Living in Switzerland For Members

Five things about living in Switzerland that will surprise you

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Five things about living in Switzerland that will surprise you
Unless you live alone on top of a mountain, you shouldn't flush your toilet at night. Photo by AFP

Some aspects of Swiss life, rules, and practices may be surprising — or even shocking — to new arrivals from more conservative or less regimented countries.


Taxpayer-funded prostitution

The ’world’s oldest profession’ is not only perfectly legal and considered as a ‘regular’ service industry, but public funds are sometimes used to pay for sex workers’ comfort and safety.

For instance, in a 2012 referendum, 52 percent of Zurich voters approved the municipal plan to, um, erect 25 ‘sex boxes’ — basically, garage-like structures — where the city’s prostitutes could ply their trade in private, away from downtown’s gritty areas.

The boxes are under 24-hour surveillance, have a social worker on site, and include a laundry, shower and café.

The sex boxes are financed by taxpayers' money. Photo by AFP

Total cost of the project was CHF 2 million to build the structure, and another CHF 800,000 was earmarked for annual operation costs — expenses that voters apparently thought made a lot of street sense.


Walking (or perhaps riding a bicycle or e-scooter) in the buff is also legal in Switzerland, as it is considered  an important element of ‘personal freedom’.

While Swiss penal code does not expressly say public nudity should be practiced, it does not prohibit it either. It only bans ‘public indecency’.

After some people in the canton Appenzell complained that a hiker with no clothes on walked past a family with small children and a Christian rehabilitation centre, a court ruled that cantons can ban public nudity, but few did.


The dignity of plants

Before you pick a flower on an Alpine meadow, think twice.

There’s actually a regulation called “The dignity of living things with regard to plants”. 

Although the law is written in a 'legalese', difficult to understand language, one of its articles clearly states that “decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason” is strictly forbidden.

This applies to all humans passing by the flower, whether naked or clothed.

If you pick this flower for no valid reason, you are breaking the law. Photo by AFP

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break 

You must have buddy for your pet

The Swiss Animal Protection Act says that small domestic animals like rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs tend to get lonely without a companion, so they must be kept in pairs.

This law is included in Switzerland’s Constitution, so it is not a joke.

In fact, the Swiss are so serious about animal welfare (along with plant welfare) that the canton of Basel may actually launch a referendum granting "fundamental rights to life for non-human primates". (No word about rights for human primates). 

For animal lovers, this vote is no monkey business.

Quiet in the bathroom!

This is not a law but rather a more or less common practice among tenants in Swiss apartments.

To be a good and considerate neighbour in Switzerland means not flushing your toilet after 10 pm. This may relate to all kinds of noises being forbidden after 10 pm.

Of course, much depends on how thin your walls are, how often you use the loo at night, and how finicky your neighbours are. 


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[email protected] 2020/09/24 19:04
You wrote " 'pubic' funds are sometimes used to pay for sex workers' comfort and safety." Don't correct it... It's such a great Freudian slip! 52 years ago when I worked in Germany in the international Department of a bank someone made the same mistake in a letter that was forwarded to all departments, via these old-fashioned pneumatic tubes...a riot... In the funny sense. Switzerland has a special place in my heart it is the only place where I would consider having a citizenship besides my own (which is not exactly doing well right now unfortunately) stay safe and healthy and hopefully sane as well!!

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