As counter-intuitive as it seems, Switzerland has always seemed to receive a bad reputation on account of the fact that it enjoys a high living standard. For evidence of this, we need look no further than Orson Welles’ famous monologue in The Third Man (based upon similar comments made by the painter McNeill Whistler), in which he castigates the Swiss for “five hundred years of democracy and peace” that produced nothing more than “the cuckoo clock.” The country’s steadfast commitment to neutrality, even in times of great geo-political upheaval, is one clear source of such resentment – but whatever one’s personal take is on such matters, it cannot be denied that the Swiss standard of living is easily among the world’s best. The nation enjoys one of the world’s highest life expectancies behind Japan, with the cities of Zurich and Geneva being ranked as the #2 and #8 cities in the world, respectively, for overall quality of life. The net worth of the average Swiss adult, meanwhile, is over 500,000 USD, even after their considerable portion of the national debt is figured into the picture.It is even more surprising that Switzerland enjoys its relative harmony when we consider that the primary spoken language differs from one Swiss canton to the next (there are thirteen cantons in all, with either Italian, French, Romansh or one of many German variants prevailing in each.) Furthermore, even as it claims some of the most lax laws on gun ownership in Europe (a state of affairs that results from citizens’ militias, rather than a standing army, being responsible for the country’s defense), the country enjoys an exponentially more peaceful daily life than the similarly well-armed United States.
Happiest Place on Earth?
Going by the famed “Big Mac Index” of the Economist magazine, Switzerland compares with Norway as having one of the world’s highest costs of living where purchasing power is concerned. Statistical data such as this, however, rarely takes into account certain ‘intangible’ factors such as the enjoyment that citizens actually derive from what they have purchased (anyone can, of course, have a Big Mac cheaply and still be dissatisfied with it.) It also does not consider the level of enjoyment derived from experiences that do not involve any sort of monetary transaction. Judging from the University of Leicester’s ‘Happiness with Life’ index that was published in 2006, Switzerland was at the pinnacle of such contentment, though at the time it has to share this honor with Denmark – while this is dated information, there is no reason to believe that Swiss attitudes have changed dramatically in intervening years.
There is a strong reputation in Switzerland for convenience and user-friendliness: phenomena such as the pairing of the post office and bank under one roof are particularly helpful for taking care of daily errands. Places of business, meanwhile, though they may not be places in which to act “casually” until you have been told it’s acceptable to do so, are more relaxed than those of neighboring Germany. Animal lovers may want to take note of the ability to bring their dogs to (some) workplaces, and a higher degree of acceptance towards domestic animals on public transportation and dining places than in the United Kingdom or United States.
Something Totally Different
As hinted at above, Switzerland seems to be a good choice among the European countries for those who view surprises and harmless disruptions of their customary routine as a contributor to ‘quality of life.’ For example, foreign residents in Lausanne have noted the occasional transportation of herd animals to the grounds of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne [Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne] to graze there. Other pleasant little quirks include the ability to find good-quality loaves of bread at gas service stations (these will also end up being the “go to” shopping place on Sundays for non-Europeans unfamiliar with the continental habit of closing grocery stores on that day), or to be served food at restaurants with a special candlelit ‘warming tray’ (this holds true for some restaurants not at the ‘high end’ of the scale.) Some such ‘quirks,’ while potentially inconvenient, are still amusing in their own right, e.g. Swiss stores’ habit of affixing a store logo sticker on the outside of a gift-wrapped package (and, presumably, making the gift’s contents a little more obvious.)
Expatriates living in Switzerland will be exempt from some of the nation’s quirkier rules: for example, a child born of native Swiss parents must have his or her name selected from a pre-approved name list. On the other hand, expatriates should certainly not expect immunity from all other local laws, and should be prepared to deal with the very random ‘license and registration’ checks conducted on drivers of motor vehicles. Anyone planning on moving into a shared condominium or apartment building, regardless of its value, should also familiarize themselves with the intricate social conventions governing these spaces: for starters, always adhere to the assigned time that you are given to use laundry facilities, or be prepared to make a very bad impression otherwise.