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‘No laundry after 10pm’: What foreign residents in Zurich should and shouldn’t do

Switzerland's largest city has a myriad of written and unwritten regulations about what is and isn’t allowed. We asked our readers to share their own experiences.

Swimmers leave the start of the annual Lake Zurich crossing swimming event in Zurich on July 5th, 2017.
Swimmers leave the start of the annual Lake Zurich crossing swimming event in Zurich on July 5th, 2017. Photo: Michael Buholzer / AFP

About 32 percent of Zurich’s population are foreigners, with Germans making up the largest group, followed by Italians, and Portuguese.

There is a sizeable English-speaking community in the city and canton as well.

Wherever they come from, each newcomer has had to learn the proverbial “ropes” of living in Zurich: what they should and should not do.

In October, we asked Zurich-based readers two questions: the ‘must-do’s’, and the activities that, based on their own experiences, foreigners should abstain from doing in order not to irritate the locals.

READ MORE: Tell us: Are there things that foreign residents in Zurich absolutely should (or shouldn’t) do?

The respondents have been living in Zurich for periods ranging from 18 months to 12 years, so they are well versed in the ways of the city.

This what they told us.

‘Be neat’

First, we asked for advice on things that foreign residents should get used to doing in Zurich.

“Accept the strict rules of garbage recycling,” Giesela Homa wrote, bringing home the point about the importance of proper trash disposal not only in Zurich, but throughout Switzerland as well.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

Ramesh, an experienced resident with eight years in Zurich under his belt, reiterated what many foreigners already know but sometimes don’t put into practice: “You have to adapt to the Zurich way of life.”

“In most other countries, it is okay to be loud on Sundays,” he said. “But in Zurich, and Switzerland in general, Sundays are strictly for home. No vacuum cleaners or being loud.”

Another reader offered a practical tip like “look for deals to save money”, which is imperative in the world’s most expensive city.

That same person also recommends getting a half-fare travelcard for public transportation, which is also a good way to cut the cost of living.

Another no-nonsense advice is to “shop at Aldi, not Migros”.

Juraj suggested swimming in the lake (we assume he means in the summer), while Jennifer’s advice is to visit an area  called Frau Gerolds Garten.  Located on Geroldstrasse, it combines a market, art venues, and an urban garden.

One reader’s  advice is to “be neat”, which is sure to go down well in a country obsessed with cleanliness.

READ MORE: OPINION: Can foreign residents ever emulate the Swiss obsession for cleanliness?

Another brought up a point that should be self-understood but needs repeating nevertheless. “Take initiative to make friends,” the reader said.

Those are all valuable tips, but our favourite (though we are admittedly biased) is this one: “Sign up for The Local to get the updated news from around Switzerland.” (We might add that this tip holds true wherever in the country you may live).

‘Don’t break the rules’

Next, we asked what things foreigners in Zurich should never do.

Here too we received some valuable input, some which is in line with the much-talked-about rules of being a considerate neighbour.

“Never make noise after 10 o’clock the evening,” Giesela said. This includes, as other readers pointed out, “not flushing your toilet after 10 pm, or doing laundry at night or on Sunday”.

READ MORE: Swiss daily dilemmas: Can I flush my toilet at night?

“You should respect people’s privacy.  And be quiet in public transportation,” a respondent who identified themselves as Z, said.

Ramesh has also stressed the importance of respecting other people’s privacy. “Avoid enquiring about personal topics unless allowed to do so,” he said.

One reader advised against venturing to Sihlquai at night. It is an infamous neighbourhood that used to be a prostitution hub and considered unsafe, though it has been cleaned up in recent years.

Jennifer brought up an issue that is a sore point in many interactions between the Swiss and foreigners: “Don’t expect everyone to speak to you in English,” she said. “Do your part to integrate by learning conversational German.”

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t expect the Swiss to speak English to you

To that end, as one respondent pointed out that you should greet people with ‘Grüezi’, not  ‘Grüessech’ which is likely a nuance only people living in Zurich can understand.

