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June 07, 2012

Interesting Contrasts Between Switzerland and the U.S.

My friend Kelly posted an extensive list of differences between the ways things work in Switzerland vs. the U.S.
Here are some excerpts:
In Switzerland...
  • almost everyone has the same type of mailbox (two part: top has a slot for letters, bottom section has a door for packages) with an engraved nameplate.


  • curbs are assembled from individual pieces of stone (granite) approx. 1m in length. The surfaces are rough and can cause tire ruptures if you drive against them. In the US, curbs are poured concrete.


  • when you leave (quit a job, move away) it is customary that you, yourself, organize a going away party (une verree or apero). In the US, your friends/coworkers do this.


  • almost all doors have handles, not knobs. This makes it easier to open the door (if it's unlocked of course) while carrying things (i.e., just use your elbow).


  • a child's name must be on an approved list. Swiss parents do not have the freedom to name a kid "Moonunit". Resident foreigners can be exempted from this rule, but you must obtain an official statement from an embassy that attests that the name is acceptable in the other country.


  • there are approximately the same number of gas stations and post offices.


  • if you want to buy groceries on Sunday (or after working hours), go to a gas station. 


  • gas stations sell great bread (freshly baked on the premises).


  • you can buy UHT milk, which keeps for months unrefrigerated.


  • almost all milk comes in 1 liter Tetra-Pak boxes.


  • you cannot turn right on red.


  • fuel economy is measured as "quantity per distance" (liters per 100km). In the US, it is measured as "distance per quantity" (miles per gallon).
  • there are no smoke detectors in apartments.


  • many stores are closed for two hours at lunchtime (including pharmacies and the post office)


  • banks do not charge ATM fees.


  • when you get a package gift wrapped, they put a little address label on the package with the name of the store (this does not help preserve the surprise).


  • you have to weigh fruits and vegetables yourself at grocery stores. Scales are located in the produce section and usually just have a large set of numbered buttons. Once you have selected your produce, you need to look for the sign that says what number to enter on the scale. Then, you take the produce to the scale, press the corresponding button and the scale will print a label. Of course, if you mis-read or forget the number, you may end up mis-labeling your produce.


  • shopping cart wheels are omnidirectional. In order to use one in a supermarket, you have to deposit a CHF 2 coin in slot on top of the cart, which releases the chain by which the cart is attached to the next one. When you return the cart to its place (once done shopping), you get your "deposit" back (i.e., the coin is released from the slot).


  • shopping carts are often for the entire shopping center or mall, not just a single store. So, people walk around with the same cart, going into and out of stores. It's not unusual to see a cart full of groceries inside a clothing store.


  • you have to bag your own groceries at grocery stores. If you want a "good" bag (paper or plastic), you have to pay for it. You can, however, get a small plastic bag (which will rip at the slightest touch) if you ask.


  • on many buses, you buy tickets and get change from the driver (yes, the driver does carry change!!!)


  • apartment buildings rules specify quiet time (usually after 10 pm). If you make too much noise during this time, neighbors may call the police. 
  • although gas stations do have some automats for paying at the pump (not at every pump), you can only use them when the station is closed (i.e., at night). Normally you pump your gas BEFORE giving any form of payment, and then go inside to pay after your tank is full. Regulated by security cameras at every pump.


  • there are photo radars on the higways and in many towns. If you're captured on film (and your license plate is readable), the police mail you a ticket (but not the photo!). If you protest and demand the photo, you have to pay a bigger fine (if it turns out to be you in the photo). Fines can be quite hefty (several thousand Swiss francs, depending how much over the limit you were going). If caught speeding in a residential area, you can actually spend the night in jail! A less serious offence (but still punishable by a fine) is making a right turn not exactly at the intersection, but by getting into the right lane (usually reserved for buses and taxis) a couple of meters before the actual turn.


  • if you own any radios or tvs capable of receiving broadcasts (over the air, via cable, via satellite, etc.) you have to pay a monthly tax (tv/radio license).


  • no window screens in Switzerland.
  • most windows which open are hinged on two sides: one of the vertical sides (open all the way) and the top or bottom (to crack it open a few centimeters).


  • Easter is a BIG thing: Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays and nothing (except gas stations) are open. Stores close early the Thursday before and are open with reduced hours on Saturday. Some stores are not even open on Tuesday. As a result, many people go away on vacation.


  • everything shuts down in August. Most people in Switzerland have 4 to 5 weeks of vacation per year and take a few of these in August.


  • movies have intermissions. Yes, all of them. Really. This is to buy ice cream or candy.


