Thursday, 26 May 2011

On Switzerland: Play By The Rules

"Damn I hate this country."  - Forum guy who must be lactose intolerant, because otherwise--I don't get it?

Switzerland is notorious amongst expats for having some fairly strict "dos and don'ts", with emphasis being placed mostly on the 'don'ts'. Since I only concern myself with the rules that affect my daily living in so far as getting along with my neighbours, here are the ones that I must adhere to:
  • No doing laundry on Sundays
  • Can't have a bath or shower after 9 p.m.
  • Must buy proper garbage bags for all waste
  • No raves or acid parties after 10 p.m
  • Can't vacuum on Sundays
  • Must correctly bundle all paper recycling for the garbage persons (loose paper results in the death penalty)
  • Not allowed to host air band competitions or talent searches in my apartment
  • I have to sign up for a laundry time
  • Singing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" on my balcony at the top of my lungs whilst in full costume is only allowed between the hours of never and never
  • Not allowed to do glass recycling on Sundays
  • Not acceptable to leave my clothes hanging in the drying room for longer than 24hrs
This extensive list is obviously highly inconvenient. Especially the fourth, seventh, and nineth bullet points. At least I can rest easy knowing that my building is quite new-age in that I am allowed to flush my toilet after 10 p.m. Watch out world, we're coming to get you!

Now as you might be able to tell, generally most of the house rules are targeted at minimizing noise in communal living spaces. For those people who have detached homes, a couple of rules they would have to follow is not washing their cars on Sundays, not mowing their lawns on Sundays, and keep the noise from backyard barbeques to a hushed murmur after the witching hour of 10 p.m.

I think in general most expats sort of roll their eyes at the apartment rules, but are okay with having to follow them because if there's one enemy you don't want to make, it's an enemy of your Swiss neighbour. And let's not be so arrogant as to classify all Swiss people as being noise police and hall monitors: it's generally the men and women in their golden years who have taken it upon themselves to make sure everyone in the building toes the line. Well, there's also the thirty and forty-somethings who can also be all up in your grill, but if they got laid I'm pretty sure they'd be chill too.

I do try to be open minded about the rules because Switzerland is tiny. For you British Columbia residents, Switzerland is roughly the size of the Cariboo. That means there are 7.4 million people living in 42,000 square kilometers, of which 60% of that dimension is allocated to the Alps (and its corresponding peaks and valleys).

This means living quarters are tight, and by necessity a lot people live in apartment buildings. And though we'd all like to think we're reasonable adults, the fact of the matter is at our very core all of us have the potential to be selfish pricks who just want to play Guitar Hero (extra heavy on the bass) at two o'clock in the morning with no regard for who is trying to sleep, or we just don't give a crap and want to leave our wet laundry in the machines all day long without any concern for whomever else needs to use them.

I come from a country where a person can move smack dab into the middle of a quarter section of land, throw their middle finger up in the air and say "Screw you all! I'm living by own rules and doing laundry whenever I feel like it and making as much noise as I want!", before turning up the volume and rocking out while the deer and bears look skeptically at their new neighbour and wonder how they can get him to piss off.

The Swiss don't have this luxury, which is precisely why Dan's parents left Switzerland in the first place. They wanted to live by fewer rules and make some noise. But for Dan and I (and this will make us sound like octogenarians) we are relishing the Swiss quiet because for the past six years we had been living in an apartment building where we endured some of the most ignorant neighbours possible. So ignorant that knocking on their door and asking them to please be quiet was about as productive as apparently asking Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep it in his pants and not knock-up the hired help. Further adding to our irritation was the fact our landlords were incredibly negligent and wouldn't enforce complaints; however, this same negligence also meant they never raised rent so it was capital 'K' ka-raaa-zzz-yy how cheap our rent was considering what a sweet location the building was in. And yes, you get what you pay for, but it's also not too much to ask that you should be able to live in your own home and not have to endure listening to your neighbours fight on a regular basis about the fact the dude is sick of eating his girlfriend's spaghetti, while she cries that he doesn't love her anymore.

So the point I'm trying to make is that Switzerland doesn't have the same space luxuries and so every square inch of land allocated for living, producing their own foodstuffs, accommodating industry, having room for waste, and also space reserved just for pleasure (the walking trails and park lands), is carefully planned. And thus it is unavoidable that you will have close neighbours; therefore, the way I see it is that the rules serve the purpose of keeping everyone and everything moving along tickety-boo.

After all, the Swiss are the original watch-masters: efficiency is integrity, integrity is fair play, and to play fair we sometimes need to be reminded of the rules.


M'dame Jo said...

Well, yes, these rules can be annoying, but as we say in French "Ma liberté finit où commence celle de l'autre" (roughly translating into "my freedom ends where my neighbor's begins") and, as you said, you can't expect you neighbors to keep it quiet so you can sleep early when you want to and party until 5 am if you feel like it. Newer buildings are relatively soundproof and you can watch TV reasonably loud without waking up your neighbors.

Unfortunately, for all buildings from before the 80s, there were not soundproofing norms, so the owners not are obliged to do anything about it. Hence the need for these rules.

I do flush the toilet and shower whenever I need to.

I can count the points when my neighbors play cards. It's really bad. But we get along well, we warn each other when we go away from the weekend (so they can make more noise), when we have people over, or when we need extra quiet for some reason. In general, it works well. Excepted one neighbor, who listens to extremely loud music any day, smoke and leaves butts in the hallway and insults you if you dare to say something.

It may also be more strict in smaller town and in the german part.

Caitie said...

Your neighbour sounds like a huge prick! But, I also know TOO WELL what it's like to live by someone like that. I seriously *do not* understand people who have absolutely no regard for people around them. Collect all his cigarrette butts and leave them in a messy pile by his door, with a cheerful little passive-agressive note that says: "Because you're a douche-bag that probably means your only friend is the cigarette. I've taken the liberty of gathering all your friends together. SMILEY FACE." Haha. No? Yeah, I wouldn't have the nerve to do it either.

M'dame Jo said...

Hahaha, I like the idea. I actually emailed the rental agency last week. No name, I just suggested to remind people not to throw (lit) cigarette butts from the windows (yes, that too) and in the staircase. We'll see how that goes.

gina said...

I'm living in Switzerland too but in the Italian speaking part , everthing is pretty quite like u say except that the family that lives below us is absolutely crazy and argues all the time at a non reasonable volume even though our appartment is kind of sound proof (you can't hear tv or music playing)but their screams I meaaan its so awfull also because of the lenguage they use ( they are a marriage I suppose) It's like If was watching their fight ! Once I couldn't handle it anymore and went downstairs so tell them that they were talking too loud ( that wasn't even talking of course ) but the lady was so rude ! She yelled at me and told me to talk to the administration , that thas was her house and that if she wanted to yell until 10 pm she would !
So I really don't know what can I do anymore ! They yell at each other everyday , and she yells to her daughter too , its so horrible the way they speak to each other !