A reader named Albin, who has lived in Zurich for 12 years, summed up the entire subject succinctly but accurately: “Don’t break the rules” – a piece of advice that any foreigner would do well to comply with, whether living in Zurich or elsewhere in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break

What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment in the comments section below.

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READER INSIGHTS

Five tips to get your hands on a first-hand rental apartment in Sweden

They're often high quality and cheaper than the market rate, but oh so hard to come by. The Local's readers share their best tips for how foreigners without years in the housing queue can rent a so-called first-hand apartment in Sweden.

Five tips to get your hands on a first-hand rental apartment in Sweden

Sweden’s tightly-regulated rental market means that most newcomers end up moving from one sublet apartment (or “second-hand apartment” as it’s usually known in Sweden even among English-speakers, andrahandslägenhet) to the next every year or so.

In practice rents are often high and leases insecure, despite laws in theory preventing overpriced sublets.

First-hand rentals, on the other hand, tend to be better quality, more long-term and often remarkably cheap, making them an attractive but elusive option – unless you signed up for the public housing queue years, or even decades, ago it’s hard to snag one.

But not impossible. In a Facebook post, The Local’s readers shared their tips for how they managed to beat the competition and secure a first-hand rental.

Here are their best strategies:

1. Move out of the big cities

Many readers suggested avoiding Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, where the housing shortage is particularly bad. Student cities like Uppsala and Lund also tend to be on that list, but many smaller or more rural municipalities have far shorter housing queues, sometimes none at all.

“I live in a 10,000 people city, 180 kilometres from Stockholm,” said Rodrigo.

Johanna said she’s moved from Stockholm to the countryside, adding she’s got “many friends living in more rural areas of Heby and Dalarna or way up north like Haparanda” where apartments come “dirt cheap”.

2. You don’t always have to move far

If you can put up with a longer commute, there are many municipalities within commuting distance of the big cities which have shorter housing queues and reasonable public transport connections.

“On any given day we have 100 different rental flats here in Eskilstuna – it’s literally one hour’s train ride to Stockholm,” said Jörgen.

3. Keep an eye out for exceptions

Some housing queues make exceptions from their standard housing queue for certain categories of apartments.

These vary depending on the municipality, but could include for example new builds. In Stockholm, there’s a special category called “bostadssnabben” which are apartments offered on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of how many queue points the applicants have.

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Some municipalities also allow tenants to swap apartments internally, so you may be able to go for the low hanging fruit initially and then later find someone who wants to swap apartments with you.

4. Get in the queue anyway

It’s not uncommon for people to sign up for rental queues even if they’re not thinking of moving any time soon – many Swedes sign up as soon as they turn 18, and even many property owners stay in the queue – in order to collect queue points and improve their chances of renting in the future.

Not all municipalities charge a fee for a spot in the housing queue, either, so it may even be worth having a think about in which areas of Sweden you might conceivably want to live at some point in the future, and signing up for those queues on the off-chance that you end up moving there.

Far from everyone in the queue is active, and sometimes, all you need is a bit of luck.

“Be very active. Apply to as many as you can, as often as you can. Don’t be too selective about the area. I got one where the primary applicant had to have 70 percent of the income. Less competition,” said Marios, who got a 90 square metre apartment in a Stockholm suburb in three months.

5. Go private

The most common way of renting in Sweden is through the municipalities’ own housing agencies, and in some queues such as Stockholm, private landlords rent out their homes via these queues too.

But in some cities, there are private companies that rent out apartments outside of the housing queue, and they don’t always follow the same “queue point” procedure as the municipality. Some have their own housing queue, which may be shorter, and some use a lottery system, for example.

It makes it a bit more hit-or-miss whether you’ll be successful, as these queues don’t always have the same reliability and transparency as the municipal housing queues, but it’s still an option.

Bear in mind that there are degrees of dodginess when it comes to private rental companies, with some being just as good or better than municipal landlords and some being… not. Many people join the Swedish Tenants’ Association to get more information on tenants’ rights.

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