15 Fun Facts About Switzerland
Switzerland is a land of natural beauty, cheese, chocolates, luxury watches, punctual trains, cows that wear bells, wealthy banks, and happy people. Most people know that much, but there are many things that probably never occurred to you. Check out these 15 fun facts about Switzerland that I learned while living there.
1. Swiss civil protection laws make it mandatory to build private shelters in every large apartment building’s basement, or pay for the right to a space in a community shelter. The law was adopted at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, when Switzerland began requiring space in a nuclear fallout shelter for each resident. In the apartment building we lived in, the basement shelter which had a door that you would expect at a high security bank, was used as storage room by the residents.
2. When you move into a rental apartment, most of them unfurnished, there are no light fixtures. The apartment may have a beautiful Miele kitchen with top of the line appliances, but you have to go out and buy your own light fixtures.
3. Recycling and sorting your waste is a must. Plastic, paper, dark glass, light glass, edibles, all need to be separated.
4. Tap water is often better quality than bottled water. Around 80% of Swiss drinking water comes straight from natural springs and groundwater, the rest from its alpine lakes. Quality standards are high and tap water is essentially mineral water and tastes better than what you buy in bottles.
5. Sharing your laundry room with your neighbors is completely normal. Space is tight in Swiss homes, washers and dryers expensive, and in nearly every apartment building you have a shared laundry space and a schedule telling you when to do your laundry.
6. Sundays in Switzerland are protected by a long list of social laws – it is illegal to mow your lawn, hang out your laundry, wash your car or recycle bottles on Sundays. Building rules may also frown upon noisy actions after 10pm, like flushing a toilet or taking a bath. The stores are closed, and only a few restaurants and bars open.
7. Swiss plugs are a bit different. Only Lichtenstein and Rwanda have the same Type J three-pin layout.
8. You can rent a guinea pig. In Switzerland, the owners of social animals are obliged to have two pets at the same time so a single pet does not feel lonely. In case your guinea pig, ferret, or canary dies, you can bring a rented one home to keep the other company. It is also possible to rent a cow, and to keep all the cheese that is made from that cow’s milk during the rental period.
9. There are Swiss taxes for owning a dog – annual taxes are determined by the dog’s size and weight. Dog owners are also required to take a training course to learn how to properly care for their pets.
10. 1,000 franc notes are not only in circulation but readily accepted in stores. You will have no problem paying for a 3 franc coffee with a 200-franc note.
11. It is essential to know people’s names in Switzerland. When you greet someone, you’ll add a name, like “Good morning, Claire.” When you answer the phone, it is impolite to say “hello,” you’ll state your surname instead. When you make a toast, you raise your glass up high, look directly in the person’s eyes, and say the name of that person.
12. Handshakes are essential. Training starts early — kindergarten children are tought to shake hands with their teachers at the beginning and end of lessons. Walk into a business meeting and you will be expected to shake hands with everyone in the room. More handshakes will be required when you visit the doctor, dentist and even the hairdresser.
13. Swiss towns and villages are in a constant state of renovation. Even though everything is top quality, they need to be spruced up every few years and cranes dominate the skyline.
14. Rules of the road. Traffic moves at a steady 5 kmh above the speed limit, anything higher and the speed cameras will swing into action. In the cities, especially in Geneva, one has to watch out for the scooters that squeeze through between stopped cars behind traffic lights to push to the front.
15. Switzerland has four national languages, and each of the French, German, Italian and Romansch-speaking areas have a distinct character. The only cantons that are officially bilingual are Fribourg, Bern and Valais (German and French); and Graubünden is officially trilingual (German, Italian, and Romansch).