Use Your Words - 1913

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once, and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are:

paper - beer - 1913 - pennant - black and white

They were submitted by: Cognitive Script   - Thank you, Dawn!

For some reason I found these words to be particularly hard, and for some reason I have decided to tell you about life in Switzerland. Actually the reason is that I am thinking of using this as my A-Z theme in 2020. Surely there must be a Swiss thing about every letter of the alphabet?

So, Switzerland. (Not Sweden)

The land of cheese and chocolate. 

And watches. I can't believe the united watch companies sponsored this construction site at Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, our high end shopping mile. 

Us Swiss take being on time very seriously. (So don't be late!)

Our public transportation system usually runs according to timetable, and even a delay of a minute or two is being communicated by loudspeaker and video screen announcement. 

Speaking of time, one of our church towers (St. Peter) has the largest church clock face:

Not only are we as a society punctual and reliable, we like it clean. 

There are trash cans everywhere, and even if people are littering, it gets picked up by city workers. If you ever witnessed a carnival parade (confettis everywhere) or the Zurich Street Parade (beer bottles, ice cream wrappers and - sorry - bodily fluids) - the city is a mess! 

Come back the next morning or even just a couple of hours later, and everything is spick and span!

Safety is high, criminality rate is low. I guess this has to do with the fact that we also have high wages, a low unemployment rate and a wonderful social securities system. So even if you've lost your job that came with paid vacation and other goodies, you file a few papers and collect unemployment benefits long enough to find a new job. This may greatly contribute to not giving people reasons to steal and kill each other. 

Conservatives claim our laws make it too easy for frauds and lazy people. Granted, if you have a job but don't feel like working, it's relatively easy to get a doctor's note saying you're sick, and boom, you collect benefits while keeping your job, and you can't even get fired. At least for a while. If that deadline comes up, you can always fake a new illness. I have worked in HR for too long, I could actually write a book :-( 

I say, it's not just black or white, though: in one way or another, society always pays for its less fortunate people. Interestingly an increasing number of crimes are committed by minors. That's why we should not cut budgets at schools and job counseling offices. If young people successfully graduate and get jobs, they're too busy to get into drugs and crime. 

So let's have a look at more stereotypes, resp. things people who move here find annoying:

High costs of living
  • Renting apartments, especially in the major cities like Zurich or Geneva is comparable to NYC or San Francisco. They're sparse, too. The other day I saw an article that said more than 500 people wanted to see an affordable house (1,450 square meters for CHF 2,500, it's about the same in USD. For comparable features in the same neighborhood you usually pay CHF 4,000 and more.) Apartments are less expensive if you're willing to live in the more rural areas. This will entail an hour's commute to and from work either on congested freeways or in crowded trains. At least they're clean and on time ;-)
  • Clothes: only in Iceland it's more pricey to get a new outfit in Europe.
  • Anything related to cars is expensive: the cars themselves, maintenance, insurance, gas, parking. If you can't afford a car you're stuck with public transportation (not cheap, but if you buy monthly or annual passes it's OK) or taxis (the only time I would splurge for a taxi ride in Switzerland was when I was 8.5 months pregnant and needed to pee, so this was the fastest way to get home.)
  • F&B, no matter if you buy groceries to cook at home (Switzerland is ranked the top expensive European country for groceries and non-alcoholic beverages) or go out for dinner, especially if you eat meat. 

Bad costumer service

Oh my goodness. I grew up here, and I just thought this was normal.  Unless something you bought was clearly DOA, there's no point of taking it back. 
If the food at the restaurant is not acceptable you have to basically wait to engage in debates in which the "host" will defensively tell you there must be something wrong with you because they know how to prepare this dish, until they are ready to clear the table. Why? Nobody will swing by your table a minute after serving to ask "how's everything tasting?" 
The list goes on. Can you imagine my pleasant surprise when I started to visit the U.S.? OMG! The friendliness. The attentiveness. The no questions asked, the customer is always right.Yes, please! Of course they want a tip, but heck, they deserve it!!! 

As always there are exceptions to the rule: my contact lense lady is wonderful, and she'll replace the faulty contacts immediately.

Opening hours / Sundays closed

In the village I grew up shops used to close at 6:30pm on weekday evenings, and on Saturdays at 4pm. Considering this, today's shopping hours are way better! Typical supermarkets are open Mondays thru Fridays from 8am till 8pm, and Saturdays till 6pm, some even longer. 

Sunday is still the holy day off, though. Except for vital services which include medical (not drug stores, though. They alternate in keeping their doors open, so if you need one, you need to call or google first to find out where to go) gas, including convenience stores (life saver!) and restaurants. 

