On the differences between Switzerland and the U.S.


I came across an interview of a Swiss woman traveling in New York City and just had to share since it perfectly captures some of the differences between my home country and my adopted country. The original interview appeared in New York Magazine.

Americans do not know much about Switzerland.

“We’re from Bern in Switzerland. Even though it’s the capital of Switzerland, no one knows where it is.”

Yep. Although every Swiss person I’ve encountered knows that Washington, D.C. is the capital of the U.S., I’m guessing many Americans could not point to Switzerland on a map of Europe. Most people believe I live somewhere near Norway or Sweden. They think I live in someplace unbearably cold and snow-covered. Switzerland is actually down by Italy and Geneva’s winters are milder than D.C.’s.

Americans smoke far less than the Swiss. 

“We’re staying at an Airbnb in the East Village that’s very, very nice, but the fire alarm has gone off three times!”

I have not encountered a smoke alarm in Switzerland ever — I think, because smoking is so acceptable here. I have even seen my neighbors lighting up in my apartment building’s elevator since they can’t wait to get outside. Yuck! Smoking is outlawed even in public parks in California, so I’ve found this cultural difference very difficult to stomach. We actually brought a smoke alarm back from the U.S. for our Swiss apartment because we needed that little blinking red light for our peace of mind.

Americans are more aware of each others’ space than the Swiss.

“I was really surprised by how respectful people are of one another here. Except when we were having trouble with our MetroCard at JFK. An American lady yelled at us.”

I never realized the unspoken codes I adhere to in public spaces in the U.S. until I started living in Switzerland. When on a bus or metro in the U.S. it is considered polite to move to the inside seat to leave the outside seat free. One does not crowd around the door of a bus or elevator when new passengers are boarding. You always stand on the right of an escalator to allow people to pass on the left. Not so much in Switzerland. There is an “every man for himself” mentality here. As far as the woman who yelled at the Swiss traveler — well, welcome to New York.

I can’t wait to share more photos from our weekend in Zermatt. Meanwhile, a few, fun links:


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