Ever wondered what expat life in Switzerland is like? What a stupid question to ask; you wouldn’t even be reading this sentence had you not clicked on the link of this article, a click that would’ve been fueled by your curiosity to know more about what being an expat in Switzerland is like. Or maybe you just love my writing style so much that you’ll read whatever I write. If so, please feel free to send me fan mail and I’ll gift you a fondue set.
Moving on, bienvenue to the land of watches, chocolates and precise train schedules, but also to a country that has more than 7,000 lakes, the highest peaks in Europe and one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
In this post, I will explore the quirky, and oh-so-Swiss, experiences you would encounter.
Buckle up and prepare to laugh your way through the weirdness of being an expat in Switzerland!
The Swiss Time Warp
The Swiss are notorious for their punctuality, but did you know they have a time warp of their own? Try being a minute late to catch a train and you’ll witness the magical moment when the doors close right in front of your face while the train stays at the platform for exactly 7.5 seconds before departing.
It is like they have a secret pact with time itself.
Switzerland has not one, not two, but four national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh. Swiss German is not a written language, only spoken. Swiss-Germans are taught German at school, and speak Swiss German at home. Quite funnily though, no one in the French-speaking zone speaks German or Italian, and this applies to the Germanophone and Italiophone zones too. Interestingly, Romansh is considered to be the closest contemporary language to Latin and only about 60,000
people speak it in Switzerland.
So if you hear it on the streets, you’re probably lost.
The art of Swiss waste disposal
Ah, the Swiss and their bins – an intricate dance that everyone must master for fear of being shunned by society. The Swiss take their recycling and garbage separation seriously, especially the German zone (shocking, right?), so be prepared to become a pro at sorting your waste into different bins. In most Swiss towns and cities, you’ll find separate bins for paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, and organic waste. There’re even a designated bin for aluminum cans, as if recycling were a sport and every Swiss citizen an Olympic athlete!
But wait – the Swiss waste disposal adventure doesn’t end there.
Coming back to the Swiss time warp, you’ll learn about the law that states one must never, under any circumstances, throw away their trash before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. – unless you want your neighbors to give you the dreaded disapproving stare.
Remember, in Switzerland, keeping the peace and observing the sacred hours of silence reign supreme. I got a text from my flat owner at 10:03 p.m. telling me that the “screams” coming from my balcony had to cease immediately, when I only had four friends over and we were having a chill drink at home.
The toilet flushing curfew
If you thought the waste disposal rules were quirky, get ready for the nocturnal toilet flushing curfew. Yes, you heard that right – there’s a law that forbids people to flush the toilet after 10 p.m. The idea is to maintain blissful silence during the night, allowing everyone to enjoy a good night’s sleep without any unnecessary disturbances. Just pray you don’t encounter a bean-loving neighbor or a late-night fondue enthusiast!
The Swiss flag
A big plus about Switzerland is their flag. I’ll let that joke simmer in. Because it’s really incredible.
Still waiting for my award of the best dad joke ever!
Okay no seriously, the Swiss flag is a striking white cross on a red background, and it carries a historical tale. The design is said to have been inspired by a vision of a white cross against a red sky seen by soldiers during a battle in the 13th century. But be careful how you display it; the Swiss are particular about keeping the flag upright and respecting its symbolism, apart from when they put them on bin bags
(True story: All the public bins in Geneva have bin bags that have the Swiss flag on them – what the hell?)
Federal days off
Switzerland has a unique system when it comes to national holidays. Each canton (region) decides on its own public holidays, resulting in a delightful patchwork of festivities across the country. This means that if you’re an expat living in one canton, you might get a day off when your friends in another canton are still working.
This diversity applies to taxes too as you get taxed differently according to the canton you live in (Geneva having the highest tax rate).
All in all, Switzerland is a land of delightful surprises, where precision, traditions, and a touch of quirkiness blend harmoniously. As an expat, these peculiarities will keep you entertained and amused throughout your Swiss adventure.
Truth is, once you move here, you’ll never leave, because you’ll never find a quality of life and a salary so high anywhere else. Hence the “golden prison” moniker. It’s still golden though, so embrace the uniqueness, learn the languages and immerse yourself in this country’s rich tapestry of culture and customs.
A revair, au revoir, tschüss and addio.
Read more about Switzerland here in Dispatches’ archives.
Charlotte Laborie grew up in England, Belgium and Switzerland. Charlotte then moved to Paris and graduated from Sciences Po Paris. She is still based in Paris, where she works in marketing.