A Strange New World

We’ve been in Basel for over a month now, which is definitely long enough to notice some of the differences between home and Basel.

I mean, beyond the fact that everything is expensive and there’s not any decent Mexican food to be found.

Although! We did find a place, Tacoteca, that made a good effort.  Way better than the place in Zurich, and a nice alternative to making it at home.

Anywho, I’ve compiled a nowhere-near-complete list of things that are weird here versus at home and thought I’d share it with you all.

  • Garbage bags
    The garbage bags are sold behind the counter at the grocery store.  Yes, that’s right.  They’re not in one of the aisles; you can’t pick them up at the same time as your paper plates and baggies.  Instead, you can get them at the same time as your cigarettes (more on those later) and hard liquor.
    They come in rolls of 10, in three sizes: 17 L, 35 L, and 60 L.  We bought a roll of 35 L bags and are using one a week.
    The reason they’re relatively expensive is that the price includes the cost of garbage pick-up.  It’s nice not having an additional bill coming in the mail!
    Garbage pick-up is twice a week and you can put your bag out the night before collection day.  If you put your bag(s) out too early, you can be fined.
  • Recycling
    We recycled at home in Peoria, too, and always had way more recycling waste than actual garbage.  However, the entire process was a lot easier.  We put all of our recyclables in one large garbage can and it was collected once a month.
    Here, the majority of recycling can be dropped off in large centers in the grocery store or smaller collection bins in the train station.  I read online that there are larger, outdoor collection areas, but I’ve only seen one of those and it was in a suburb.
    You’ll notice in my picture that paper and cardboard aren’t collected at the grocery store.  Those can be recycled curbside as well, but only twice a month.  The paper and cardboard have to be bundled and tied up with twine.  The whole thing is so weird.  It’s currently resulted in us having a huge pile of recycling underneath our kitchen table.
    Recycling is highly encouraged over here, but I don’t understand why the entire process is so complicated.  You’d think they’d make it easier, since you’re not allowed to throw your recyclables away.

The recycling center at the Migros store we go to on Saturday mornings.

  • Throwing away large items
    Another thing that’s different is throwing away large items.  We have a couple of suitcases, for example, that are on their last legs.  We used them to get over here and will keep them to move to our new apartment, but after that, we won’t have any use for them and they’d just be taking up space.  I’m pretty sure they won’t fit in our 35 L garbage bags, either!
    Instead, you have to go to a different store, called Kiosk, and buy a sticker for the materials.  Then you have to call the city, or sign up online, to let them know that you have additional garbage items to be picked up.
    You’re also warned against putting such items outside early in hopes that people pick them up instead of having to pay for garbage collection; it can result in a fine.
  • Grocery store differences
    Milk and eggs are stored at room temperature here.  The milk is shelf stable because of UHT (ultra-high temperature) pasteurization.  I know this.  We have milk like this in the States, too; Horizon has a line of UHT milk boxes that are great for kids.  It’s just weird going to get my 1.5 L bottle milk off of a regular shelf.
    I knew about the egg thing before moving here, too.  Eggs in the States go through a different cleaning process that strips them of their protective coating.  Since they don’t do that additional process over here, the eggs are fine at room temperature.  Strangely, though, all the fridges I’ve seen have a spot for eggs just like in the US.  So I buy my eggs at room temp and then store them in the fridge.
    You can also buy lots of different colors of eggs at the store.  Like they’re already dyed for Easter, only they’re not hard-boiled.  So strange!
    The cheese options over here kind of suck.  As I whined about before, there’s a lot of cheese I’m not familiar with and don’t really like, and very little of what I’m used to.  I have found Babybel cheese. though, which is great to snack on.  And I found some cheddar cheese at the deli counter.  It’s very thick-sliced and pretty expensive, but I found it!
    You all know what French dressing is, right?  Red?  Kind of sweet and tangy?  If you’re near a Monical’s Pizza and you’re my husband, you may think that the salad is just an excuse to eat as much French dressing as humanly possible.  Well, over here, French dressing is a lot closer to ranch dressing, only tangier.  The tang comes from the French yogurt they use as the base.

So much room temperature milk!

So many room temperature eggs! And check out the colored eggs on the top shelf.

