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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

7 things about life in Switzerland you’ll probably never get used to

Settling into Swiss life takes some practice and a lot of patience, but even despite your best efforts you may never quite get the hang of them. Here are some that may stump you.

Foreigners often have a high learning curve when it comes to learning Swiss ways.
Switzerland is very beautiful but some things — like cleanliness — could take some time to get used to. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Like every country, Switzerland has some specific laws, both written and unwritten, that many new arrivals —and even some older ones — have a hard time getting used to.

Here are some:

Three linguistic regions

That a small country like Switzerland is multilingual is mind-boggling to many foreigners.

For those not accustomed to Swiss ways, having to juggle all these languages is a major headache, especially when all must be used in certain situations — for official communications, for instance, or on money.

Also, products sold in Switzerland typically are labeled in German, French, and Italian.

And because the country is so compact, you can drive from one linguistic region to another in less than an hour. The only way you will know you reached another language area is by signs on the road.

READ MORE: How did Switzerland become a country with four languages?

High prices

The fact that Switzerland is expensive, and Zurich and Geneva rank among the world’s costliest cities, is no secret to anyone, but many newcomers still have a sticker shock when coming here. It is likely the most difficult thing for a foreigner to get used to.

Everything from health insurance and housing to food and restaurants, is more expensive in Switzerland than almost anywhere in Europe. Even higher salaries often don’t offset the cost of living.

This chart from the Federal Statistical Office shows how Switzerland’s prices differ from the rest of Europe.

Shop closings

To people coming from countries with 24/7 shopping  possibilities, Switzerland may seem backward.

That’s because stores here close at 6:30 pm on most days, in addition to many also shutting during lunch, from 12 to 1:30.

The only shops open later are at railway stations and the ones attached to petrol stations. No wonder they are called “convenience” stores.

By the same token, most retailers (except for the aforementioned locations) are closed all day on Sunday.

This practice is irritating to many foreigners, but the reason behind it is noble: Sunday is traditionally a day of rest and  shop openings would prevent sales personnel from spending time with their friends and family, in other words, have a good work-life balance.

This idea is so entranched in the Swiss psyche, that Sunday shopping is regularly voted on — and rejected — in various cantonal referenda.

And speaking of Sunday…

It is not only a day without shopping, but also without noise. Disturbing your neighbours on this day is a definite no-no.

This doesn’t mean you have to tiptoe around your apartment in socks or talk in whispers — unless your walls are made of paper.

However, your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by a sound of a lawn mower, hedge cutter, or nail being hammered into a wall.

Never on Sunday. Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

This rule may leave many foreigners perplexed, as in many countries Sunday is the day for gardening and other projects that require the use of tools. Not to mention noisy family gatherings (think Italy).

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

Garbage collection and recycling

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.

So foreigners accustomed to disposing of their rubbish in a more random manner have to get used to the Swiss way, that is, not throwing away all their waste in a trash bag without segregating it, as it is an offence in Switzerland.

For instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

And yes, municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders, though this is hardly an enviable job.

So you should never, ever throw away your recyclables, including PET bottles, glass, cardboard, paper, tins, aluminum, and batteries, into the trash bag. Instead, they must go into a specially designated collection point in your commune of residence.

Punctuality

The Swiss practically live by their (Swiss) watches, so it is no surprise — except to the foreigners —that the country runs like the proverbial clockwork.

Public transportation is on time, and if it is four minutes late, apologies are offered over the PA system on platforms — in three languages.

Always on time…Photo by Marius Mann on Pexels

In 2019, an expansion of the Deutsche Bahn lines into Switzerland met some objection because the Swiss were concerned those tardy Germans would mess up their intricate transport systems. 

Not only that, but tardiness is often seen as a sign of disrespect and lack of responsibility.

As noted by BBC Travel correspondent Eric Weiner, the Swiss not only want to be on time, but they take pleasure in being punctual. “The Swiss derive genuine joy from the fact that life unfolds on time and in a highly efficient manner.”