Still many, many chose to be closed on Sundays. Not sure why. There would be plenty of hungry people who'd love a good meal on a Sunday as well. 


We're a diverse country. So we thought we'd make it even more interesting by speaking different languages. In the larger part of Switzerland  - about 63% of the folks - speak Swiss German. The Western part is the French speaking part, also called Romandie, about 23% of Swiss people speak French. 

What about the Italian or Rumantsch speaking? They are an even smaller minority (8 / 0.6%). They know it and have accepted it. They learnt to speak German or French or both and never complain. Hey, they got all the pasta and vino to enjoy the good life! 

There's 5.4% left, in case you were counting. Those are roughly 35 "other languages". 

Like English ;-)

The good news is tourists will get by just fine. Airport staff, hotel and restaurant employees, they'll all be happy to help you.

I feel, however, that marketing and sales people, even the media in Switzerland are overusing English. And you know I do I love English, but when they even use it wrongly, I'm like WTF? 

Example: people here go to public viewings all the time, especially in summer. It has nothing to do with someone's wake. It's simply a giant screen put up in a public space broadcasting the soccer game.

It's hard to make friends

Swiss people are said to be reserved and unapproachable. I don't completely disagree. We were raised to be humble, blend in, not stick out, only to speak when prompted. The friends we made at elementary and high school may still be our friends today, we have common roots and feel connected and safe. 

Observing expats coming and going within two years may make us feel like "why bother, they're leaving again anyway." 

Personally I feel the other way round. I love to socialize with people who have a different background. I have helped my expat friends countless times dealing with residency papers and job applications, arranging doctors appointments, translating letters to Swiss schools, invited them over, etc. Still I feel they don't consider me a close friend and prefer to hang out with other expats?!

We have rules. Lots of 'em - maybe more than 1913 rules.

We like everything to be on time and in order. I'm probably repeating myself ;-)

If you rent an apartment you most probably share a laundry room with the other tenants. (I'm supposed to use the word pennant. Does tenant count? A little bit?) 

Are these streamer flags close enough to pennants?

Back to doing laundry: In the old days you were allowed to wash and hang (no dryer in older buildings; they're not considered eco friendly) on your assigned day(s) only. 
Today there are scheduling apps to book your laundry session. 

However, please note: No laundry on Sundays. 

Also no vacuuming. No lawn mowing. No anything that may disrupt a peaceful and quiet Sunday. 

So you pretty much can't work (labor laws prohibit working on Sundays in most industries. Exceptions: see above) or do sh** around the house, and the mall is closed, too - what are you supposed to do? 

Go to the zoo or the museum. Go for a hike, a bike ride or a simple walk.

Careful where you walk though!! 

We even have alleys where Moms with kids are not allowed:

Only half kidding. Someone who hasn't lived here long asked about this in a Facebook group. A ton of funny comments ensued:
  • I think it's tire tracks over them, so you are allowed to run over mothers with small children.
  • Because they walk too slowly?
  • Information overload. Is ANYONE allowed in that street?
  • It means drop your children right here and go shopping alone!
  • I need this sign in my life.
  • OMG, if I go there, my kids can't follow? *Furiously booking flight*
  • I also don't get the red sign below with the arrow up the biker's ass, but that might just be me.
Of course the black and white stripes simply mean the pedestrian zone ends. This is what the beginning of said area looks like:

This entire road sign is actually gem of Swissness ;-) Here's what all of it says:
  • Pedestrian Zone (which, btw includes rollerblades, scooters and skateboards)
  • Handling of goods (like delivery trucks) and picking up / dropping off is allowed between 5am and 12pm
  • Hotel guests dropping their bags, taxis and authorized persons with a permit may enter at all times
  • Bicycles allowed, however need to maintain walking speed and yield to pedestrians
PS: the lady who was *furiously booking her flight* later canceled it ;-)

The female / mother role

Women in Switzerland haven't gained the right to vote in federal elections until 1971. That just about says it all. In the mountain regions most people are still pretty conservative and would like to preserve the traditional role of the wife staying at home. In urban areas, especially the French speaking part of Switzerland, things are more progressive. 

Our workplace is an old boys' club. (Forget white, we're basically all white around here.) Female executives are a minority. I was looking for some reliable data, but it looks like Switzerland doesn't even make it on charts that are titled "gender balanced countries".

Childcare is available, yet pricey and sparse. One place we were considering had a two year waiting list for a "baby space" - by the time your slot was going to become available your baby needed a toddler space ;-)

Part-time opportunities do exist if you're a supermarket cashier, a hairdresser or a nurse - the notoriously underpaid jobs. If you're an executive they either want you to work 120% or not at all. Sad truth. I was super lucky to score my airline position back when Colin was just a little over one year old.

