August is a special month, as it is National Day in both Singapore (Aug 9) and Switzerland (Aug 1). Both countries share similarities: Small, safe, extremely rich, with the same knack of having bizarre rules…(No chewing gum in Singapore, no washing of clothes on Sunday in Switzerland!) We even have the same red and white for our national flag colours! Yet living in these two different parts of the world has also attuned me to the various little differences in terms of the living habits, culture, and administration.
In this National Day post: I’ve outlined 14 most interesting differences between Singapore and Switzerland that represented significant changes in our way of living, and also to celebrate the beauty of diversity between our two homes.
Coming from Singapore where we’re used to malls opening till at least 10pm at any day of the week… it took us awhile to adjust to Switzerland, where all shop closes by 18.30 on weekdays!
Thinking to get some late-night beer or snacks from 7-11 or Cheers? While you can do so Singapore, too bad, that doesn’t happen in Switzerland. Of course, some stores are open 24/7, but they are typically only located near train stations or petrol kiosks.
As for Sundays, Swiss cities turn into ghost towns. What’s more surprising is the fact that the Swiss population actually VOTED to keep the shops closed on Sun- and holidays to protect retail staff! Their rationale? If you can plan your time wisely, there’s no reason why you can’t get your groceries done in time on weekdays and Saturdays.
In hot and humid Singapore where we rely so heavily on A/C usage: (be it in buses, trains, shopping malls, offices, even toilets) you would be hard-pressed to find air-conditioning anywhere in Switzerland (and in Europe in general). Given the cool climate here, it isn’t really necessary! Except during the summer when temperature shoots up, and cooling fans and ventilators are all decked out on sale.
We were so used to stocking up on NTUC Fairprice plastic bags in Singapore, mainly to contain our groceries and for lining our bins. We got rid of this habit in Switzerland, since only paper bags or recyclable bags are sold. It’s a good change for us environmentally, and nowadays we mainly carry own recyclable shopping bags.
Same Cashiers, Different Services
Cashiers in Switzerland do not pack items into your bags! Unlike in Singapore where the cashier aunties will scan your items, and then sort them all nicely into the plastic bags, according to wet and dry items. Here, the cashiers will ONLY scan the items, roll it down an aisle and you’re expected to pack your own bags. FAST. If you’re too slow, you hog up the packing space and that would certainly invite some frowns! So I guess you do have it slightly easier if you work as a cashier in Switzerland than in Singapore :B
In Singapore, each household will certainly have their own laundry machine, because the sheer thought of having to share your washing machine or dryer with your neighbours is just UNTHINKABLE.
Unfortunately in Switzerland, renters in many apartment buildings have to share a communal laundry room. And being Switzerland, that itself comes with a entire stringent system to regulate the menial task of doing laundry.
- There is a public roster, where tenants are assigned a particular day in the week to do their laundry. If you get an unlucky afternoon slot that clashes with your working hours, woe to you!
- Pasted on the wall is a strict code of conduct dictating what you can and cannot do in the laundry room. E.g. to clean laundry machine after use, no leaving behind empty laundry containers or washing powder boxes, to remove lindt from the dryer, to sweep the floor…
- If you decide to cheat by doing your laundry on days assigned to other neighbours….get ready for a FIERY paggro letter stuck on your door if you get caught!
- Doing laundry on Sundays is forbidden. Although within my building, I’d admit that the neighbours and ourselves are rather lax about it…and a couple of times we have used the washing machine on this holy Sabbath day. What to do!? Just imagine having a stockpile of smelly socks, workout/hiking gears and work shirts, having to wait TILL your assigned day? You just have to risk that Sunday!
via GIPHY, this GIF shows a different version of la bise in France, 2 times on the cheek)
Before the coronavirus hit, la bise (3 kisses on the cheek in Switzerland, left, right left) is a common form greeting in Switzerland. That was really uncomfortable for me as a Singaporean, since we aren’t quite used to physical touches, especially if meeting someone for the very first time. With social distancing being the order of the day, this came as a slight relief to me since instead of bisous, people give elbow punches or just a wave.
Also, unlike in Singapore where you can get away with just waving at everyone or greeting the host in a large dinner function you’re wrong! No, you HAVE TO walk up and greet everyone individually. Same when it comes to toasting. You have to look at everyone in the eye, and say “sante”. Otherwise you’re deemed rude.
