Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear Frau: Explain these strange Swiss laws!

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about life in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland, don't hesitate to contact The Frau.

Dear Frau,

I hear there are quite a few quirky laws in Switzerland. For fear of being arrested, can you please let this soon-to-be American expat in on some of these strange laws? Is it true you can't flush the toilet after 10pm? And why?


Confused in Connecticut

Dear Confused in Connecticut,

There are a lot of things that are a bit strange about living in Switzerland. The Frau does not pretend to know all of them, but here are three strange Swissisms she either has some personal experience with or knows someone who did:

Quiet Time

Flushing the toilet after 10 p.m. Forget Heidi, this is the real Swiss classic. The Frau does not believe this is an official Swiss law, but rather a clause that may be in your apartment rental contract. Many apartment buildings have strict quiet hours and these may include specific things a non-Swiss person may not typically associate with loud noise. Such as: not being allowed to flush a toilet after 10pm, not being allowed to do laundry on Sunday (or during the lunch hour—some buildings actually shut off electricity to the machines at this time...), or not being allowed to do gardening on Sunday.

Also on the quiet hour front: you can’t typically recycle glass bottles on weeknights or on Sundays without being yelled at for disturbing the peace. Never mind that yelling also disturbs the peace or the all night parties that go on right outside your window during Carnival or Badenfahrt

Trash Talk

Make sure you get a copy of your city’s garbage calendar and try to understand it (for help, read this). If you put your garbage out too early (or in the wrong bag, oh my!) you may be subject to a fine. A friend of the Frau was once called to the police station where she actually had to identify her trash. She was then charged CHF 250 because she had set it out too early the night before.

Recycling paper (see photo) is another strange Swiss ritual. You let the paper pile up for at least six weeks at your apartment and then ceremoniously tie it up with strings in neat packages no higher than about six inches before putting it outside. Don’t slack and just think it would be easier to stick all that paper in a paper box or bag and put outside. It would be easier, but this does not matter. If you don’t do it correctly, your paper will not be picked up and it will be plastered with a sticker stating your error. If you’re like The Frau, you’ll then be tempted to just throw it in your regular trash rather than wait another six weeks to redeem yourself.

Transport Pitfalls


Driving a car is expensive in Switzerland. If you go more than 5 kilometers over a speed limit, you’ll receive a CHF 40 fine in the mail for each offence. If you travel way, way over the speed limit, you will be charged a fine that’s a percentage of your salary.

Not paying the night ticket supplement

Typically beginning at 1 am, depending on the public transport network, you must buy a CHF 5 nighttime supplement in addition to your regular train ticket. If you don’t buy this and they check tickets, you will be fined as if you didn’t have a ticket at all.

Ok, the Frau has run out of energy. Anyone else have experience with some of these things or want to let Confused in Connecticut in on some additional Swiss laws or customs that are not fun to discover after the fact?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Women's Rights in Switzerland Challenged Once Again

In the spring of 2010, I wrote an article for Swiss News about the Zurich Women’s Guild and how they’ve been fighting for over 20 years for the right to march alongside the men’s guilds in the Sechseläuten parade, which is held every April. Sechseläuten is a public holiday in Zurich, and the parade is partly supported by public funds.

This spring, for the first time ever, the men’s guilds allowed the women to march in the parade, but it was a one-time invitation and it was not guaranteed that it would be an ongoing trend.

Earlier this week, I read that the men’s guilds have decided the women will no longer be welcome in the parade.

Why? Sometimes I don’t understand Switzerland at all…even when I try to by going in-depth and interviewing the people behind these stories.

I respect traditions—even 1000-year old ones—but like everything else, I feel they should evolve with the times. The other Zurich tradition, Knabenschiessen, has allowed girls to participate for over 20 years now.

And to be fair, girls are also allowed to march in the Sechseläuten parade with their fathers. But then, once they get older, they are no longer welcome.

What does this say about Swiss society?

Girls have more rights than women?

I guess the real message is this: if you’re a girl in Switzerland, try not to grow up. There’s a reason Heidi is a Swiss icon and not a grown woman. Because clearly, there are still some areas where equality for women is lacking in Switzerland.

What do you think about the men's decision to exclude the women from the parade?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Only in Switzerland, Part III

I was in the grocery store this week. The woman in front of me bought a bottle of grape juice. She paid for it with a CHF 1,000 bill ($1,136).

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The high quality of life in Zurich

You hear all the time that Zurich has one of the highest quality of life ratings in the world.

But what does this mean?

I figured this out a couple weeks ago.

It was one of those boiling hot days when sitting in the office was almost unbearable. So about 11:45, I went to Seebad Utoquai and spent an entire hour swimming in Lake Zurich. While there, I ran into five other work colleagues.

"Do you come here often?" I asked, as I joined them on the deck for a few minutes after my swim.

"Every day," they replied.

Now that's what I call a great quality of life.


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