffeur. "I explained. "Yes, I'm a woman, no I'm not Arab, despite my name, but French." I always have to justify myself."Â

Benmira's friends gave her some advice. "I used to talk to people looking downwards. But you must keep a straight posture and face people."

She worked out the math. In a month and a half of work, she achieved a turnover of 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,000). And her order book is already filling up for the summer. There are of course those clients expecting "something else." Of 10 contracts, some of which lasted for three days, the private chauffeur says two were followed by non-professional requests. "People think that if it's a woman, there's ambiguity. But there isn't."Â

As for politeness, Benmira lets men take the first step. "I generally shake hands, but I wait for the person opposite to do it," she says. "I want to avoid a situation where the person would refuse to touch my hand. I don't do kisses on the cheek the French bise. It's also important not to smile too much, or not enough."

In Zurich and Geneva, banks have taken notice. They will call on her services for their Middle Eastern customers. A Saudi Arabian client booked her for four consecutive days at the end of May. The man asked to see a picture of her car. He'll have the choice between the Series 1 and the Series 5, her second car, which she bought for $74,000. "People from the Middle East generally prefer Mercedes,"Â she says, explaining that she will rent one when necessary.

Sometimes, clients wish to be driven in their own vehicle. Because of cases like this, she has already driven a Ferrari and a Bentley. As for her heartache that drove her away from Montpellier, "I'm strong, but I fall in love too easily."

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