I Moved to Switzerland 6 Years Ago but I Still Get Surprised at the Way People Live Here
Hi! My name is Irina. I used to live in Moscow, but at some moment I realized that I wanted to drastically change my destiny. I left a position in marketing at a large company and moved to a small Swiss town called Canton Valais. It’s been 6 years that I’ve been living among mountains and chocolate. It was not easy for me to adapt to, but I sincerely believe it was worth it.
I will tell Bright Side readers about the side of Switzerland that is not often talked about in tour booklets. And as a bonus, I am going to tell you which places in this expensive country can be visited for free.
How people meet each other and how first dates go
Over 20% of marriages in Switzerland are with foreigners. But local people get to know each other in a special way. People are unlikely to approach you first — not because they don’t like you, but more because people try to not impose on your personal space.
Yes, they are friendly, smiling, and open to making new friends but asking for a phone number or asking a woman out is a very serious decision. Swiss men are modest by nature and very discreet. That’s why when a woman takes initiative, it is often welcomed here.
They agree to go on a date in advance — sometimes even one month in advance. The life of local people is carefully planned, which is why, after finding a free gap in his schedule, a man offers it to a woman. The main thing is to not forget about this date when the time comes. However, Swiss people always remember their appointed meetings, even if they are 6 months away.
I’ve heard a lot about splitting the bill in restaurants, but in reality, I haven’t been involved in a single case where people did it. Though if you have made up your mind to pay for yourself, no one is going to break your plans.
By the way, only seeing each other or going on a date once over the course of 2 weeks (at the beginning of the relationship) is an absolutely normal thing. It doesn’t mean a man doesn’t like you. Swiss people live at their own pace, they are never in a hurry, and they don’t want to seem intrusive.
What being married to a Swiss man is like
Local people might seem a little bit boring and predictable. They are pretty calm and avoid conflicts, and frankly speaking, sometimes I lack drama in my relationship. But at the same time, I feel protected and confident in Switzerland.
For example, I am very emotional — sometimes my emotions can even overtake me. And I feel comfortable with a person who is sensitive to me, calms me down, and brings me back down to earth. In addition, I am a very spontaneous person — I can wake up in the morning and say, “Today we are flying to the Dominican Republic!” My husband usually smiles back and says, “That’s a perfect idea. But first let’s take the kids to school, go to work, and later, when we come back, we’ll discuss how we can get there.”
At the same time, they see an individual in their wives, her interests are supported both mentally and financially. A husband will never reproach his second half about the way she dresses or behaves, he also will never delegate all of the household chores and looking after kids to her.
Switzerland has its own concept of female beauty.
In the beginning, I used to look at Swiss women with a slight disregard — their nails are flaky, their gray hair is not dyed, their shoes are too comfortable, their clothes are wrinkled, they don’t wear makeup, and they don’t cover up their deep wrinkles. Now I want to take the shoulders of my previous “self” and shake them really well.
I realized that no one is obsessed with their appearance here and no one is trying to look younger. Beauty means health for Swiss people — both physically and mentally.
They also age in a very noble manner. They don’t stress about getting old, but instead live for their own pleasure at any life stage. Elderly men are happy with wives who are the same age, they kiss them, support them, and they don’t stare at young girls.
Now I like to see natural faces and live in a society that is not obsessed with how they look. Years from now, I see myself as the same laughing old lady, lying in the beach chair with my grumpy husband lying to the right and my friends to the left. I won’t be hearing half of what they will be saying, but we will still keep laughing and won’t care about the way we look.
Why kids are not treated like the center of the universe
I like Swiss kids. Most often they are independent, obedient, polite, and nice to communicate with. Children are perceived as individuals right from birth, they respect the kid’s space and demand the same in return. Swiss parents encourage independence, they don’t rush to their kids the first time they call them, they teach them to wait, and they establish the necessary boundaries.
Also, they are not afraid of diseases here. Enterovirus? It will be healed. Lice? That’s a normal thing. Cold? Is that even a disease, after all? They don’t wrap kids in multiple layers of clothing. Wearing sneakers in winter? Sure! Kids often go home in shorts and T-shirts after training sessions in cold weather. Their home is not far, so they won’t have time to catch a cold.
