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ZURICH

Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

If you’ve ever lived in Zurich, you might forget how special some of these things are. Here are ten things (some) Zurich residents take for granted.

A sign in the Swiss city of Zurich which says
Is this the most Zurich thing ever? A sign in the Swiss city of Zurich which says "Zurich: Safety through politeness". Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Whether you’ve lived in Zurich for a month or a decade, it can sometimes be easy to forget how special the city is. 

From its international flavour to its geographic location, Zurich has so much to offer. 

Here are ten things you might take for granted.

Think we missed any or disagree about our list? Get in touch at [email protected]

An international flavour

An estimated 25 percent of Swiss residents have a foreign origin. By some estimates, this figure jumps up to around 50 percent in the city of Zurich. 

The consequence is a cosmopolitan city with a true international flavour. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

This can be seen in the diverse cultural festivals that the city has, along with its culinary scene, which is arguably the best in Switzerland (no hate mail please Geneva). 

And while we don’t share the opinion that traditional Swiss food is bland, if you are of this mindset, then Zurich will have an everlasting array of options for you. 

Multilingual communication 

“Hallo, ich hätte gerne einen Cappuccino, bitte.”

“Pardon. Bonjour, je voudrais un café au lait s’il vous plaît.”

“Oh I see. Hi. I’ll just get a flat white thanks.”

“Sure thing, coming right up.”

As the largest city in a country with four official languages and a strong international contingent, Zurich is truly multilingual. 

It is not unusual to hear conversations jump from English to German to French and back to English – with a variety of other languages sprinkled in.

Opinion: 12 things that surprised me about moving to Zurich

In Zurich you are surrounded by linguistic diversity pretty much anywhere you go. 

There are parts of Zurich where it is easier to navigate with English than with German, given the presence of international workers in the city. 

While whether that is a good thing or not is a question for another day, but being able to genuinely speak at least three languages in a city is relatively rare. 

A beautifully preserved old town

So this one can again be filed under the category of ‘most of Switzerland’ rather than just Zurich, but for a large, bustling metropolis to have such a beautiful old town is relatively rare.

The Zurich old town on a clear day seen from above

The old city in Zurich. Despite being a bustling modern metropolis, Zurich still has a charming old town. Photo by Patrick Federi on Unsplash

The reasons for this are different depending on where you’re from. Some cities had their old towns devastated due to wars or new modern developments, while others are too new to even have an old town to start with.

Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

But while many Swiss villages have an old town to be proud of, Zurich manages to blend its old city charm with that of a cosmopolitan, international metropolis.

Excellent public transport networks wherever you live

OK so this is something which applies across much of Switzerland, but living in Zurich it’s easy to forget that great, punctual and clean public transport is in fact not the norm the world over. 

A car is seen as a necessity in many of the world’s largest cities, but in Zurich it is certainly a luxury. 

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Fresh, tasty water wherever you go

Now this is a true example of something where you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. 

Whether you are living in Zurich or just visiting, you never need to buy bottled water. 

READ MORE: Why have Swiss cities become ‘more liveable’ during the pandemic?

This is because of the city’s estimated 1,200 drinking fountains dotted across town, each of which offers fresh, clean and tasty Zurich spring water for free. 

Going to another (non-Swiss) city, you’ll have a quick look around before you realise that there’s not a water fountain in sight. 

Being rich

OK so not everyone who works in Zurich is rich, but the wage in almost every job is likely to be far higher than the same job in other cities, no matter where you go. 

READ ALSO: Salaries in Zurich hit record high

Wages are also higher than in other regions of Switzerland, regardless of the job. 

As The Local reported in 2020, wages for teachers are higher in Zurich than most other cantons – and well over the Swiss average. 

In Zurich, teachers earn between CHF86,000 and CHF 112,000, which is between 5,000-15,000 more than the Swiss average. 

READ MORE: What do teachers earn in Switzerland – and where do they earn the most?

Cleanliness 

From the parks to the lakes to the city itself, Zurich prides itself on being clean. 

While there are more than 300 recycling collection points in the city as well as garbage receptacles everywhere, it’s the cultural commitment to cleanliness which really makes the city spotless. 

READ MORE: These are the friendliest – and least friendly – cantons in Switzerland

Even the Langstrasse district – which is known as the city’s nightlife area and red light district – might be spoken of as the gritty and colourful part of the city, but it would be one of the cleaner streets in cities like New York, Paris and Berlin. 

A swimmable river and lake

Although this might tie into the above point about cleanliness, Lake Zurich and the Limmat are well worth their own mention – particularly in summertime. 

READ MORE: Eight great swimming spots in Switzerland

Although fewer Zurchers swim to work than claim they do, the fact that it is possible for part of the year is something truly special. 

Swimming in the middle of the city on a warm summer's day is certainly possible in Zurich

People swimming at Wasserwerkstrasse 89 in central Zurich. Photo by Teo Zac on Unsplash

So whether you visit a Badi – Swiss swimming bath – or you go it alone in the river or the lake, just remember that this is a pleasure denied to residents of Berlin, New York, London, Paris, Brisbane and countless other cities. 

