I’m going to start with the things that impressed us the most: recycling. In Switzerland, recycling is not mandatory. It is strictly your decision if you do it or not. But the garbage that is not recyclable, the so-called waste, is being paid for by its weight. In other words, everything that you throw away in the black garbage sack is going to be taken into account as per its volume.
No matter if it’s a sticker applied to the sack, or if the sack itself costs more, or if there’s a different method because every canton implemented this differently, the price is at the end very big if you don’t recycle. In this price, you also pay the actual cost of taking care of the garbage, a process that’s very environmentally friendly: the garbage here is not taken into landfills, there’s no such thing around, but it’s being burnt in special plants, with special filters to protect the surrounding area as well.
If, for example, you’ll put bottles or PETs in these garbage bags, this cost will be through the roof. Basically, no one is making you recycle, but you’re making this decision at your own cost. Money is usually a good lever to convince people to do certain things, so it’s probably a winning strategy everywhere, not only where I come from.
So, besides the things than have to actually be thrown into the waste container, there’s everything else. There are some special, biodegradable garbage bags that can be used for any greens, usually food scraps and plants. These bags are usually smaller and cheaper, and you can either make compost by yourself or have them collected and made into biogas, which is then used to fuel the public transport system. Basically, you are recycling biodegradable waste, an action that costs you nothing, and you get in return a smaller price for the public transport subscription, so it’s almost like you’re getting money for recycling.
Then, in a separate manner, you can collect plastic waste, in special, yellow, bigger bags, and these are collected on special days of the month, usually once every two weeks. These bags come to represent a good chunk of the garbage created by a household, I didn’t even realize how much plastic I use until I got here.
Also in a separate manner, but they have to be brought into special centers, and there’s usually one in every neighborhood, one can recycle glass, clothes, and aluminum. The glass needs to be separated according to color, the clothes need to be in some special bags we received in the mail, and the aluminum has its own, separate container. Fun fact: Switzerland does not produce aluminum, it just doesn’t have this natural resource on its territory. But, because we live in a consumerist world, Switzerland currently has enough aluminum for its daily needs and it actually got into the point of exporting it. In other words, they are making a profit out of garbage!
Personally, we also recycle paper, for which there’s one day every month, and it has to be made into a compact package with a rope attached, and then disposed of on the sidewalk, in front of your house. At specific centers located in stores, you can take different other stuff to be selectively recycled, but we have to discover all of them first. By now, we only manage to find a place to bring in used CDs (and you’re also destroying them when throwing them, so their content will never be seen), light bulbs, batteries of all types, under pressure containers, PETs (they can also be recycled separately, not only with the plastic bags) or some special containers used for milk.
If something does not match the conditions mentioned above, for example, if the paper is not made into a package with the help of a rope, or if you don’t put a sticker on the garbage bag, your garbage will NOT be taken and you’ll get a sticker that explains how to properly do it. I have to admit I was not at all aware of how much waste I produce for one month until I had to collect it separately and saw the ratio. I think around 10% is actually waste, everything else can be recycled, so that’s how far away we were in Romania compared to what we should be.
When it comes to shopping because we cook a lot so we can eat good and healthy at work, we usually go to Germany, and lately, we have also started to go to France too. Almost everyone in Basel shops in Germany, there’s even a big shopping center right after the border with a few stores and a big supermarket. The first time we got there it was by tram, and then by car.
We managed to get lost the first time we went by car because we didn’t have any Internet connection, we only had off-line maps and a GPS, and we managed to get into a tunnel long enough to alter our GPS. Of course, we got out on the wrong side, but we managed to get to the destination in the end. It took us nearly 4 hours to find everything we needed, and we barely learned where could we find everything, but since then the supermarket is continuously changing and remodeling, so we can rarely find things in the same place as we thought they were, so shopping here is a new experience every time.
As you can anticipate, knowing me, of course, we got lost again on our way back, since we got into the same tunnel and we got out on the wrong exit, again. It took us three trips to not get that tunnel thing wrong and about two months to not rely on the maps anymore. Most people would rather go to Germany also because they can get a tax refund from the German state; the procedure implies getting a stamp from the border office, where you have to prove you don’t live in Germany, but outside of European Union, and then the tax is being deducted as a credit in the same store where you bought the articles from, so you can use the money in the same place. But, since we have an L permit, we cannot make use of this advantage, which kind of sucks, but we cannot change this at the moment.
We have recently discovered a Lidl shop right after the border with France, and this is easily accessible to us. It’s way smaller than the one in Germany, but it’s also way closer and they have very good fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, but the options for other products are the best.
