At Home in Switzerland – a House is a House

Homes in Switzerland are much different than the ones in the States. Sure, the basics stay the same; walls, lights, windows and such. But still, even those things that are the same are different. Also, depending on if you live in an older house or newer, the differences might be even greater.

The first time I visited Switzerland I stayed at my in-laws to be. It was an older apartment that hadn’t been fully renovated yet. There were some newer, more modern things in it, but some leftovers from the 30’s when the building was built.


The doors are what I noticed when I first entered their apartment in Switzerland. Some, but not all of the doors had two little windows near the top. They were too high to peek through. But even if you could you wouldn’t see anything because it was a milky glass. I personally thought they were ugly and asked Ben why they were made that way. He said so you could see if the light was turned on without entering the room. Okay. Still, not a very convincing argument.

Staying with the doors theme here. Doorknobs are not knobs in Switzerland. They are handles and called such. You don’t have to be here long to realize how useful they are. Imagine coming home with two bags full of groceries and the door to the kitchen is closed. No sweat. With your elbow you press the handle down and bump it open with your hip. Of course, we don’t usually keep most doors inside our home closed but you never know.

There are “door stoppers” on doors in the States. They are metal, about 10cm long and have a rubber bumper on the end. They are attached to the bottom corner of the door with a spring. The stoppers are not there to stop the doors from closing. They stop it from crashing into the wall behind it. A knob could very well knock a hole in the wall. Admittedly, something like this might be useful in Switzerland because the door handles here can mark the wall behind it. Ben and I use real door stoppers here in the summer. They stop it from closing because If you open more than one window a draft could slam any door shut.


Which brings me to the next subject: “Air”. In the States you’ve got a air circulating systems. The system sends warm air through the vents in the winter and cool air in the summer. You never need to open the windows and consequently in many homes in America the windows are painted closed.

Here we’ve got a heating system for the winter. Depending on how old your home is, it might be accompanied by some pretty ugly, gurgling radiators. Of course you should never slide your furniture right up against the radiator, fire hazard. In the summer the windows are wide open. If it gets warm for any longer period of time you drag out and turn on your fan.


Ah, the windows. In our first apartment in Berne they were old. Very old. We lived on the top floor. Due to the design of the building it was basically the roof although there were two floors above us. The windows were exposed to all the elements that the weather had to give.

The windows are set up vertically and not horizontally like in America. They open and close similar to shutters and not by sliding one window up, behind the other. Being in the roof we didn’t have shutters but roll tops, manual roll tops. They were not used 99.99% of the time. I admit that the roll tops and all the steps were better than any exercise a gym could offer. And they were included in the rent.

Each side of the window was a double window. Really, two sets of windows screwed together set in wood. There were 8 panes of glass being held in place by putty in every windows. Lots to clean, but every time I cleaned them a bit of the old, cracked putty would fall out. Needless to say I didn’t clean them very often. Um… I didn’t want the glass to fall out. I also figured if I couldn’t see out no one could see in.

The windows in our home now are also vertical but each has a double glass of one pane. The frames are made of plastic. Much sturdier and much easier to clean. Although, I clean them minimally more often, it still isn’t anywhere near the amount they deserve. I don’t know, I guess some habits are just difficult to break.

What I truly love about Swiss windows is they have an edge for geraniums. I think that looks so great and it is so European.

Light Switches

Moving right along. When I lived in the States the switches there were standard; on, up and off, down. I believe they now have a variety of styles. When I first came here the switches were pretty standard switches, too. Although they look a bit different, slicker somehow.

When you get new switches put in now they are usually push “switches”. Again, nice when your hands are full and you need to turn on the light and have an elbow free. It looks like the market has opened up. You can find almost any kind of switch at the hardware stores here.

What can be a bit disconcerting in older homes here, is where and how high they are placed. I think when they built our home (I believe it was built in 1924) there was no standard height. I guess it depended on how tall the electrician was. Normally the switch would be on the side of the door that opened. That way you could crack open the door, stick in your hand and switch the light on. “Naturally”, you might be thinking but that isn’t always so natural. In one of our bathrooms the switch is on the wrong side! So you end up patting down the wall in the dark, looking for the switch. You think it must be there somewhere. More than a couple of times we’ve had to tell guests “other side!”


There are lots of differences in the bathrooms. Starting with the fact that they are called either a bathroom or a toilet in German. A bathroom, obviously has either a bath or a shower in it and a toilet doesn’t. In the states often in homes with more than one storey, there is a bathroom that only has a toilet and a sink. In English the room is never called a “toilet”. Somehow that seems too vulgar, it’s called a guest bathroom or powder room.  That way you can envision a woman powdering her nose instead of sitting on the toilet.

There are lots and lots of differences inside Swiss and American bathrooms, beginning with um… the toilet. Don’t worry, I won’t go into this with great detail. One difference is the set height of the toilet bowl. I realized this the last time I visited my sister. The American toilets (or at least the ones she has) were set lower. I landed rather unceremoniously on the seat (but only once!).

Bathroom Showers and Sinks

What I love about Swiss showers are the adjustable height of the showerheads. It’s great, tall people don’t have to duck to wash their hair. If you don’t want to wash your hair you can set it lower. I believe that the adjustable showerheads evolved before there were separate showers. Sitting in a bathtub you could also quickly rinse yourself off after you drained the water. Whatever the reason, I think it’s great.

The sinks are very often just that, sinks with no or very little counter space. I find that okay for powder rooms but more counter space is absolutely a necessity in a master bath. Before we renovated our bathroom we had almost no space to put things on. We now have more than double the counter space and doubled the size of the sink. Life is good.


You know, somehow all these differences don’t matter at all. To make any house a home you just need someone you love to share it with. Then you’ve got it made.

I’ve got it made.

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