Whilst I’m not a novice to visiting Switzerland, I’ve been to Zurich once before (14 years ago). The chance to revisit provided us with an interesting opportunity to discover more about life there. So much so I was able to write these 21 pieces of information about Switzerland and the Swiss people.
Here is what we noticed.
1. Swiss people
It only took mere seconds from leaving the airport terminal in Zurich for us to realise how wonderful the Swiss people are. On each and every occasion they were polite, charming and extremely helpful. Whether it be asking for directions (which we often did on the first day), buy food in a supermarket or bakery, or just a smile across the street. These people seemed genuinely happy, content with life and happy to have us here.
Even though we’d become confused with public transport instructions en route to our hotel (we couldn’t figure out if our travel itinerary required catching a second train or moving outside to catch a tram – it was a tram in the end) numerous people spotted our confusion and offered to help. If not then a quick “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” solved all our travel concerns over Swiss trains and trams.
I have no doubt that the people of Switzerland are wonderful people and appreciate the visit of any tourists.
Yes, in keeping with the polite and helpful Swiss people, a smile goes a long way here. You often hear Thailand branded as the land of smiles, well this is some fierce competition from Europe. Whether giving way to a passing cyclist, walking past a stranger or a simple greeting in a shop or bar, smiles rule. Virtually every polite smile I gave was returned with interest as strangers smiled back. Maybe smiles are inherent in the Switzerland culture or maybe life is just so good here there are lots of reasons to be happy.
At first I thought the Swiss were big on coffee, I was seeing signs everywhere saying “Coiffeur”. Clearly this was a mistranslation on my part. It was nothing to do with coffee (although they like that too). This was to do with hair salons, they appeared to be everywhere. I can’t say that I thought the hair styles of the Swiss stood apart from anywhere else in the world. However they were certainly spoilt for choice of places to go.
4. The strangest things
I’m not an expert in the world of architecture or art. However it must be said that the Swiss put on some display some very weird, at times wonderful yet frequently surreal statues and sculptures. It just struck us as very bizarre. For such a beautiful country they added a little man made creativity which intrigued us. If you are ever fotunate enough to take Swiss holidays I’m sure that you’ll notice them too.
I’ve always known that Switzerland has a lot of heritage with the French and German languages. In fact there are four national languages of Switzerland:- French, German, Italian and Romanisch.
Here is a quick summary of language information about Switzerland:-
German is the most popular and is used primarily by close to 65% of the population. As we were told by a local, Swiss German is a little bit more difficult to master than standard German. Around 20% of the population (c. 1.5 million people) speak French and 6.5% Italian. Romanisch is the primary language of around 35,000 people (0.5%) and is not considered one of the official languages.
After saying all that, in most instances our inadequate and poorly pronounced German (although we did try) was compensated by the fact that most people we met spoke excellent English. We even came across a number of Scandinavians working in Zurich, so English was also easy for them.
6. Fabulous public transport
Whilst Zurich is known as a “little big city” I doubt that we’d want to wander around on foot every day. Thankfully you can buy a one day (24 hour) (Tageskarte) or 3 day (72 hour) public transport pass. The 3 day Zurichcard allows for free transport in the Zurich city area on buses, trains and trams. It also provides free entrance to numerous museums and discounts at various attractions. You can find out more in the accompanying handbook or visit www.zuerichcard.com
Cards and public transport tickets can be bought at stations or blue ticket machines by bus and tram stops. You have to validate your 3 day cards via the credit card style slot on the blue machine.
Whilst it was 48 CHF (June 2015) for our 3 day card we tried to get a lot of use out of it. Trams and buses were very frequent and like the trains prompt. Display screens at stops and inside the buses, trains and trams advised you as to which stop you were approaching. (I would say it is easy to get around, however you might need to take a little bit of time to plan your route precisely before beginning.) If you want to venture a little further afield the Swiss rail network is excellent albeit a little pricey.
Whilst public transport is a real feature of the Switzerland culture, cycling is also very prominent. Whilst walking around Zurich we had to remain mindful at all times of passing cyclists. They were going in all sorts of directions. From in front of us, behind us, from the sides, they were all around. Little wonder all the Swiss people we saw were slim and avoiding the obesity endemic which is gripping many parts of the world.
This may not come as a great surprise to you but it is true, Switzerland is an expensive country. I knew this already.
With the floating of the Swiss franc on 15th January 2015, market forces strengthened the currency of Switzerland almost immediately. Prior to this date the Swiss franc had been pegged at a rate of 1.2 to the Euro. This pegging of the exchange rate was a way to protect the Swiss economy from the effects of the Euro crisis in the preceding years. By the time we arrived in June 2015 the exchange rate was virtual parity. Although we are Brits who use the £ as opposed to the € (thank God) it was still pricey for us. In Zurich I would say most things were around 50%-100% more expensive than they are back home.