Also, for smaller, daily shopping trips, we can go to Migros, one of the Swiss chains that I think has almost a monopoly on all sorts of services: market, flower shop, sports shop, gas stations, electronic stores (by the way, this is where you can recycle your electronic devices), there’s even a mobile SIM with their name and they even provide language classes. It’s not the only store but, as you can see, it covers everything.
On a Sunday we can go shopping only in Germany or in the special place the landlords have showed us on the day we got here, since everything else is closed. We didn’t try to go shopping during nighttime, but some stores in the train station area are probably open, and gas stations are usually open until later, but not non-stop.
There are a few rules of conduct people respect in here, and they seem quite normal to us now. For example, after 10 PM no one is allowed to make noise in the house, and this also means one cannot take a shower. It felt stupid in the beginning, but I actually think it is quite loud if you’re in a room right next to the bathroom, so I kind of get the point. Also, one cannot listen to music loudly, or use electronic devices that make a lot of noise, like a blender or a hair drier. So we started to be a little closer to be morning people, and we got used to this schedule, even if we still find it weird that there’s still some daylight at 10 PM.
The parks are very clean and taken care of, and they are also quite a few. There’s a lot of green space around, which helps a lot in not feeling like you’re suffocating if you’re in the middle of the town during summer. In parks and on the streets people clean up after their dogs. And there are a lot of dog owners, we can see them in the morning when we go to work.
Absolutely everyone cleans up after their dogs and the dogs themselves are very well trained. I am very afraid of stray dogs in Romania, I was actually surrounded by a pack where I used to live, and it traumatized me a little. But knowing this, and I still feel comfortable here to walk past any dog I encounter. Before going out with a dog, every dog owner has to go with it for a few hours of training, at least to ensure the control commands.
In the public transport, the owner will pay half a ticket for the dog, and the bog just sits near the owner’s feet, and they don’t even make things harder when the place is crowded. I am not actually sure I have heard a dog even bark since I got here.
Next to the parks, the waters are very clean too. The tap water is drinkable and apparently even the water in the Luzern lake is too – or at least this is what they tell the tourists. The Rhine has its moments when it’s muddy, usually after intensive rainfall, but it’s usually clean enough so that people can enjoy a swim during summertime.
Relatively close to home we have a small forest where we enjoy walking around and, even if we often see people barbecuing in it, we have never seen produce wraps lying around, no matter if there are no trash bins in the forest. There’s no need for that, not even on the streets there are no trash cans everywhere and the streets are still clean. So this is not an excuse, you can keep things clean even without having easy options nearby.
Some people come in the woods for a run and I think there are some paths specifically for this purpose, especially because they have some things mounted once in a while to help them warm up the muscles or to exercise. In the small lake in this forest we have seen waterlilies, cute ducks and a cute sea turtle, and in the woods we have found some pieces of wood sculpted by someone with a huge amount of free time and an even bigger one of talent.
The houses are really taken care of so you cannot find one that looks old or untidy. They’re really pretty, painted in nice colors, and the general aspect of streets is the order of it all. There’s no red house near a blue house near a green house, but the colors are somehow more in the pastel area and they match perfectly, without creating weird combinations.
Usually, houses have a small garden in front of it, where people put flowers and a covered area for the bikes, and all of this is surrounded by a small fence, less than a meter tall, that has the sole purpose of demarcation between yards, and by no means they could keep people out if they would be willing to come inside.
Children usually play in these gardens or on the streets, or they are making use of the parks and are playing and running around free. They’re very well educated, or at least this is how they seem for me, an outsider that doesn’t speak the language. They are walking to kindergarten or school by themselves, sometimes using the public transportation, and they are not being taken to school by car.
As far as we understood from our colleagues, parents are not allowed to take them to school for longer than a few months in the beginning, until they learn the way to go. After they learn, they start wearing a reflective device around their necks and their backpacks on their backs and they’re going by themselves, at around 5-6 years of age.
The school trips are also made by tram, no one rents special buses for them, and they are being accompanied by 2-3 teachers, depending on the age of the children and the number of them in the group. If they’re going hiking, you can see all of them in hiking gear, carrying their own luggage, and they’re taking the tram and then the train.
Right from the start of school classes, they take some sort of a drivings class for bikes, and they even have a thing similar to a driving range where they learn who has the right of way, how to decide priorities in traffic, how to signal their intention and when should they walk with the bike instead of riding it, and in the end they take an exam for riding a bike which is similar to the one for a driving license.
Parents usually have a small trailer that they can attach to their bikes that they can use to carry around the children and/or shopping items, so children are exposed to traffic since they’re quite small. It seems to me they are being raised to be very independent, or at least this is my outside perception, and, even though it makes me feel quite unsettled for our future children, I still feel confident that they’ll have a pretty nice life if we decide to stay here.