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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

For new arrivals from most places on earth, Switzerland can appear suspiciously orderly.

The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know
A law-abiding Swiss citizen. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

How do they do it? Switzerland’s meticulous neatness and obsession with order comes down to culture, but this is set in stone by an impressive framework of laws. 

All in all, there are around 4980 ordinances and laws in force in Switzerland federally, in addition to more than 17,000 at a canton level. 

We’ve spent the best part of a week trawling through Swiss statues and reading over regional regulations to bring you some of the weirdest and wackiest Swiss laws. 

Eating dog and cat meat (as long as it’s your pet)

Perhaps the most surprising of these laws is that man’s best friend and kitty is welcome on the menu in Switzerland – provided it’s actually your dog or cat. 

While the sale of meat from a cat or a dog – or selling a dish containing dog or cat meat – is illegal, those wanting to raise and cook their own dogs or cats will find no legal barriers to doing so. 

You will come into trouble with the law however if you invite someone over for a dog döner or a cat curry – while you might also encounter a few social barriers as well. 

The Federal Veterinary Office has said there is no reason to ban the private eating of dog meat, saying it is simply a matter of culture. Just make sure that tasty, tasty culture doesn’t go past your four walls. 

Any prizes for guessing what’s being said? Photo: MATTI BJORKMAN / LEHTIKUVA / AFP

Sensible names

These days, it’s not just celebrities who seem to have a penchant for ruining their child’s life by bestowing him or her with an odd moniker. Fortunately, Swiss authorities have the same attitude to the rest of us. 

They specifically prohibit giving your kid a name which will damage his or her “well-being”. Names aren’t allowed to be offensive either. 

If you’re looking to emulate Chris and Gwyneth or Kim and Kanye – Apple Martin? North West? Seriously? You’re going to have to head to LA already. Let’s face it, you were probably going to end up there as it is. 

No fish selfies

Along with chowing down on dogs and cats, this is another one which might trouble animal lovers. In Zurich, you’re not allowed to take a picture with a fish you caught – or release it back into the water – if it is above the minimum size. 

Instead, you’ll need to take it home with you (maybe for a dog/cat/fish casserole?)

Wanted: For taking a fish selfie. Photo: Depositphotos

Wash your car

Washing your car from home is illegal in Switzerland if you use a hose, which pretty much makes washing your car illegal in Switzerland. 

There is method to the madness however, with authorities concerned that the soap will contaminate ground water. 

You’ll however never see a dirty car in Switzerland – so how do they do it? Paid car washes dot the landscape, so if you want to get your car all shiny and clean – without ending up in the slammer – they’re your best bet. 

Peeing standing up (after 10 in the evening)

While a judge in Germany recently ruled that men had the right to stand up to urinate in a country notorious for its sitting to pee norms, men do not have the same permissions in Switzerland – at least not through the evening. 

After 10pm, peeing standing up is considered to be a noise-based nuisance to other apartment building residents – so much so that it’s been outlawed. 

We’ve also heard that in certain apartment blocks flushing the toilet after 10pm at night is banned, although not allowing flushing throughout the evening doesn’t exactly seem to square with Switzerland’s reputation for cleanliness – so unless you’ve heard otherwise, flush away!

Put your lights on

Technically speaking, anytime you are behind the wheel of your car you need to have your lights on – even if it’s the middle of the day in summer. 

Switzerland changed the rules in 2014 to make it illegal to drive without your lights on at any time in the day. 

The rule applies to motorcycles and to all forms of cars, trucks and other vehicles. You can use your running lights or your actual lights, but not your high beams, says Switzerland’s TCS automotive organisation

The rule has been passed in order to reduce accidents, with evidence suggesting lights provide a benefit even during the day. 

“That’s why I’m incredibly difficult, like Sunday morning”

Sacred Sundays are a day of rest for the Swiss – although not if you’re in charge of enforcing the law. So much so that we’ve given Sunday its own category. 

Here is the list of things you cannot do on a Sunday in Switzerland: No recycling, no cutting or mowing your grass, no hanging out your laundry (really), no drilling and no hammering. 

We’ve even come across a bunch of specific rules that don’t apply nationwide, some apartment blocks will restrict gatherings and even using a vacuum on Sundays, which pretty much limits you from doing anything and everything. 

If in doubt, if it makes noise, it’s probably illegal. And then there’s the case of laundry – which is banned because it doesn’t look neat and tidy. 

Best stay in bed, then. 

Hiking in the buff

Although Switzerland has a more progressive attitude to nudity than some other parts of the world, a line has to be drawn somewhere – and that somewhere is naked hiking. 

The mountainous canton of Appenzell recently fined a naked hiker, saying that doing so breached ‘decency customs’. So if you’re on your way to Switzerland to do some naked hiking, best stay in Germany (let’s face it, anyone looking to hike naked is bound to be German). 

Image: Depositphotos

Dance, Dance… Revolution?

Not only in the Hollywood town of Bomont, Utah, is dancing illegal – it’s actually forbidden in certain parts of Switzerland (on specific days of the year). 

In Aargau, Glarus, Uri, Obwalden, Solothurn, Thurgau and Appenzell Innerrhoden, dancing is banned on certain Christian holidays, a law justified on the fact that pleasure should be secondary when celebrating the life of Christ. 

So if you’re gonna dance, make sure you’re not having fun. 

READ MORE: Why dancing is banned on public holidays in Switzerland

No lonely pets

Most people get pets to counter their own loneliness – but what happens if the pets themselves get lonely? 

Like the clown who entertained the village but never laughed, the lonely pet is a sad tale – but fortunately in Switzerland, loneliness among pets has been outlawed. 

Certain animals which are considered to be ‘sociable’ – i.e. guinea pigs, goldfish and budgie birds – cannot be kept alone, nor can they be kept in small cages or enclosures. 

A lonely, illegal guinea pig. Photo: HANDOUT / SWISSAID / AFP

So if you’re getting one of these animals, it’s illegal not to give them a buddy – although the buddy must be of their own species, lest of course you know an inseparable goldfish and budgie pair. 

An extensive list of animals can be found here. 

READ MORE: Which pets can’t be kept alone in Switzerland?

Access to a nuclear shelter

Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality may have won it few enemies, but the Swiss are afraid of nuclear war.

So much so that for a long time it was illegal for a house not to have – or have access to – a nuclear shelter.

Some homes still have this requirement. 

READ MORE: What are Switzerland’s nuclear bunkers and does each home need one?

Eating behind the wheel is an offence

Several years ago, a Zurich driver made news when she was slapped with a 250-franc fine for eating a pretzel while driving.

While this may seem petty, many cantons do sanction drivers caught snacking in traffic.

That’s because eating or drinking hot beverages is considered a risk to road safety, as it interferes with the driver’s control of the vehicle.

There are, however, nuances. According to a report in Blick,  “snacking on an empty highway is more tolerated than in city traffic at rush hour.”

So if hunger strikes while you are driving, resist the urge to eat. Because a hefty fine you could get may be hard to digest.

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

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