Sundays and Quiet Rules

Sundays in Switzerland are quiet, lazy days typically spent with friends or relatives. On nice days hiking in the mountains or just visiting other parts of the country are often on the agenda.

When I first came here I was told there would be no washing the laundry on Sundays. If for some reason or another the laundry had to be done, then with closed doors and absolutely NO hanging the clothes outside. But rules rule Switzerland and don’t end with the laundry; “working noises” are not allowed on Sundays either. So, that means no mowing the lawn, no building anything that includes hammering or sawing (or at least nothing the neighbors can see, hear or might bother). In general, do nothing outside that resembles work. Washing your car is also thought of as work, so that is out. Work on Sunday is not allowed and very frowned upon. Sunday is a day of rest and you must enjoy it, like it or not.

There are rules for being quiet on weekdays too not just Sundays. Between 10pm and 6am no loud noise is allowed. Between noon and 1pm is quiet-time too; no hammering, drilling or things like that during that time. You and the kids can take a nice, peaceful hour-long nap. The Swiss are avid and good at recycling so the definition of noise also includes throwing bottles into the glass recycling containers! You are only allowed to mow your lawn between 8am and 8pm on weekdays and between 8am and 5pm on Saturdays. If you have a farm you are cut a bit of slack and can make noise and work between 5am and 11pm even on Sundays and holidays (for seasonal work). If you live in an apartment building then each building has their own special set of additional rules that must be abided by. For example: due to the noise it creates, no showering after 10pm (maybe the Swiss sing too loud in the shower?). I hope you are paying attention, there is going to be a quiz at the end.

With time you learn to accept these things and actually see the beauty in them. Stress-free, peace and quiet and a good night’s sleep are good. Occasionally, you must plan ahead. Stores, in general are closed on Sundays so be sure you have access to good neighbors (or family who also live in the building) who can lend you that extra sugar you need should you run out. But as with other things in Switzerland the opening hours for stores are changing too. Concerned with declining profits and trying to keep one step ahead of the competition some stores have found loop holes so they can stay open on Sundays or later than generally allowed. Grocery stores are considered convenience stores at gas stations or in larger train stations and convenience stores are allowed to do business on Sundays. So some bigger grocery store chains have opened “convenience” stores in gas stations or train stations and can therefore be open then.

I remember coming home from a longer vacation on a Sunday once and knowing that we had nothing to eat in our apartment. We went to the grocery store at the train station, wow, this place was making big money, I couldn’t believe how many people were in there. I was treated to rubbing elbows with people I didn’t know and even got pushed into a fresh vegetables stand, but I guess that was better than getting pushed into a freezer. We got what we considered necessary and didn’t starve but I definitely needed a vacation after that experience. There have been a couple attempts at changing the law so all stores (grocery and retail) can open on Sundays if they want but so far they have all been squashed at the voting booth. I don’t believe there are any stores open 24 hours in Switzerland with the exception of pharmacies at train stations. All other stores are open 9am to 7pm (some closed during the lunch hours) and open one evening until 9pm (usually Thursday or Friday) and Saturday until 5pm (it used to be 4pm!).

When living in a city where you have no control over the noise level, I personally think you should try to be considerate of others if at all possible. The long apartment complex in Berne that I lived in has another apartment complex the same size and length directly behind it, back to back. The old Romans could have learned a thing or two about acoustics from that setup. The noise bounces off one wall and hits the other like a ping pong ball ricocheting back and forth down the whole complex. Many years ago, the house at the other end of the complex was sold and bought by a group of people who all knew each other. After they had been there a year they threw a big ol’ summer party in their back yard and invited everyone they knew (and they knew a lot of people!) they even organized a band. Everyone in both complexes were “treated” to the music and fun they were having. I believe that the police ended up visiting them too, just to help them keep the noise down. But this was a fun loving group of people, nothing was going to dampen their spirit and style and the next year they celebrated another summer party, band included. The difference being, everybody in the neighborhood, including the two complexes got a flyer saying when the party was planned along with an invitation to drop by and a mention that they would try to tone it down after 10pm. Everyone was happy.

Oh, I was only joking about the quiz. No quiz.

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