5 Hacks to a Smooth Swiss Transition
Moving to Switzerland was not my first move abroad. Although I consider myself to be a seasoned expat, I DID spent the better part of the last 20 years living in Rome (which I lovingly call the “Wild West” of Europe), where rules don’t apply, laws are a mere suggestion and, well, anything goes. I knew that life in Switzerland would be very different, and quite frankly, “different” was exactly what the doctor ordered at that point in time.
My Swiss transformation over 12 months was gradual, and can be summed up through the following five aspects of Swiss life:
1. Rules, rules and more rules
Switzerland may share a border with Italy, but when it comes to law and order, they could not be further apart. There are rules for everything and those rules are obeyed in order to avoid monetary fines, shaming, or worse (see below).
No joke, the sign really does exist! It applies to a rule that men must not be found urinating in the vicinity while standing up. I have yet to find anyone who has broken the law and suffered the consequences, so maybe that is the point? A few other rules I find peculiar are:
No flushing the toilet or showering after 10pm
No harming a child’s wellbeing by giving them a stupid name
If you’re going to get a fish, bird, or hamster, you’d better get two
No hanging washing out on a Sunday
No recycling on a Sunday
No cutting grass on a Sunday
You may have guessed, Sundays are sacred. While in another life, after working all week you may have spent Saturday and Sunday catching up on chores – not going to happen for you in Switzerland.
2. Drive slowly, your wallet depends on it
While every other car you see is likely to be a Porche, Ferrari or Tesla, my feeling is that driving a fast car in Switzerland is a lesson in frustration. Most inhabited areas have a limit of 30mph (or 18 mph if in close proximity to a school), and the fines are very steep. The most expensive Swiss speeding ticket on record is 299,000 Swiss francs (roughly equal to USD) for driving at 85 mph in a 50 mph zone.
I was mentally prepared for this rule, and have been very careful not to speed. However good my intentions, 9 months after moving to Switzerland I was driving to work one morning when a strange light flashed in my face. After ruling out aliens and an electrical storm, I waited. Two days letter a shiny white envelope arrived with a fine. Luckily it was only 40 Swiss francs for driving 33mph in a 30mph zone, and I consider myself LUCKY!
When it comes to the environment, the Swiss are NOT fooling around. The moment you cross the Swiss border the cleanliness hits you like a ton of bricks. Nothing is out of order, everything is recycled in the appropriate container, and urban and green areas are the most pristinely kept places I have seen anywhere in the world. This aspect of Swiss life has been one of the most refreshing changes for my family after living for so many years in Rome, breathtaking in so many ways but in the midst of a downward spiral when it comes to trash removal and general upkeep.
4. Social Distancing
In Switzerland, it requires very little effort. The Swiss are world class social distancing champions. We moved to Switzerland just a few months before the Covid 19 pandemic struck. I had been warned by my Italian friends that the Swiss might not be the friendliest folk in the world, but I was not about to make any assumptions before living here and seeing for myself. Which I did. And it would appear that they were not wrong.
There were no daily schoolyard gatherings with other parents, no impromptu chats with neighbors, no parent chat groups, no gatherings at the local coffee shop, and no last minute playdates. Everyone just seems to go about their own business and that’s that. Lucky for me I have four children and, as it turns out boredom and loneliness are feelings I can only fantasize about.
5. Eating Habits
Let’s face it, when it comes to food there’s no place like Rome. Well, maybe Italy in general. Neighboring France, Spain, Greece and the likes may all have wonderful food, but you will not (ever) convince me that there is a single country that tops Italian cuisine. After 20 years in Italy I can say that I’m no Nonna Teresa but I have learned my way around a kitchen and have a husband and children with, well, sophisticated palates.
The first big difference in our eating habits was that dinner time is about 2 hours earlier here in Switzerland. While my kids were still out playing at the park and having a grand old time, our Swiss counterparts had already finished their meal and were ready for bed. Little by little we’re finding our inner Swiss, and just the other day as we approach our one year anniversary here, we crossed a major milestone.
If you had asked me one year ago the chances of me buying a frozen pizza, I would have told you that I’d rather eat a kangaroo. Such was the spoiling of living in Italy, motherland of the margherita, napoletana, quattro stagioni and I could go on forever, that the thought literally never crossed my mind. But there I was in the supermarket, when a pizza in a box started calling to me. It looked ok and was half price (who am I to refuse a bargain?) and I caved. As I picked up the box and placed it in my carriage, I heard a little voice say “you’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy”.
The pizza was just ok. Better than kangaroo, and a quick meal for hungry kids. Who, by the way, were not at all shy in telling me that I’d better not give up making home made pizza dough as a result of my new discovery.
The takeaway from my ramblings is that the sooner you learn to drive slow, keep your distance, not litter, pee quietly, and eat to live (not live to eat), the sooner you will find yourself living a life of Swiss bliss.