We had to be selective on our eating and shopping choices to manage our budget. We did enjoy a meal or two in restaurants to compliment our Swiss holiday experience. However we also took advantage of supermarkets and the occasional fast food outlet (never a healthy choice).
It goes without saying, if the currency is strong then this is generally a wealthy nation. Recent research revealed the people from Switzerland are on an average annual salary of US$78,500 (http://www.averagesalarysurvey.com/switzerland).
The Swiss economy is naturally focused on banking and finance which can be lucrative for some. I quickly recognised the UBS Swiss bank and Zurich financial services brands around the city. Dare I say it that we saw a few bankers driving around in fancy cars whilst we were there.
Well I suppose some bankers are gamblers and there was plenty of opportunities in their leisure time here. Whether wandering the streets of Zurich or nearby Schaffhausen, the locations of a Swiss casino or two was clearly evident.
11. A little bit of what you fancy
It seems that gambling is not the only game in town, from what we could tell in Zurich at least. I don’t know how far set it is on the Swiss mentality but anyone craving carnal knowledge is sure to find something of interest in here. An “Erotik Factory” store was noticeable a short distance from our hotel. In addition the local tourist guide booklets contained a few adverts for escort services and erotic massages. Make of that what you will.
12. Beauty and cleanliness
Set in the heart of modern Europe you certainly notice the Euro style buildings. Distinctly different from what we’d see in the UK or US, these apartment blocks have a lot of character and style. We loved wandering the streets admiring how pretty they all seemed. This was only added to by how immaculately clean they were. As a wealthy nation they invest well in the upkeep of their appearances.
In many respects our stay was influenced by something we didn’t expect. Whilst we loved our stay at the Mercure hotel our timing couldn’t have been little worse. The sound of pneumatic drills awoke us each day as extensive work was being performed on the roads outside. It appears as though this is far from unique. We saw major renovation work around Zurich wherever we went. My dear bribe also then told me that she read reviews from people who have previously visited saying the presence of new road work projects was often an issue. Good to see all that Swiss money being reinvested into the infrastructure.
14. Not quite street art
I must admit that I’m still in two minds on the whole “street art” question – is it art or just graffiti/vandalism? Well, when it comes to Zurich and the other parts of Switzerland that we saw, graffiti is definitely an issue. These wonderful, picturesque buildings which rise to meet the skyline are often blighted by some nearby scrawl from someone lacking both artistic skill and a respect for property.
15. You can drink tap water in Switzerland
Yes, it is safe to drink tap water in Switzerland. A little bit of online research reassured us from our fears and I am living proof that it is indeed safe to gulp down. Some have claimed that it is some of the cleanest tap water in the world. There is also the added benefit of hundreds and hundreds of free water fountains to be found across the towns and cities.
If you are still not convinced you could always protect yourself irrespective of the water you drink by making dirty water clean with a lifestraw.
16. It’s getting hot in here
Whilst the water may be great the temperatures are less so. Whilst in our hotel room we found the place quite hot and stuffy. With all the road works outside we didn’t really want to open the window so opted for the climate control unit in the room. No matter how much I tinkered with the settings we just couldn’t get comfortable. When I enquired at Reception we were told that in Switzerland the hotel room temperature is not allowed to vary by more than 4 degrees C from the temperature outside. Ouch, open windows it is then.
It is not top of my list but maybe it should be? For a lot of you, no doubt Swiss chocolate is a big attraction. We had little problem finding chocolatiers and all their work looked totally devine.
18. Al Fresco
Since we visited in the summer time I was at first not surprised to notice al fresco dining. Yet it soon became apparent that this was literally everywhere. If a cafe, restaurant, fast food place didn’t have a table and chairs outside then it was probably closed. You might think this is a reflection of the culture of Switzerland. However reading between the lines I noticed that this was probably more influenced by the fact that so many Swiss people smoke. Yes, we noticed smokers everywhere. After coming from the UK it felt as though smoking was a much more popular addiction here than back home.
19. Street drinkers
It is illegal in various places around the world however it seems to be very popular in Switzerland. That is drinking from cans of beer whilst walking the streets. We even saw well dressed people doing this so you can’t attribute it to just the homeless. After visiting the supermarkets I couldn’t help but notice that the price of a can of beer was very affordable too, some from around 90 cents (100 cents in a franc). This is a much cheaper option than drinking in a bar which may set you back 7-8 CHF.
20. Travel adapters
Like travelling anywhere outside your home country you need to be prepared. In Switzerland the electrical sockets require round pin plugs. They are often the smaller round pin versions too which you’d also find in Italy.
21. They love a good gnome
Oh and some bad ones too. I couldn’t help but notice gnomes all over the place. We found some great characters near some gardens but also some in the town centre in shop windows. I wonder if Zurich was a partial inspiration for Gnomeo and Juliet?
Have you ever been to Switzerland? Did you notice anything specifically about the Swiss people and their culture? Let me know in the comments section below what you love or dislike about Switzerland.