First Impressions of Zurich

That red tower is the building where I live in right now
This is where art “ended”
Cabaret Voltaire
Universität Zürich Irchel
Universität Zürich Irchel
Lake Zurich
Lake Zurich

I have been here for only ten days, so these are my first and most likely wrong impressions of this place and its people.

The order here is truly impressive, everything is clean and I don’t think I have heard people honking or driving recklessly.

In Zurich they divide their trash to recycle, and this they take very seriously. You have a bag for bottles, a bag for cans, one for the compost and then one for the “normal” trash. I don’t even know what goes there after you have split everything on the other bags. They told me (and I believe it) that sometimes the trash bags get inspected; and if they find elements that do not belong to that bag they will thoroughly go through everything inside it, trying to find out a letter, receipt or anything that can take them to the owner. It would not surprise me if they had “trash detectives” or something like that.

I have been told you will get a speeding ticket here if you drive one or two kilometers per hour above the speed limit. It is a good thing then that there is no need to drive around Zurich (and perhaps Switzerland), as the public transportation is great.

When you are crossing a street with no lights the cars will automatically stop for you to cross. I would strongly suggest not to attempt this in Buenos Aires, as it could take a team of surgeons a long time to remove you from the windshield.

Despite the above mentioned civilities, people are not as polite as in the US. Or perhaps they express their politeness differently. In the US it is common for people to say “I am sorry” whenever they walk in front of you, touch you with their elbow or tell you that the bar is about to close. The other person always say “It’s OK” in response to this. So for instance, someone walks in front of you, and as soon as they notice they have inconvenienced you, they will say “I am sorry”, so then you reply “It’s OK!”. If they mug you they will say “I am sorry, give me your wallet”, then you reply “It’s OK! But I don’t have much cash with me…”. Or “I cheated on you, I am sorry” would be followed by “It’s OK, don’t worry!” You get the idea. Since I have been living in the US for many years I am still in that mind set, so I keep saying ” I am sorry”, though there are no replies to this, ever. Not even a glance, the person just walks away. Nobody says “I am sorry” and nobody expects you to say it either, as everybody is minding their own business.

Without even been aware of it I went out with a t shirt that had a German flag on it. A Swiss lady told me a lot of her fellow countrymen would not appreciate that, as they view the Germans as people that “come here to steal their jobs”. A guy and a girl from Germany told me they were shocked to find this animosity when they arrived to Switzerland, as they would have never imagined they are viewed in this way

Plenty of people dress extremely well here.

I find it interesting that Switzerland has a German, an Italian and a French region, each with its own language and culture. I asked a girl that comes from the Italian region if she thought the culture around the Italian region was similar to the one in Italy or if it had acquired its own characteristics. When she answered “the culture there is completely different” her boyfriend (he is from the “German” Switzerland) said, at the same time “it is exactly the same”. They argued about this for some time and I am not sure what the conclusion was, but she told me that some Italian and French towns that are close to Switzerland want to become Swiss, as they love how well things are going here. She follows Italian politics as entertainment, as she cannot believe how messed up things are there. She was amazed to see how Italian politicians do not listen to each other, as “they just try to shout louder than the other one”.

In the US when you smile people smile back, here they look at you as if you were suffering from facial nerve paralysis.

A conversation with a German girl from work:
(she) I go dancing salsa with a group of friends, you should come.
(me) Sure, but I am not really a salsa dancer…
(she) Oh don’t worry about it. This salsa club has a room for each style of salsa. I go to the Puerto Rican salsa style. What style of salsa do you dance?
(me) Style? I don’t know… Swiss style?
(she) (laughs)
(me) They have a room per style? These guys keep an order even for that?
(she) Yeah, well, the place is huge. There is a party coming up, the “Latin Party Caliente” you should definitely come with us.
(me) Latin Party Caliente? It figures…I will throw up a party only to call it “Latin Party Fria” Just to stop that cliche at least for once you know
(she) ?

Conversation at the supermarket
Cashier grabs my bag with bananas inside
(Cashier says something in German)
(me) I am sorry, I don’t speak German
(cashier does not say “it’s ok!” but handles me the bag with the bananas) They are too wide
(me) Too wide?
(cashier, trying to find the right word) Yeah too wide
(me) Well, I agree they are sort of big, but I did not know there was a size limit for the bananas I can take!
(cashier gives up trying to find the word and points at a scale)
(me) Oh, you mean I have to weigh them…
I told this story to another foreigner, a girl from Italy. I told her I believed she had said “too wide” since everything here is kept in such a tight order. She told me of the time she placed a green and a red pepper inside a bag, and when she was about to pay for them they made her put each pepper in separate bags and weigh them again. She was perplexed, as both peppers were exactly the same price.

Despite my small incident at the supermarket everybody here speaks fluent English (and I mean everybody)

Today I went hiking and met a couple, both of them born and raised here in Zurich. We did not know where to go so we decided to just climb uphill, though there was no path marked. Not sure if that was a good idea (it was exhausting and I did not even have hiking boots), but they were super nice people. The guy organizes parties on the top of the Uetliberg forest, so I told them I would join their next party. Sweet.

Cannot wait to see more of Switzerland.

And speaking of Latin Party Caliente:


2 thoughts on “First Impressions of Zurich

  1. Nice report! Thanks. I was in Zurich airport some years ago, I flew to Turin. I got the feeling you are describing: they are absolutely organized people.

    And I figured a better relationship with the Germans. Partially it was because of my German instruction books always show Germany, Switzerland and Austria like a “community”.

    • Thanks Nuno!
      So I had two Swiss people telling me about that slight apprehension with the Germans. They did tell me it was mainly the older generations that felt this way, but then the Germans I spoke to that confirmed this are University students that mix mainly with other University students. They told me they were surprised to find this out when they arrived here, and that you can find plenty of articles on the “German invasion” in the yellow press (they also pointed out that those are the newspapers that are given for free in public transportation, thus reaching a very wide audience). On the other hand I am sure it is not a huge deal, it sounded like something they found slightly annoying, but not a deal breaker. I guess it is just human nature, even in a globalized World the necessity of belonging to a tribe is deeply rooted in us. People always freak out whenever they start seeing “too many” foreigners…and it happens even in Switzerland!
      I should say though that the Swiss people I have met so far were cool and friendly and did not seem to care less if I was coming from Germany, the US or Mars.

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