So just imagine your luck on the job market if you're not from here. Even if you're allowed to work due to a European citizenship, with no professional network, no family support in terms of childcare and limited German skills it's super tough.

Alright, grump out. We're a beautiful country.  We have mountains. 

In fact mountains cover a whooping 60% of Switzerland's land area (and we're already a small country, so we have to cram our 8.5 million citizens into 40% of the 440,000 square feet!). Our population density is 208.5 per square kilometer (or 126 per square mile), so we're among the top 50 most crowded countries.

The USA has 92.6 people per square mile and rank 146th.

We have the Jet d'Eau, the large water fountain situated at the point where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhône, that is jetting 500 liters (130 gallons) of water to an altitude of 140 meters (460 feet). 

So we have cheese, chocolate, watches, mountains and sights - and we have the Viadukt.


A market hall, restaurants, shops, cultural and social meeting points, all nestled under the arches of a railway viaduct built in the 19th century. 

You know, I still need to use "1913". If it was built in the 19th century it actually means 18-something. Damn.

God knows I ran all across Zurich to find a #$@&%*!-ing building that was built, renovated or at the very least put under Denkmalschutz (=protection of historic monuments) in the year 1913! Nothing. 

Couldn't even figure out where they put fire hydrant #1913. I tried. (Hey, I found #3827!) 
I really did. I have the watch to prove I took over 13,000 steps that day. That must count for something.

Which brings me back to the Viadukt. Every shop has a house number. I found numbers 19 and 13. Close enough? I think so.

So, what do you think? Could you imagine living here? 

What would you love about Switzerland? What would genuinely annoy you? Let me know down below.

Don't leave before checking out my blogger friends' posts:    

PS: OMG, I am so ashamed right now... Obviously the Swiss president of federal council, Ueli Maurer (right wing politician) was invited on short notice by the Donald. He made a complete fool out of himself and represented Switzerland poorly.

Photo Source:

Withe House - really???

We have Iganzio Cassis, who is our federal councillor for foreign affairs. Very qualified guy. Let him do the talking - and the writing for that matter!!! 

What does Maurer do, though? Brings the chief of communications of the DOJ. And I have an idea, why: they were mainly talking about nuclear deals with Iran.

I'm not sure they really did talk disarmament, though, because the slogan that Mr Maurer used in his White House guest book entry "together ahead" is borrowed from RUAG. RUAG happens to be a Swiss company that develops technology in the fields of aerospace and defense.

But hey, "I can nothing say to this issue"

So embarrassing.

The federal council is the seven-member executive council that constitutes the federal government of Switzerland and serves as the collective head of state and of government of Switzerland. 



  1. Love how you've been clear on both the pros and the cons. I've done a lot of traveling but never to Switzerland, almost went once in high school but never made it. Given all you've said I think I'd absolutely love to visit but don't think I could live there. Of course with our current administration it's getting harder and harder to live here, too.

  2. Thanks for this comprehensive article about life in Switzerland, Tamara. As you may remember, I spent a year living in St. Gallen, but cooped up in a prison-like boarding school, so we only got glimpses here and there during scheduled "Ausgang" (along with plenty of "Schwarzausgang" ☺).

    I am shocked that women have only been allowed to vote since 1971! Here's hoping they gain more equal footing in the workplace, as well.

    This made me smile:

    "We have rules. Lots of 'em - maybe more than 1913 rules. We like everything to be on time and in order."

    Sounds a lot like Germany! ☺

  3. Dang Tamara! That was an amazing Social Studies lesson! I learned so much from this. Like anywhere, there are certainly positives and negatives in living where we are. I appreciate Switzerland's punctuality and cleanliness. I would have a harder time keeping quiet on a Sunday! <3

  4. This is better than any travel info we could find when we knew we were visiting your amazing country two years ago! And we loved it there! It is the first country I've visited-ever-that looked EXACTLY like the travelogue pictures!
    Clean?! I'll tell you clean! We stopped at a roadside 'rest area' to use the facilities and I've never seen anything so clean! No 'one-holers' or 'two-holers' here! Nope. It was such an amazing sight that I had to video it. (After. Not before and definitely not during...)

  5. Damn this is a really interesting post that I so really enjoyed

  6. You had me at great social security programs! It's great to learn more about your country. It's a place I've always found to be beautiful, but I think I'll just stay right here! Maybe for a visit!

  7. I am laughing at the streets that don't allow Mum's with kids. We also have a water jet like the one you mention. Captain Cook jet in Canberra.


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