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Five things that will surprise you about living in Switzerland

Some aspects of Swiss life, rules, and practices may be surprising — or even shocking — to new arrivals from more conservative or less regimented countries.

Five things that will surprise you about living in Switzerland
Unless you live alone on top of a mountain, you shouldn't flush your toilet at night. Photo by AFP

Taxpayer-funded prostitution

The ’world’s oldest profession’ is not only perfectly legal and considered as a ‘regular’ service industry, but pubilc funds are sometimes used to pay for sex workers’ comfort and safety.

For instance, in a 2012 referendum, 52 percent of Zurich voters approved the municipal plan to, um, erect 25 ‘sex boxes’ — basically, garage-like structures — where the city’s prostitutes could ply their trade in private, away from downtown’s gritty areas.

The boxes are under 24-hour surveillance, have a social worker on site, and include a laundry, shower and café.

The sex boxes are financed by taxpayers’ money. Photo by AFP

Total cost of the project was $2 million to build the structure, and another $800,000 was earmarked for annual operation costs — expenses that voters apparently thought made a lot of street sense.

Nudity

Walking (or perhaps riding a bicycle or e-scooter) in the buff is also legal in Switzerland, as it is considered  an important element of ‘personal freedom’.

While Swiss …penal code does not expressly say public nudity should be practiced, it does not prohibit it either. It only bans ‘public indecency’.

After some people in the canton Appenzell complained that a hiker with no clothes on walked past a family with small children and a Christian rehabilitation centre,  a court ruled that cantons can ban public nudity, but few did.

The dignity of plants

Before you pick a flower on an Alpine meadow, think twice.

There’s actually a regulation called “The dignity of living things with regard to plants”. 

Although the law is written in a ‘legalese’, difficult to understand language, one of its articles clearly states that “decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason” is strictly forbidden.

This applies to all humans passing by the flower, whether naked or clothed.

If you pick this flower for no valid reason, you are breaking the law. Photo by AFP

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break 

You must have buddy for your pet

The Swiss Animal Protection Act says that small domestic animals like rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs tend to get lonely without a companion, so they must be kept in pairs.

This law is included in Switzerland’s Constitution, so it is not a joke.

In fact, the Swiss are so serious about animal welfare (along with plant welfare) that the canton of Basel may actually launch a referendum granting “fundamental rights to life for non-human primates”. (No word about rights for human primates). 

For animal lovers, this vote is no monkey business.

Quiet in the bathroom!

This is not a law but rather a more or less common practice among tenants in Swiss apartments.

To be a good and considerate neighbour in Switzerland means not flushing your toilet after 10 PM. This may relate to all kinds of noises being forbidden after 10.

Of course, much depends on how thin your walls are, how often you use the loo at night, and how finicky your neighbours are. 

Member comments

  1. You wrote ” ‘pubic’ funds are sometimes used to pay for sex workers’ comfort and safety.” Don’t correct it… It’s such a great Freudian slip! 52 years ago when I worked in Germany in the international Department of a bank someone made the same mistake in a letter that was forwarded to all departments, via these old-fashioned pneumatic tubes…a riot… In the funny sense. Switzerland has a special place in my heart it is the only place where I would consider having a citizenship besides my own (which is not exactly doing well right now unfortunately) stay safe and healthy and hopefully sane as well!!

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Five signs you’ve settled into life in Switzerland

Getting adjusted to Swiss ways is not always easy for foreign nationals, but with a lot of perseverance it can be done. This is how you know you’ve assimilated.

Five signs you've settled into life in Switzerland
No lint: Following laundry room rules is a sign of integration in Switzerland. Photo by Sara Chai from Pexels

Much has been said about Switzerland’s quirkiness, but when you think about it, this country’s idiosyncrasies are not more or less weird than any other nation’s — except for the fact that they are expressed in at least three languages which, admittedly, can complicate matters a bit.

However, once you master the intricacies and nuances of Swiss life, you will feel like you belong here.

This is when you know you’ve “made it”.

You speak one of the national languages, even if badly

It irritates the Swiss to no end when a foreigner, and particularly an English-speaking foreigner, doesn’t make an effort to learn the language of a region in which he or she lives, insisting instead that everyone communicates to them in their language.

So speaking the local language will go a long way to being accepted and making you feel settled in your new home.

You get a Swiss watch and live by it

Punctuality is a virtue here, while tardiness is a definite no-no.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to the Swiss, be on time. Being even a minute late  may cause you to miss your bus, but also fail in the cultural integration.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Using an excuse like “my train was late” may be valid in other countries, but not in Switzerland.

The only exception to this rule is if a herd of cows or goats blocks your path, causing you to be late.

A close-up of a Rolex watch in Switzerland.

Owning a Rolex is a sure sign you’re rich enough to live in Switzerland. Photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash

You sort and recycle your trash

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Throwing away all your waste in a trash bag without separating it first — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — is an offence in Switzerland which can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

In fact, the more assiduous residents separate every possible waste item — not just paper, cardboard, batteries and bottles (sorted by colour), but also coffee capsules, yogurt containers, scrap iron and steel, organic waste, carpets, and electronics.

In fact, with their well-organised communal dumpsters or recycling bins in neighbourhoods, the Swiss have taken the mundane act of throwing out one’s garbage to a whole new level of efficiency.

So one of the best ways to fit in is to be as trash-oriented as the Swiss.

READ MORE: Eight ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

You trim your hedges with a ruler

How your garden looks says a lot about you.

If it’s unkempt and overgrown with weeds, you are clearly a foreigner (though likely not German or Austrian).

But if your grass is cut neatly and your hedges trimmed with military-like precision (except on Sundays), and some of your bushes and shrubs are shaped like poodles,  you will definitely fit in.

You follow the laundry room rules

If you live in an apartment building, chances are there is a communal laundry room in the basement that is shared by all the residents.

As everything else in Switzerland, these facilities are regulated by a …laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that you’d well to commit to memory and adhere to meticulously.

These rules relate to everything from adhering to the assigned time slot to removing lint from the dryer.

Following each rule to the letter, and not trying to wash your laundry in someone else’s time slot, is a sign of successful integration.

Voilà, the five signs you are “at home” in Switzerland.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

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