Living in Switzerland Part 2
Part one of this series
You've arranged your removal, you've made a stab at saying hello in the local language of the region you're moving to ... now what?
First, my apologies to the French speaking side of Switzerland as my experience is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. I made my home in Zurich and Basel for nearly eight years, so the information I'm providing is slanted towards the German side of the Röstigraben.
Röstigraben? What's that?
The Röstigraben (meaning literally Rösti [hash browns] ditch) is the humorous - but serious - term used to describe the border between the German speaking side of Switzerland and the French speaking areas. In French the term is Rideau de rösti ("Rösti curtain", a reference to the Iron Curtain). Not only is it a linguistic difference, it is also a cultural and political difference on either side of the Röstigraben, and you'll hear it referenced frequently in day-to-day life in Switzerland.
You'll find that even in areas of German speaking Switzerland that border on to France, such as Basel, the language of the city is Swiss German. While many people do speak French, it is not used officially, in shops, signage, etc.
Where you sit in relation to the Röstigraben will make a difference when it comes to your day to day life in Switzerland.
Apartment life in the German speaking side of the Röstigraben
It doesn't matter which side of the Röstigraben you're on, chances are you'll be living in an apartment. In Switzerland, two out of three people live in rented flats (source), and in some cities such as Zurich, competition is fierce.
Some of the key areas which catch unaware expats:
- Quiet times - during these times, no noise can be made, including vacuum cleaners and keeping the volume of your TV and radio down quite low. Hours can vary by apartment (check your contract!) and in general are from 10pm until 7am, lunchtimes from noon until 1 or 2pm and all day on Sunday. On occasion, leases may also stipulate that men must only use the toilet sitting down during quiet hours!
- Minor repairs - these are paid for by the tenant, not the landlord and can include: replacement of shower hose, baking tray in the oven, extractor hood filters, etc. I once had to pay for a plumber to fix a worn out washer on a bathroom tap because it was below the threshold for repair costs that are paid by the landlord.
- Cleaning when vacating the apartment - This can sometimes reach urban legend status, but you should believe some of the rumours. Virtually all landlords will expect the flat to be spotless, with the insides of drawers and tops of door frames to be clean, and many will expect the mesh inside the faucets to have been removed and cleaned. Most people hire a specialist cleaning company to do this for them.
- Laundry - Most apartments do not have laundry facilities inside the flat, and there are communal machines in the basement. These are used on an assigned rota basis, and the times can vary substantially. In some buildings, you have time once a week, others just once a month.
In Switzerland, it is customary to introduce yourself to the neighbours, rather than them introducing themselves to you. You can either knock on their doors individually and introduce yourself (and don't forget to shake hands!) or hold a small Apéro for your neighbours on a Saturday afternoon shortly after moving in. It is expected to at least be on nodding acquaintance with your neighbours.
Official moving dates and logistics
There are two official moving dates in Switzerland - end of March, end of September and in some cases, a third date at the end of June. You can, of course, move at a time other than those specified, but if you're leaving rented accommodation then you'll need to find a new tenant to take your place.
There is no moving on a Sunday in Switzerland, as it would violate the rules regarding quiet.
Frequently, stair cases are too small to accommodate furniture, and outside removals lifts are used where the items are passed through a window and onto the lift.
If you're moving into - or out of - the country, customs documents must be prepared for your entry or exit.
Don't forget to register with the migration office of your new town or city within 14 days of your move - even if you're just moving to a new flat. All residents of Switzerland must be registered at their address, regardless of citizenship or visas. More information, in English, from the city Basel. Other cities will have similar pages and information on their websites.
Moving in to your new flat in Switzerland
Make sure your removal company is familiar with Switzerland and its rules and regulations about moving times, customs checks, etc.