  • Cars park on the sidewalk
    Like, legitimately right on the sidewalk.  Not a lot of people drive in Basel, but I guess those that do park kind of wherever.  It’s weird having to walk in the street or squish between a car and a building because the car is parked on the sidewalk.
  • Everyone smokes
    I knew that was a European cliche.  It’s definitely a cliche for a reason.
  • There’s very little litter
    There are two exceptions to that.  One is cigarette butts, and if I had written this post over the weekend, I would have left that as the only exception.  Cigarette butts are everywhere on the ground.  I guess that shouldn’t be surprising when so many people are smoking.
    The other exception is confetti and some regular litter during Fasnacht.  When G and I were at the parade yesterday, the confetti rained down on us just as much as the actual rain did.  Before the parade started, though, I was taken aback by the amount of garbage on the ground.  People are out drinking and drumming 24 hours a day during Carnival, so it’s probably pretty difficult for the street cleaners to keep up!  I hear, though, that by Thursday morning, the streets will be immaculate again.  I can’t wait to see if that’s true.

Current status. #fasnacht #confetti #fasnacht2015 #basel #switzerland #welcometobasel

A post shared by lizneilvoss (@lizneilvoss) on

This confetti is serious business. Well, as serious as confetti can be.

  • Banking
    As an American, there are only a few Swiss banks that will actually take me on as a customer.  This is obviously because of the strict, ridiculous tax laws in the US.  We are banking with UBS.
    There’s no such thing as free banking here, either.  There are fees associated with everything.
    Right now, only my husband is working, so the account is in his name and I’m authorized to access it.  When I get a job, however, I will have to have an account in my own name; my future employer will not deposit funds into an account in my husband’s name.
    They don’t use checks over here.  It’s a cash and credit society.
    Our debit cards will not work for online purchases; that requires a Visa or Mastercard.
    The PINs for all our cards are 6 digits.
    Online banking is quite secure.  There’s a whole involved process for signing in.
  • Toilet paper
    Toilet paper isn’t in squares.  It’s rectangular.
  • Public restrooms
    They’re called WCs (for water closets) and name is quite appropriate.  The doors go all the way from floor to ceiling.  It’s pretty nice to have real privacy while using the bathroom in public!
  • Sundays
    They take their day of rest seriously over here.  Stores are closed on Sunday.  Restaurants are closed on Sunday.  You can’t do laundry on Sunday.  You pretty much can’t do anything on Sunday, except for going to the zoo.  The zoo is open.  We stay home for the most part on Sundays; it’s our day for FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts.
  • Quiet hours
    They also take quiet hours in apartments really seriously, too.  Laundry can only be done between 7 AM and 10 PM.  From 10 PM to 6 AM, you aren’t supposed to flush your toilet, take a bath, or take a shower.  The bathing/showing thing isn’t tough, but adjusting to the no flushing thing was hard.  I’ve pretty much got it down now, though.

Another thing that’s different here in Basel specifically is that Fasnacht is held for three days starting the Monday after Ash Wednesday.  Other European countries and the US hold their Carnivals and Mardi Gras leading up to the beginning of Lent, but Basel likes to wait a little bit longer.

It’s day 2 of Fasnacht right now.  I’ll have a post or two up about Fasnacht once the celebration is over.

6 thoughts on “A Strange New World

  1. I found you via WordPress (through the Switzerland tag). I’m moving to Basel soon, so this was an interesting post. I live in Germany now (friom the UK), so some things were familiar. Six digit pins though!! I can barely remember my 4-digit one now!!

    • Yes, I haven’t even attempted to memorize my PIN yet! My husband and I each have a separate one to access the account, then there are separate PINs for the Visa and MasterCard, and then another PIN to access the online banking. So ridiculous!

      Coming from elsewhere in Europe, I’m sure you’ll have a much easier transition. The furthest out of the US I had been before our visit to Basel in October was Canada. There’s a pretty steep learning curve for me 🙂

      I hope you enjoy Basel once you’re here!

      • Yes, I can see how it would be completely different to the US 🙂

        Thank you, we are currently looking for somewhere to live!

    • We have tried them! So much easier than making our own hard-boiled eggs 🙂

      I should do an updated post. I was thinking about that a while ago. Thanks for the reminder!

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