Reflections on Switzerland

My time in Switzerland wrapped up a little over a week ago. Since then I’ve had some time since then to look back and compare my experiences there to my collective experience from living in various places around the U.S. I’m just going to hit major points here instead of mentioning every little detail that I can think of. If want to hear more about a particular topic ask in the comments or contact me directly and I’d be happy to start up a bigger conversation about that. Also, just to be clear, all observations here are just based on my own experiences and what I’ve been told directly, so don’t take them as truths, absolutes, or anything odd like that.

Food

Before diving into this section I should say that the majority of my experience here is on small-scale organic farms, so some observations are likely to apply less (or possibly not at all) to Swiss living in urban areas.

The biggest difference I noted was not in what was eaten; it was the more communal way of eating each meal. For every meal (except breakfast, sometimes) we all sat down together to eat, and everyone would sit around and talk even after the food was gone; it was normal to take at least an hour to ‘finish’ dinner, sometimes longer. Only after everyone helped gather up the dishes and clean would you go off to do your own thing.

The quantities that everyone ate were much smaller than a typical American meal too, and the meals were eaten much much slower. I was intentionally eating very slowly but still would end up being finished far before anyone else.

Vegetables were had a much bigger, and more consistent, emphasis in each meal. There was always either a big salad or vegetable dish (usually cooked) as part of each meal; if I had to guess the average meal consisted of 50-60% vegetables. Soups were also extremely common, typically we would have some at least once per day - this I’m told is not the case for urban Swiss, more of a farm thing. Also, unsurprisingly for organic farms, the majority of food was either locally acquired or at least organic and unprocessed.

Regional and national specialty dishes are cooked often and it seems that most people know the recipes and can cook them. Over the course of two months I had the some of the dishes specific to the Vaud region (just north of Lake Geneva) and some more national recipes too. Notable ones were: fondue, raclette, Rösti, Papet vaudois, tarte aux noix (walnut pie), and Salée au sucre”). Just looking over this site it is clear I had nowhere near all of them though, especially if you include all the pastries…

Did I mention there is Swiss chocolate everywhere, and it’s ridiculously cheap? Pretty good chocolate for under 1 franc (roughly equivalent to $1) and the good stuff for 2-3 franc at any grocery store; I’m miss it a lot already. :(

Work & Business

Coffee breaks are totally normal, usually around 15-20 minutes, and serve as a time to take a break and talk with co-workers. On the kiwi farm, where we were working the entire day there were actually two coffee/tea breaks; the first around 10AM with cheese (emmentaler, I think)and bread, and the second around 3PM with cheese and chocolate (usually chocolate with hazelnuts, if you were wondering). Lunch breaks were typically around an hour, even if people finished eating within 30 minutes they would take the rest of the time to chat or take a nap. Also, you get around three weeks of vacation per year, and it’s expected to take at least one week off.

Small business feels way more prevalent in Switzerland than the U.S. I was told around 75% of businesses in Switzerland have less than 25 employees. When I explored several of the major cities I saw very few chain or franchise businesses, aside from the two major grocery stores (Migros and Coop). The majority of stores, especially food related ones, were independent businesses. Big name corporations were mostly limited to car manufacturers, clothing labels, and international brands like Starbucks and McDonalds.

Part of the reason Switzerland is so friggin’ expensive is that the lowest monthly wage anyone gets is around 3500Fr.-/month (roughly ~$20/hr). Everyone gets paid reasonably well and because of that costs all along the supply chain go up, so prices go up with it; that is of course extremely simplified, but you get the idea. Meat is generally expensive, but oddly enough chicken tends to be the most expensive, plus you can buy horse meat at any grocery store. Some staple foods, bread, cheese, chocolate, and many vegetables are still quite cheap though.

Other stuff

There are playgrounds everywhere and many public parks. Bike paths are well supported—there are even specific bike routes between major cities (e.g., Lausanne and Geneva) and it’s very easy to get around either on foot or by public transportation.

There are a lot of smokers everywhere, and due to the price of cigarettes many (farm workers at least) buy the hand rolled kind. My perception may be skewed because smoking really bothers me, but among the farmers around 70% of them smoked.

Getting a Swiss driving license will cost you somewhere around 1500-3000 franc and both the written and practical tests are no joke (100 questions on the written). Basic CPR and first aid is also a requirement for having a license.

Food labels usually only have the macro nutrients listed, it’s very rare to see any of the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) listed. Because everything on the labels must be in three different languages they don’t really have room to put all that information in though.

Now for the most important thing: crêpes are so much better than pancakes… sorry America.


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I’m prepping to launch a “beta” of the first part of my online coaching program next week (the 26th). From what I’ve seen of other online coaching programs it will be unique and offer some different options for training that are more in keeping with the spirit of this site and my own approach to training. I know it’s pretty vague right now, but I’ll be providing more details at the end of this week. If you want to know more before that, then you can subscribe to the mailing list. There might be something special for members of the mailing list a couple of days before launch. ;)

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