Travel: How to save money while visiting Switzerland

Being on the doorstep to nature

OK so despite Zurich being the largest city in Switzerland, with a population of 400,000 – which extends to 1.5 million if cantonal boundaries are included – it doesn’t rank that highly compared to other global metropolises. 

A consequence of this is that even if you live in the middle of town, it’s not long at all until you’ve left the town behind and you’re in the middle of the forest or on a mountain hike. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

During the warmer months there are hundreds of swimming and hiking spots not far away, while in winter you are on the doorstep of some of the world’s best ski slopes. 

Wake boarding, sailing, cycling, rock climbing and other outdoor activities are all also in reach. 

So whether you’re a solo sports lover or you’ve got young children just itching to get outside, Zurich will have something for you. 

READ MORE: What childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Low crime rates

While no city is crime free, Zurich is about as safe as it gets when it comes to crime, whether it be of a petty or violent nature. 

Zurich consistently ranks as one of the world’s safest cities. 

A study commissioned by Zurich city police found that 98 percent of residents feel very safe or fairly safe in the city during the day. 

Safety in Switzerland: Which areas do Zurich residents avoid at night?

It is at night however where things take a (very slight) turn. 

Almost one in five (19 percent) said they feel slightly or very unsafe at night in Zurich. 

Almost half (47 percent) said they avoid certain places at night due to safety reasons. This was slightly lower than in 2016, when 51 percent said they avoid certain places at night. 

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TRANSPORT

EXPLAINED: Why free public transport is illegal in Zurich

Any law or referendum which has the effect of making public transport free is illegal in Zurich. Here's why.

EXPLAINED: Why free public transport is illegal in Zurich

From allowing local residents to vote on whether people can become citizens (rejected), or whether to amend the constitution to give people a day off on August 1st, the Swiss like to vote on anything and everything.

Which is perhaps why it is so puzzling that voting on whether to make public transport free is banned in some cantons, but legal in others.

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

The cantons of Zurich, Bern and Fribourg have expressly declared that voting on making public transport free is illegal under the Swiss constitution.

Vaud on the other hand has recently declared such a vote to be valid, with a future referendum to be held on the issue.

Neuchâtel also declared such a vote to be valid, although this is currently “under review”, as Swiss news agency Watson reports.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why is voting on public transport illegal?

Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, people can have an issue put to a vote when they gather enough signatures to do so.

This can take place at a cantonal level, as with a recent minimum wage vote in Ticino, or at a federal level.

With Switzerland’s federal system, some things are regulated at a federal level and some at a cantonal level, with public transport being an example of the latter.

When advocates of free public transport tried to push for a referendum in the cantons of Zurich, Bern and Fribourg, the cantonal authorities all came to the same conclusion: that such a vote was illegal.

Under the Swiss constitution, users of public transport are required to bear the costs “to a reasonable extent”.

It was the opinion of these cantons – or at least the government in charge – that this meant free public transport was constitutionally prohibited, and as such no vote on the matter could take place.

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

Why is free public transport considered legal in some cantons?

Put simply, the cantonal authorities – which are given significant scope to decide on the legality of proposed referendum efforts – in Vaud and Neuchâtel did not share the same view as those in Zurich, Bern and Fribourg.

Vaud told Switzerland’s Watson news agency that the constitutional provision was far from clear on whether free public transport was banned outright.

The cantonal authorities referenced the legal maxim “in dubio pro populo” – which loosely translates as “if in doubt, decide for the people” – in justifying their decision.

According to Vaud authorities, cantonal governments have the right to decide whether to fully subsidise public transport for commuters under Swiss law – provided the canton and not the federal government pays the costs.

Authorities in Neuchâtel came to the same conclusion in 2018 when recommending the issue for a vote, but recently announced a review of the decision on the basis of the decision of the other cantons.

What does “reasonable” mean?

Like the cantons, legal experts are split on the issue of what “reasonable” means.

Some argue that commuters already cover the costs through their taxes paid to cantonal authorities, which represents a “reasonable” extent.

EXPLAINED: How where you live in Switzerland impacts how much income tax you pay

Others, such as Zurich constitutional law professor Felix Uhlmann, argue that while some free travel is justified – for instance for children under six or for tourists as is the case in Basel City – making it completely free would be unconstitutional.

“I see a conflict with the federal constitution if public transport becomes free for the entire population”.

“But if we extend the freedom of charge to the entire population, we have definitely crossed the grey area.”

Uhlmann said that the efforts in Vaud and Neuchâtel will ultimately fail, as the issue is likely to go to the federal Supreme Court.

“Due to the number of initiatives alone, it is to be expected that a committee will contest the declaration of invalidity of the bill and ultimately the Federal Supreme Court will have to decide on the disputed issue,” Uhlmann told Swiss news outlet Watson.

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