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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. 

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 it’s illegal for a house not to have – or have access to – a nuclear shelter. 

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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For members


How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here