The Swiss Life

Andrew and I hit our “three months in Switzerland” mark this month. As that is technically one eighth of our time here (keeping in mind we’re under a two year contract) it felt like a milestone. We’ve been here a few months and during that time we have settled into our apartment, gotten more integrated at work, have had time to explore and get to know Switzerland and a few of the surrounding European cities. It’s been a huge transition period, full of highs and a few lows here or there. Back in early August, I talked about our thoughts on differences between Switzerland and the U.S. Overall, I would say it is all still true. And I merely scratched the surface. I thought for fun and also to journalise our experience here, I have some random things I will add that I have noticed and also just some differences in how we live our day-to-day life in comparison to back in SF. Oh and by the way, the hours of operations for stores is still hard to get used to. My plea for Swiss stores to stay open later and on Sundays has mercilessly gone unanswered. 

  1. At work and for life in general, Google Translate is my best friend. Whether it is translating a lease agreement from French to English at work, the tons of administrative letters we receive (think insurance and our residence permit), reading menus and signs or trying to think of a word to use when attempting to speak French – we are constantly looking stuff up. Thank GOOGLE for this!
  2. Random: I frequently see adults riding scooters to work and carrying them on the train/bus to go places around the city. Seriously. Is it just me that finds this entertaining? That right there, folks, is a man in a suit on his morning commute with his scooter. And he isn’t the first one I have seen!

 3. Everyone says “Bon appetite” at the table before you begin eating, or if you are leaving for lunch someone will say it to you in passing. Just a quick and friendly exchange ūüôā

4. There are more coiffures (hair salons and barber shops) per capita in Lausanne then we have ever seen anywhere. And I lived in the Marina in SF, which I thought had a lot of salons but Switzerland has ’em beat. Our section of the block alone has FOUR! And it’s not like we live in a bustling business district, we live in a residential neighborhood of the city. HAnd they all close by 6:30 so I have no idea where all the people are coming from to their hair cut during working hours. Again, a mystery about the operating hours in Switzerland.

5. The Swiss do three kisses to greet. It feels awkward. We don’t have Swiss friends *yet* so we don’t encounter this often.

6. We have developed a broken way of speaking English at times when we communicate with non-native English speakers. I find myself dumbing down my language and talking like a cave man. It is absurd but it happens and at times it’s the only way to get my point across to my native French speaking colleagues. And even then you aren’t sure if they fully understand.

7. The Swiss love their peace and quiet. I have come to appreciate the quiet on the trains. It is pretty taboo to talk on the phone or have loud conversation on the train during the morning commute. At first it felt weird, but now I love the peaceful start and end to my day and even find myself burning holes into someone with my stare, just like the Swiss, when they speak too loudly, play music on their phone or have phone conversation during the ride. 

8. We sort our trash, which was expected, but it is surprising the extent that is required. 

Trash: We have to buy special government certified trash bags that are taxed. You must use these bags to toss your trash and you may not throw things in the garbage bin without being in a bag. You can only purchase them from behind the grocery counter, because they are considered such a valuable good. 

Cardboard & Glass: Required to break your cardboard down into neat piles. These can be recycled at our apartment. 

However, not everything is recycled at our apartment building. Some things, you take to the grocery store to recycle. This includes: aluminum cans, plastic bottles (think soda bottles and for milk), light bulbs, batteries and water filters for your Brita. I was surprised that we cannot recycle other forms of plastic – like yogurt containers nor plastic grocery bags. 

9. The unspoken rule in the U.S., and, well I thought most western nations that drive on the right side of the road, is to always keep to the right when walking on a path, stairs, sidewalks, you name it. If in doubt, keep to the right. Am I right? Well, throw that out the window. No one here follows any rule. You just move forward and stick to your path. I end up finding myself in people’s way all the time and we get into this awkward “which way are you going that is my way” challenge. It is a funny little difference but honestly I notice it almost every day, especially during the morning commute hustle through the train station.

10. So for laundry, our apartment unit does not have a washer/dryer, but we do have a washer up in the attic of the building that we may use during a single time slot on Wednesday nights. Kind of annoying, but in SF neither Andrew nor I had our own laundry in our apartments so we are used to sharing with our building neighbors (except now we only having a certain time to use it, not a fan). But it works, we have laundry. Oh wait, did you notice that? NO DRYER? Yep. We do not have a clothes dryer in our building, and that is normal here. So, our guest room/office is our drying room every week. On the bright side, I like to think that my clothes may last longer without getting beat up by a dryer. I do miss bath towels all fluffy from a dryer, but oh well. C’est la vie.

Weekly laundry drying. Thank you IKEA for selling the world’s largest clothes drying rack!

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