A love letter to Zurich

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I moved to Zurich in Switzerland many years ago. I knew I love it, but I had never thought about why. This article is my attempt to articulate my love for this city.

Zurich wakes up. (c) myself 🙂

A quick note before I begin: Not everything is perfect in Switzerland. Many people experience racism and other forms of discrimination. I am writing this article from a privileged (White) perspective. Additionally, life is expensive here. If you earn less than the median salary (around CHF 7700 per month in the City of Zurich) life will become challenging.

Zurich, I love you, and here is why:

1. People are nice to each other

Swiss culture is renowned for its politeness, which can be quite extreme. When exploring nature, hiking in the mountains, or strolling through parks in Zurich, you may be greeted by others. A simple “Grüezi” or a nod is the customary response.

I also greet the bus driver when entering or exiting through the front door. It’s a way to be friendly and show respect for me, and it’s usually reciprocated.

When asking a supermarket salesperson for something, it’s not uncommon to say something like, “Grüezi. Excuse me. If you have time, could I please have 100g of salami? Merci.” Even Swiss people joke about it! But I really appreciate this. A smile and a “merci” does make everything easier here.

2. Trust is everywhere

People, businesses, and authorities all trust one another. Deals are often done verbally or with a handshake. It’s common to pay via bank transfer after receiving the products or services, even from online stores. You can even call the tax authorities for advice on how to file your taxes in the most beneficial way—for you.

Speaking of taxes, most people pay their private taxes through bank transfers. Your employer will not deduct the taxes from your salary for you. Each year, you must declare your last year’s income to the authorities. Afterwards, you will receive an invoice and have 30 days to pay your taxes. (Foreigners who moved newly to Switzerland or have a B residence permit have different rules that apply to them.)

3. It’s safe

As a woman, I feel safe everywhere in Switzerland, particularly in Zurich. Reports of violence do occur, but they are rare.

Some weeks ago, my company received some packages. However, since no one was in the studio that day (a Friday), the postal service left them outside our entrance. Our studio is in a busy area of a quiet neighbourhood. After the weekend, on Monday morning, the packages were still there, untouched.

Normally, items are not stolen; rather, people try to return them to their rightful owners. I’m always surprised by this. Unfortunately, this is not true for bicycles: Mine was already stolen, just like everyone else’s in Zurich.

4. It’s quiet

Zurich is incredibly quiet. In the most literal sense, there is very little noise pollution. In a last-minute decision in 1970ies, the authorities halted construction of an autobahn through the city. All trains and trams in Switzerland run on electric power. Even most buses in Zurich are electric or electric trolley buses for many years already. I don’t know why, but scooters are not very common here as well, or mostly run on battery nowadays.

Yes, we have a lot of construction going on in Zurich, but construction in Switzerland is unbelievably efficient and quick. I grew up in Germany, and I’m still impressed by how quickly new buildings are built here.

The loudest here are the churches. They can be very loud and annoying, but also the bells are disappearing more and more.

4. Special Swiss words

I love the Swiss way of speaking. Zurich is located in the German-speaking region of Switzerland, but the German spoken here is not the same as in Germany. In fact, each village, valley, and city has its dialect. I don’t speak Swiss German, but I have incorporated some “helvitisms” (the name given to words that are uniquely Swiss) into my Standard German.

Some words are hard to explain, but “aperöle” isn’t one of them. In Switzerland, having a drink with friends, family, or colleagues in the late afternoon or early evening is called an “Apero”. You might say, “Let’s meet for an Apero”. The verb for doing an Apero is “aperöle”. I love this.

5. 500’000 inhabitants in Zurich

Zurich has around 500,000 inhabitants, making it the perfect size for me. It offers all the advantages of a large city, such as cultural activities, sports, and good public transport, but it’s also easy to get around. You can get from one end of the city to the other in less than an hour by bike, public transport, or car.

6. Great nature

Zurich is a very green city, with parks and trees everywhere you look. If you walk out of the city, you will soon find yourself in the middle of nature. Zurich is surrounded by a beautiful green belt, known as “Switzerland”. Nature is very accessible here and can be explored by taking the trains to the top of the mountains. That way, you can experience and appreciate the beauty of the Swiss Alps.

7. Infrastructure just works

There is no need to worry about infrastructure; it just works. Streets, tunnels, and bridges are kept in a safe condition, and public transport is reliable. If you plan a trip involving multiple buses, trams, or trains, you can expect to arrive on time. This level of reliability is not achieved by magic, but rather by having slack in the system. Throughout Zurich, buses are parked and ready to quickly replace any bus or tram that can’t continue its journey. The same applies to trains; in all major stations in Switzerland, trains with crews are waiting in case of a significant delay of another train.

8. Everything is clean

If you can clean it, you can expect that it is regularly cleaned. Swiss people are no cleaner than anyone else, as can be seen after music festivals when the aftermath is left behind. However, city administrations across Switzerland invest a great deal of money into daily cleaning efforts, ensuring that the streets and public spaces are kept neat and tidy. My former boss once quipped, “Switzerland is likely the only country on earth that gets a thorough scrubbing each morning.”

9. Political divide is not as prominent

The political divide between the left and right, conservative and liberal ideologies is growing in Switzerland as well, though not as drastically as in other countries.

The tradition of the political system in Switzerland is one of a concordance democracy, in which all major parties are part of the government and there is no opposition. There is no law requiring this, but it has been the accepted practice for many years. All political actors, from right to left, agree that this is the best way to run the country. This setup requires a lot of compromise and collaboration between actors with very diverse perspectives, which helps to minimize the political divide.

10. Internet is fast

At the office, we have a 10 Gbit/sec synchronous connection, while at home we only opted for the 1 Gbit/sec option, both of which cost the same. We just decided that 1 Gbit/sec was sufficient for our private needs. Additionally, the 4G/5G mobile coverage across the country is incredibly fast. Even on mountains, you often get an excellent connection.

Trains in Switzerland do not offer Wi-Fi. People are expected to use 4G/5G connection with their mobile phones. For Swiss citizens, this works very well, but it’s quite a bummer for tourists.

Zurich, let’s grow old together. I love you.