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TRAVEL NEWS

Seven things that may surprise you when traveling in Switzerland

Among first things you will probably notice while in the country is how very expensive and very beautiful Switzerland is. But there are also many other surprises you are likely to discover.

Seven things that may surprise you when traveling in Switzerland

Depending on how much you know about Switzerland before you travel, and what your level of expectations is, you may be quite surprised by what you find along the way.

Cleanliness

One of the first things you are likely to notice (especially if you come from one of Switzerland’s neighbours, which shall remain unnamed for the purpose of this article) is how well maintained the country is.

Not only is it clean but it is also manicured to the extreme: not a blade of grass is out of place, hedges are neatly cut and trimmed with utmost precision.

Travel: Six ways to save money while visiting Switzerland

If you see wildflowers and even weeds along the way, it is because they are allowed to grow — also in an arranged and organised manner. Nothing is left to chance or mother nature.

And if you notice that rivers flow in a straight pattern, it is probably also due to ingenious Swiss engineering.

Trimming hedges with precision is ‘Swiss’ thing. Photo: Pixabay

The road less travelled

Another surprise, somewhat related to the previous point, is that you will not find many off-the-beaten-track paths in Switzerland.

Vast majority of roads, both main and side, are paved, and that includes those in rural areas.

You may be able to find an unpaved path somewhere in a remote area or a hiking trail in the mountains (the Swiss would never call it a ‘dirt’ road), but that is probably by design.

Language

It is probably not a surprise that Switzerland is a multilingual country, but you may be stunned by how suddenly one linguistic region spills over into another, without any forewarning.

The only inkling you get that you passed from one language area to another is by signs on the (paved) road and hearing the locals speak.

However, most will also speak English, although they will first insist their skills are very bad (the Swiss don’t like to boast or show off).

But when they do start talking, you will be — yes, surprised — by their fluency in a language that’s not their own.

READ MORE: How did Switzerland become a country with four languages?

Transportation

You have probably heard of punctual Swiss trains.  But the country’s transportation network, including buses, trains and boats, can take you practically everywhere you want to go, both vertically and horizontally (which may explain why the Swiss like their roads paved).

Have you heard of PostBuses?

Those yellow buses travel the widths, lengths and heights of the country, including on narrow, winding, remote and mountain roads.

You can find more about this mode of transport here:

EXPLAINED: Why PostBuses are true Swiss icons

Postbus on a winding (paved) mountain road. Photo by Pixabay

Water!

You will find both good and bad surprises about water in Switzerland.

First, the bad: some restaurants will charge you for a carafe of water.

Good: You don’t have to pay a centime / Rappen / centessino for you water; you can quench your thirst at one of the numerous public drinking fountains that abound in practically every municipality in Switzerland.

These fountains are marked with Trinkwasser, Eau Potable, Acqua Potabile signs. They are perfectly safe.

Sometimes best things in life really are free.

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Trash

Please, please don’t throw your garbage away any which way.

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal (no surprise here) and have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Depending on the canton or municipality you are in, you will need a special bag or a sticker, and you will have to either place the trash in a specially designated communal bin, or put it to a curb on a specially designated day and in a specially designated place.

More information about Switzerland’s ‘trash culture’ can be found here:

Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

Cheers to that!

It’s a given that Switzerland has lots of cheese and chocolate, but you may be surprised to discover that it has plenty of its own wine as well.

In fact, you will probably find local vineyards practically anywhere you travel in the country.

Sloping vineyards like these overlooking Lake Biel are common in Switzerland. Photo. Pixabay

But beware, when in Switzerland, you can’t just shout “bottoms up”  and down your glass in one gulp. That’s because the Swiss have their own wine drinking culture — and that, certainly, is no surprise.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to drink wine like a Swiss

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

As you know by now, the Swiss have laws and regulations for pretty much everything — ranging from how to throw away your garbage to how to boil a lobster. But what about nudity? Here's the bare truth.

What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

The weather is getting warmer and you may want to shed as much of your clothing as you legally can. But how much skin can you safely bare in Switzerland?

You may be surprised to learn that Switzerland’s, um, penal code does not ban public nudity — as long as it is not indecent.

Interestingly though, the term “indecent” is not clearly defined in the Swiss law, so it is open to interpretation.

Be it as it may, the subject was widely reported in the media in 2009, when residents of Appenzell Innerrhoden complained about people hiking in their mountains, wearing nothing but backpacks and hiking boots.

Their concern had nothing to do with the fact that unclothed hikers took to the mountains in the middle of a cold Alpine winter.

Rather, they disliked that the walkers passed families with children and a Christian rehabilitation facility. 

The case eventually ended up before the cantonal court, which ruled that people should cover up when walking in public places. However, this ruling applies only in Appenzell, not in the rest of the country.

Another example of the liberal attitude that reigns in much of Switzerland regarding nudity has been the Body and Freedom Festival that took place regularly in August in various Swiss cities until 2018.

The festival exposed —  literally — actors performing in the buff in the midst of crowded city streets.

During one such event that took place in Bienne, local officials not only authorised the performance, but also contributed $20,000 of public funds to it.

The only condition they made was that, for safety reasons, naked performers stay clear of traffic, so drivers wouldn’t be distracted.

READ MORE: Naked artists cause stir with Zurich street performances

What about topless bathing in public?

This practice is much more common than walking in the nude (after all, how many naked hikers have you encountered on mountain trails?)

Nothing in the federal law addresses the issue of toplessness; cantons don’t have such legislation either, leaving final decisions in this matter to individual municipalities.

It is perhaps incorrect to say that the vast majority of communes in Switzerland actually authorise topless sunbathing and swimming, but they don’t ban it either.

In fact, there is currently a motion in the parliament (because apparently MPs are not busy enough with more pressing matters) urging Swiss officials to allow toplessness on public beaches.

“Such a topless rule is absolutely necessary in Switzerland”, said Social Democratic MP Tamara Funiciello.  “Women should be able to walk around, swim, and sunbathe as they please”.

Helena Trachsel, head of the Equal Opportunities Office in the canton of Zurich, also believes that toplessness makes sense: “From an equal opportunities perspective, it is clear that the same rules apply to all genders, including women and non-binary people”, she said.

However, Martin Enz, managing director of the Association of Indoor and Outdoor Pools sees no need for action: “If a person discreetly drops their bikini top and does not show off, this is accepted in most outdoor pools. The problem tends to be men who gape”, he noted.

So when and where can you take your clothes off in Switzerland?

What is clear is that you definitely should not walk around naked anywhere in Appenzell.

As far as other cantons and or /municipalities are concerned — whether you want to hike naked in the mountains or swim topless — it’s best to check with your local authorities about what is and is not permitted in your area before you leave your house buck naked.

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

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