Michaela Merz

American expats in Switzerland

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My American friends, who have recently come to live in Switzerland, tell me stories that make you laugh or reduce you to tears depending on how you take them. If one is familiar with Switzerland and the New Yorkers, it is obvious where the daily discussions arise.

The Swiss neighbours are very quick to complain that one is too loud. Very frequently they don’t do so directly, in that they ring the door-bell and try to discuss the problem. No, if for example it is 10.00pm, that is 5 minutes after there should be no noise, the noise-sensitive neighbours call the police. And the Swiss police answer the call.

Or they put a note in the letter box of the American miscreants. On the last note, which a lady lawyer from New York received, was written: “Please take off your street shoes in the apartment!”. I asked her whether she wore shoes with high-heels, but she denied doing so quite strongly. Then I wanted to know whether at home in the night she dances or carries out other strenuous activities. Nothing of the kind. She even has carpets on about 80% of the floor. She is a lady, 50+, and that all sounded very plausible.

New York is noisy. Day and night. Quiet you will find nowhere. Therefore, their way of dealing with noise and peace is really very different from ours. A barking dog a floor above or below does not disturb. Road works by day or night they are used to. That also doesn’t disturb them.

The next touchy issue is car driving. They are easily caught for speeding and parking fines in Switzerland. My friend from New York says that they are afraid to open their letter-box and in the meantime she will no longer drive into Zürich by car. She finds some rules quite confusing and often is fined for mistakes. For example, in the USA all traffic lights show the same colour. They are all on red or all on green. In Switzerland, on the other hand it is not unusual that the right light is on red and the left on green or there is a green arrow next to the red. For my friend a horror, because she is not sure how she should react. So she has picked up a few 250 franc fines for driving through red and that because she had crossed the white line.

The next is waste disposal. That is a science of its own and in the meantime you need to attend a course to know what you should or may do with one’s own waste.

But the New Yorkers I know are pleased to be here and enjoy the high quality of life. And I am happy that they are here, because with them the local environment is more colourful and perhaps a bit more tolerant and not always so grim.

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