Swiss people don’t run after their kids either. Are they sitting in a puddle? Ok, we will wash them in the evening. Are they eating sand? Hey, babe, it’s not meant for eating, but it’s ok if you tried some. A favorite phrase of parents is, “C’est pas grave” which means “Never mind.”
Kids help with household chores. Parents are not servants, that’s why all the duties around the house are shared. Parents don’t do homework with kids, don’t control their grades, and don’t insist on them going to a university after high school. Kids should make the decision themselves on what to do next.
Why Swiss schools don’t have complex subjects
At first, I was shocked by the Swiss system of education. My older son Max appeared to be so prepared for their system, that he had to skip several classes to study with older kids.
Now I understand that education is based on a practical approach and respect to the individual specifics of a child. Kids are taught to manage, to housekeep, to navigate the terrain, they are introduced to art, and a lot of attention is focused on sports.
There is a common subject called “science.” It has a little bit of every discipline. It is thought that a postman or a retail associate doesn’t need chemistry. If a kid wants to learn more about this subject, they will get enrolled at the proper university.
The study program becomes pretty difficult in college and many students get sifted. And only the strongest get into the universities.
What I like in this country
I am going to tell you about the things I consider really cool in everyday life:
- The most difficult disease will certainly be treated and any necessary surgery will be performed.
A woman never stays without alimony, while a man never stays without kids, after a divorce.
No one will come up to you to criticize, give advice, or otherwise. No one will discuss your appearance, your personal life, or your approach to raising your kids.
Any work is appreciated and paid well. Manual labor equates to being intellectual here.
It’s forbidden to keep one guinea pig, one fish, one canary, or one cow — you can only have animals in pairs. It’s believed that these animals feel sad when they’re alone and they need a companion. Cats and dogs are an exception.
- It’s safe outside and kids are allowed to walk and go to school without adults.
- Everyone cares for the environment voluntarily and consciously: they sort waste, save water, and buy products in packaging that can be disposed of responsibly.
- Swiss people are honest and conscientious. It’s totally OK for them to pick up a pile of poop after their dog, to give back a forgotten item to its owner, and to leave money for a purchase at the cashier desk if the cashier is absent for some reason.
Let’s talk about honesty.
Once I was charged more in a supermarket: they scanned 16 packs of tomatoes instead of one. This means I paid about $50 instead of $3. I realized how much money was withdrawn from my card only after I got home. I had to go back to the shop. On my way, I was thinking that I’d just keep insisting on looking through the video records or on checking the number of tomato packs left in the store. But everything appeared to be much simpler. I returned and explained the situation, the sellers instantly apologized and refunded the money without checking or needing any evidence.
Once my friend bought 2 sweaters but she found only one item in her purchase bag when she got home. She returned to the store and said that the second sweater was missing. They gave her the missing item without any questions.
I have to say that many things are based on honesty in Switzerland. I still can’t get used to it. For example, there are vegetable markets where you can choose products and simply leave the money at the cashier desk without personnel. There is no one, no control at all! You pay based on your honesty.
And I have to admit that this system works. People know that the price of a little lie can be too high. They have a database where any violations are registered. They are visible to anyone: if you want to rent an apartment, for example, the owners can visit this site and check which violations you have had. You might end up not being able to rent the apartment at all. When a person goes to the bank to take a loan, they will see their whole financial history and if it’s bad, the person won’t get the loan.
Now let’s talk about the imperfect parts of Switzerland.
So many good things have been said about Switzerland, that it might seem to be a real Garden of Eden with flying unicorns on a colorful rainbow. But this country is far from being perfect for me. Why?
- Fines for any violations — from bushes in your garden that are too overgrown to loud conversations with friends (you have to inform neighbors about an upcoming party or get-together in advance).
- Life stops after 18.30. Everything is closed, both on weekdays and on weekends.
Kids’ menus at restaurants only have pizza and nuggets. There are no cafes with kids’ zones and no clubs for kids’ overall development.
Doctors don’t come to your home. We have to bring our kids with high temperatures to clinics ourselves. Calling an ambulance is so expensive that it’s better to go to the hospital on your own.