  • traffic lights turn green to yellow before red and red to yellow before green (the yellow light almost never appears by itself).


  • parking spaces are small: just enough (barely) space to park and to exit the space.


  • lingerie is advertised on sidewalk billboards so as to easily catch the eye of pedestrians and drivers.


  • it is hard to find a drinking fountain...but easy to find a fountain.


  • you sometimes have to pay to get tap water in restaurants. It does not come with ice. But it tastes good!


  • the number "1" is often written like a "7" in the US (a "7" is written in Switzerland with a horizontal cross).


  • an "unfurnished" apartment is *really* unfurnished: there are usually no light fixtures (just bare wires), curtain rods, kitchen appliances etc. 
  • mustard comes in squeeze tubes (looks just like toothpaste). So does mayonnaise.
  • it is not unusual (nor a problem) to use large amounts of cash at stores. For example, the cashier won't even blink an eye if you use a 100 CHF bill to buy a stick of gum or a croissant.


  • personal checks are obsolete.


  • debit cards are widely used to pay for everything.


  • drivers are required to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, and this is taken very seriously. Old people shake their fists at those who ignore this rule.


  • offices usually have funny looking "Swiss" keys (no notches, just a bunch of circular indentations).


  • binders have 2 or 4 rings (not 3). Many binders have a lever to open the rings (unlike American binder rings, which you just pull apart).


  • printers use A4 paper, not "US letter". Actually, the Ax series of papers is very logical (being based on fractions of a square meter), but the dimensions are impossible to remember.


  • paper clips do not have rounded ends. Instead, one side is straight (lines up on the paper edge) and the other is pointed (to make it easier to put on).


  • people take their dogs everywhere: into restaurants (you'll see them sitting under the table), on buses/trains, etc.


  • cell phones work almost everywhere, even in the mountains and on top of the Matterhorn.


  • very few places have air conditioning. Luckily, it's not hot very often in the summer (at least, not for more than 3-4 weeks!).


  • ATMs insist you take your card, then your receipt, before you get your cash. 


  • newspapers are printed on small sheets: about 1/2 the size of American or British papers.


  • you can read a newspaper and not once see the name of the president.


  • most cars are manual transmission (stick shift)
  • when you check in at most hotels, you have to show your passport
  • the common way to pay bills is to pay everything at once. The bills are standardized red or orange forms. When you are ready to pay, you can either pay all at once at the post office or pay online using specific template for color of your bill.


  • most glasses at restaurants have the volume marked on them and a line so you know exactly how much liquid is in the glass.


  • elevators are usually very small and cramped. Four-people (but no luggage!) elevators are very common. 
  • ground level is floor "zero" and the floor above is "one".


  • a cardboard "parking disc" (which you set to show your arrival time and place on the dashboard) is used for parking in marked, colored zones.


  • malls are "anchored" by big grocery stores (Coop or Migros) instead of department stores.


  • almost all houses and apartment buildings have bomb shelters, which often cannot be used (because most people use them as storage spaces).


  • Chinese and Mexican restaurants are considered exotic and generally quite expensive. It is very difficult to find "reasonnably" priced restaurants (even though there are many chinese restaurants).


  • tips in restaurants are usually nominal, just enough for the server/waiter to go get a coffee. They are paid enough with their salary that they are not dependent on the tips.


  • recycling is a way of life! There are special areas in neighbourhoods where you can deposit bottles (color and white glass separately), aluminium, paper, batteries etc. in specially marked containers. Of course, there is usually a warning sign telling you not to do it between the hours of 7 pm - 7 am...


  • the post office is also a bank.


  • snow tires are required during the winter months


  • all cars are required to have a "danger" triangle, which is to be placed some distance (10m or so) behind the car to signal an accident or breakdown. It has to be stored in an easily accessible place in the car.


  • some cantons require training classes for new owners of pet dogs.


  • there is no mail pick-up at home (to mail a letter, you have to drop it in a mail box or take it to the post office).


  • Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch
  • Postal addresses often do not include the apartment number, just the street address. Thus, it's important that the last name be clearly printed on the incoming mail and also on the postal letter box.


  • Traffic fines for egregious offenses (speeding significantly faster than the limit, as an example) are based on a percentage of your income.


  • Just about every apartment building has a "clothes dryer room" for larger items (or lots of smaller items) which is a closed room in the cellar with a heated fan and lots of clothes lines.


  • SMS Text messaging in Switzerland (and most of Europe) is free for received texts, only the sender pays.


Posted via email from K's Café

June 7, 2012 | Permalink


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