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?


Pat said...

Oh my! You have enlighted me to other UNIQUE Swiss rules that even I wasn't aware of after living here for 15 years. I am still wondering where do Swiss people store all the garbage until the legal hour and day for recyling. Every Swiss person's house I have visited is neat at a pin with no piles in sight. Truly an art!

Anonymous said...

Love these explanations! Very-well said!


Hattie said...

Your license plates (Nummernschilder) are state property. On a business trip to Switzerland years ago, after we had moved back to the U.S., my husband was awakened at 7:a.m. by three cops banging on his hotel room door. When he asked for an explanation, they said he had left the country taking the license plates on our car with him! This was theft!
Now, hotels are required to give guest lists to the local police. Another law you may or may not know about. The police saw his name in connection with vanishing license plates. He was not put into custody but allowed to walk, on the promise that the plates would be sent back to Switzerland. I had them in the mail the next day! What was really funny was that they apparently did not know that I had taken the plates from my car out of the country too. I sent those back as well. Wonder what they thought of that.
Oh, the cops detained him again at the airport, but he talked them out of making him miss his flight, on his assurance that the plates were in the mail.
We were so glad that the Swiss were keeping things in Ornung in their perfect country.

Unknown said...

Hi Frau

I really enjoy reading your blog, I hope you did not mind me giving a little plug.


Chantal said...

Hattie, That's crazy abou the license plates, but yes, I can definitely see that happening!

Thanks for the call-out Steve. Glad you're enjoying the blog.

Dilly said...

A Suisse Romande perspective on things... How severely these rules and laws are enforced depends very much on where you're living.

I think the French-speaking cantons are much more lenient - our rubbish tends to go in communal bins in the basement of the building, whenever you want. The quiet times are less strictly enforced (we often hoover on a Sunday - and heard someone else doing so too! Although the flats are quite well soundproofed...). Although we have been told off for attempting to use the glass recycling bins on a Sunday.

Chantal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chantal said...

From what I know from other expats I would agree that life is a little less strict in the French section. I also agree that a lot of the rules really depend on who your neighbors are. Technically, our building doesn't allow laundry on Sundays, but if no one minds and no one tattles, then doing laundry on Sunday works out just fine.

Allison L said...

We didn't live in a section of Zurich populated with many Swiss Citizens. So we didn't have much problem with noise and flushing toilets. Some nights I even finished the laundry after 10pm

The three months I sent visiting my husband when he lived in a village up in the alps was way stricter. The power for laundry was even shut off during dinner time too. I can't tell you the number of times I got caught waiting for the grocery store to open after lunch break.

Kelli Shoe said...

Having two dogs, I was petrified of moving into a Swiss apartment building, having heard of the infamous noise rules. Luckily, there is a teenage boy directly below us who loves to sing his Tottenham Spurs on towards victory. In the shower. Every morning.

Thanks to him, I only get mildly jumpy when the pups have an uncontrollable barking fit. New babies on the first floor, teenagers on the second and our pups on the third. We've jointly created our noise rules.

Anonymous said...

Driving back from our summer holiday this year, we hit a deer that jumped into the road in front of us. It was 3 o'clock in the morning - we stopped but couldn't find the deer, so we drove home and I went to the police first thing the next morning. Big mistake! Turns out, I should have reported the accident to the Waldhütte immediately, who would have dispatched a hunter to track and kill the injured deer humanely. I tried to explain that, being a Johnny Foreigner, I had no idea that such a service existed and OF COURSE I would have informed them if I'd known, but I got short shrift - and a 585CHF fine.

Chantal said...

Another reason I'm glad not to have a car. But thanks for sharing that obscure rule...

Mark said...

Hahaha! We live in Geneva and were surprised to hear about the quiet hour laws when we moved in. I think we're a little more lenient on those than the rest of the country.. However we did get a fine for using white garbage bags (we had brought them from the states) and now only use black ones as per our lease.. Too weird!!

Chantal said...

Wow, a fine for white garbage bags...only in Switzerland!

Swiss living in London said...

on the matter of garbage bags, every village/town/bezirk has their own bags or stickers, with that you pay towards the cost that occur for refuse incineration/waste management. I believe it is about you pay what you cause on costs for your rubbish. It is also an incentive to recycle/separate your waste.

PS I love this blog.

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