It’s impossible to get into kindergarten. A babysitter costs $25 per hour. Parents have an option to take kids to a woman called a “maman de jour” who is raising her own kids and is ready to look after other people’s kids for a certain price. But she won’t have any special education and won’t use special methods to develop your kids’ skills.
- People never hurry. If you order a bed, you’ll have to wait for 3 months. People agree on meeting friends 8-10 weeks in advance. And sometimes you have to wait 6 months for a doctor’s appointment.
- Renting an apartment is a real adventure. There are not many options, the apartments are expensive, and it’s difficult to pass the owners’ selection process. Sometimes there are 30 family candidates for one apartment. They will have to get together a stack of documents that is more in depth than they would need to get a new job: proof of a stable income, a story about their family, what work they do, what hobbies they have, their credit statement. And there can be no pets.
How they relate to money
The Swiss teach their children financial planning from an early age. Most of them start getting pocket money between the age of 6 and 10. This is done to teach the kid to distribute this limited amount sensibly, prioritize it correctly, and plan their budget accordingly.
This is all because Switzerland has complex tax and other payment systems. And if one doesn’t calculate them properly and on time, they might end up finding themselves in debt.
This attitude toward money doesn’t really include greed or stinginess. Swiss people are quite generous and are ready to spend money. A friend of mine was going to give his girlfriend an engagement ring and said he would first pay for an international exam he was going to take, then he would present something to her parents, and after that, he would buy her a piece of jewelry. The thought didn’t even cross his mind to buy something cheap for her. The guy really intended to get an expensive ring and was calculating when he would be able to do it.
How the residents of this mountainous country spend their free time
Once, my husband offered me a chance to fly on a paraglider — I almost turned gray from fear. Local people have an inborn love of high altitudes. There are many ski resorts here where you can paraglide and have a good time: sun, wind, the feeling of freedom and flight. These resorts can brag about a lot of good things, except for cheap prices.
There are suspension bridges almost everywhere in the mountains. It always seems to me that they could break off and fall at any minute. For unknown reasons, no one has ever had the bright idea to construct solid bridges.
Mushrooms are supposed to be gathered in the mountains and as the saying goes, the steeper the slope is, the better the mushrooms are.
My husband knows the hidden places where the purest porcini mushrooms and chanterelles grow. But it’s pretty hard to climb up there. Every time we try to do it, I start to say that only goats are capable of climbing these slopes. Last time my husband went for mushrooms by himself, he brought back 20 pounds of the purest porcini mushrooms.
My friends often invite me to panoramic restaurants in the mountains. But I would have to cross an abyss in a special funicular. Why go so high just to eat? In addition to that, there are those serpentine roads! If I even glance down and I instantly wish to go back to my sofa and drink my favorite tea.
Bonus: Switzerland for free
Switzerland has many places that you can visit without spending a penny.
- The Natural History Museum of Geneva is the perfect place you can go to learn about Swiss fauna, as well as the fauna of the entire world.
- The embankment of Lake Léman in Montreux has a celebrity sculpture alley with statues of Freddie Mercury, Vladimir Nabokov, and Igor Stravinsky.
- The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the Gothic style. Walking on a steep staircase that consists of more than 200 steps and that doesn’t have hand rails cannot be called simple, but the result is worth it. A gorgeous panoramic view of the city and its surroundings opens from the observation deck, where you are allowed to stay for about 15 minutes.
- In Sion, the main city of Canton Valais (the place where I live), there are 2 medieval castles: the Basilique de Valère and Château de Tourbillon. They are located at the top of the hill. When you reach the castles, you’ll be able to enjoy a stunning city view.
- In Zürich, you can see the works of Marc Chagall for free — 5 stained glass windows about the creation of the world and the earthly life of Christ decorate the Fraumünster Church.
- Wildlife Park Peter and Paul in St. Gallen where you can observe the life of animals who live in different regions of Switzerland. Deer, chamois, groundhogs, lynxes, and wild cats live here in big aviaries.
Have you ever visited Switzerland? Would you dare move here and start a peaceful life surrounded by mountains and alpine meadows?