You would think that for a first-world country like Switzerland, they would be more efficient in their administration. Surprisingly, the Swiss still hold a very traditional mindset when it comes to official documentations, and many things remain largely paper-based. For instance, we tried submitting an email related to our rent adjustment to the Regie, only for them to reply our request has to be signed by hand and delivered by mail. Doing the taxes here is another nightmare altogether. And we even had to hire an accountant to have it all sorted out for us. These are definitely the instances where I miss Singapore’s no-hassle e-services!
8. Public Transport
In Singapore, everyone has to tap their EZ-Link card immediately after boarding the bus. Or tap at the station gantries before boarding the train. However in Switzerland, most people either have a prepaid annual GA transport card, or use the SBB app to purchase tickets in advance. That is why on Swiss buses, there’s no need to board only from the front to pay your fares. And you can hop on from any other carriages at the back!
In Singapore, young children are usually sent to full-time childcare, where parents pick them up after work. However things work a little different in Switzerland. Firstly, there are NO canteens in Swiss schools. Depending on the cantons where you live, school children from as young as 4 years old to 14 years old all return home for lunch midday, and then leave again for school between 1.15-1.30pm. EVERYDAY.
It must be a challenge especially for working parents without help oto have to pick up their kids mid-day and schedule their time around school hours!
In this aspect I do find the system here rather unfriendly towards parenthood and working mothers. Why the Swiss government do not build canteen facilities remains a bizarre mystery to me till this day!
Unlike Singapore where most bathroom facilities are free of charge, you’d find it a challenge to find free bathrooms in Switzerland. Although sometimes you’d lucky enough to find a run-down and smelly one in the neighbourhood parks! Minimally, it would costs 2 francs to enter a bathroom at the train station. So just remember to empty your bladder before heading out!
Cash vs cashless payments
Singapore is catching up with adoption of cashless payments like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay. And it’s increasingly common to find QR scanning codes at shops and restaurants, even at hawker centres. However, I’ve yet to see any QR code payment functions set foot in Switzerland. Most of the time, people (especially true for older crowd) are still paying by cash. In fact, you can pay with a giant 500 or 1000 CHF note. And the cashier would promptly find change for you without even batting an eyelid.
Both Singapore and Switzerland’s reputation as rich countries are unshakeable. Singaporeans still tend to be quite a status-oriented. Those who can afford it will usually buy flashy cars, jewellery and handbags to display their wealth. However in Switzerland, any mention of money (or salary) is a BIG taboo in conversations. And as the saying goes, “If you’ve got it, hide it” (Zurich is an exception though). No doubt there are millionaires in both countries. But you might find it harder to spot them in the latter, disguised amongst casual slacks and driving modest SUVs.
Prices of basic classic manicures here starts from 80 CHF (112SGD), and that’s a hefty sum to pay! Thats why I’ve swapped to using nail stickers henceforth. But I’d observed that style-wise, Swiss ladies (or maybe European women in general) prefer SUPER long gel extensions. The witchier-looking the better, best if they are topped with lots of glitter. It’s a contrast to how we ladies like it in Singapore. Usually rounded, with more attention on intricate designs and patterns.
Gambling and Lottery!
In Singapore, uncle and aunties brave the queue under the hot sun to buy their lucky 4D numbers or Toto. The dream to strike it big is the same in both countries. But in Switzerland lottery comes in the form of scratch cards! It’s so popular that every time I stroll around the neighbourhood, I’d definitely find someone scratching on their lucky cards with so much intent!
Another striking difference is that slot machines are also allowed in restaurants and bars. At least in my canton, Vaud (not sure if its the same in the rest of Switzerland). The cafe at my apartment downstairs has a slot machine.It always sees brisk business with seniors crowding around it. At least they don’t have to pay a $100 entry fee for gambling like how it is in Singapore!
Happy 55th and 729th National Day Singapore and Switzerland!
Over the past 1.5 years of living abroad, my concept of ‘home’ has been gradually reshaped. They say that there’s the home where you are born into, and the home where you settle into. I’ll always count myself blessed to have the opportunity to experience the best of both: The enjoyment of a new country, culture and lifestyle in Switzerland, with the promise that our native home Singapore where we belong will always be there when we return.
If you are an expat living in Switzerland, share with me! What noticeable differences in culture, living habits and administration do you observe between Switzerland and your home country?