So punctuality is something that many internationals should get used to in Switzerland, especially if they come from countries where a timetable is just a loose indication, and not a rule.

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

Cleanliness

Despite a common wisdom that says Swiss streets are so clean you could eat off them, this is not recommended.

But there is no denying that Switzerland is very clean, especially in comparison to other countries (which shall remain unnamed) where the only time streets are cleaned is when a strong wind sweeps all the trash to one side.

Sometimes, when people come from those other (unnamed) countries, they tend to throw a cigarette butt or another piece of trash on the sidewalk or from an opened car window.

So for them, getting used to Switzerland’s cleanliness may take some time.

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FAMILY

EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

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. In Switzerland however, there are several rules about what you can - and cannot - name your child.

EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

Whether its hanging out your washing on a Sunday or flushing your toilet after 10pm at night, Switzerland has several rules which can be surprising to foreigners. 

One such example is what you are allowed to name your kids.  

While from time to time, parents’ failed attempt to give their child a unique name might make the news, there are in fact an extensive variety of rules about which names can actually be chosen in Switzerland.

Sticklers for the law as they are, the Swiss have several rules controlling what baby names can be given. 

No names which will damage a child’s well-being

Although this appears incredibly difficult to define, there are several actual examples which have been rejected for breaching the well-being rule. 

In considering this, Swiss authorities will look at whether “the child will be exposed to ridicule because of its name.”

This includes ‘Grandma’, ‘Rose Heart’, ‘Prince Valiant’ and ‘Puhbert’. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

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

Twins

Twins must not have names that are too similar to each other. 

The names must not be either spelt or pronounced in the same way. 

Swiss media gives the example of calling two boys “Philip” and “Philipe”. 

No villain names

Switzerland – or at least large parts of it – remain relatively religious, which is probably why choosing a bible villain name for your child is verboten. 

Newspaper Telebasel reports that the name Judas has already been rejected by Swiss registry offices – and will likely be rejected again. Satan, Cain and Lucifer are also banned. 

Boys are boys, girls are girls

Ever the traditionalists, Switzerland has tight gender rules for naming children. 

Specifically, a name must clearly indicate a person’s gender. 

Girls cannot be given a boy’s name and vice versa. 

If a name does not clearly indicate the person’s gender, then the child must be given a hyphenated double name or a second name to make this clear. 

Numbers or letters

In 2017, a Swiss court said ‘J’ was not appropriate as a middle name. 

The court held that allowing ‘J’ would be similar to letting people have a name made up of numbers – although ‘Jay’ a la Homer ‘Jay’ Simpson would presumably be fine. 

No place names

While the world might be debating how to cater to non-binary people who want to be identified as ‘their’, identifying as ‘there’ is a big no go in Switzerland. 

Place names for people are forbidden in Switzerland. 

This may not be interpreted incredibly strictly – Dakota Fanning and Brooklyn Beckham will be OK for now – but if you want to name your little boy ‘Matterhorn’ you may come across some resistance. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

No product names either

No matter how much you love a particular product, you will be prevented from honouring the brand by naming your child after it. 

That means Ovaltine, Rivella, Chanel or Ferrari are off the table. 

You’re also banned from naming your child after a plant or after an animal. 

What about foreign names? 

One major question – particularly among Local readers – is whether foreign names are banned. 

The main question is whether the name appears in the ‘Internationalen Handbuch der Vornamen’ – the International Handbook of First Names. 

This book – which does not appear to exist in English – expressly lists acceptable first names. 

If it appears in the book, it’s OK with Swiss authorities. 

Which names have actually been banned in Switzerland? 

Suissebook has listed several baby names which have been banned in Switzerland for breaking at least one of the rules listed above. 

In addition to all of those mentioned so far in this article, it includes Bierstubl (place name), Troublemaker (well-being), Mercedes (brand name) and Sputnik (not sure if that is a place or a thing, but either way it’s banned).

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