Guests: What to Expect out of a European Hotel

Post by Lauren

We have lived here so long, we sometimes forget some of the fascinating differences of European life.  Today, we’ll examine the European hotel room.

In Switzerland, most hotels that we stay in are owned by families instead of corporations.  It makes for an endearing special stay and you know you are supporting local business.

Some of the differences:

Check in and Check out times – they are usually posted and you need to arrive and depart in these parameters or otherwise, the desk might not be staffed.

Payment – usually always after your stay.  They don’t usually ask for any credit card or ID up front. The Swiss are very trusting.

Language – don’t be surprised if they don’t speak English.  But they are friendly and always willing to help.  Usually its straightforward.  Get key. Return key. Pay.

However, our biggest challenge was in Verbier where we had to understand door codes, access times, etc and I was glad for my French lessons then.  Especially when we couldn’t figure it out and had to ask the reception lady to come give us a demonstration.

Beds – usually a double room has two twin beds pushed together with their own comforter.  Gabe likes this as I am a cover-hog so he is ensured a comfortable sleep in a Swiss hotel.

Image courtesy of

Bathroom – don’t expect soap or shampoo.  Be surprised to find both.  Sometimes they combine hair/body getl in in a dispenser in the shower.  So, look there before panicking.

One time, we stayed in a place that had no soap, shampoo or towels.  I quickly learned to bring extra in the future, just in case.

I have not found conditioner yet.  Bring your own if you have long hair!

Hairdryers are rare in Swiss hotel rooms.  Check ahead if you require one.

Bath linens – you won’t get a washcloth.  Europeans simply don’t use them.   One of our friends who lives here says “if they want to play that game, I’m just going to wet the entire hand towel”.  And so do we…..

Breakfast – most of the time included in the room rate, but not guaranteed.  It is more likely that it is included in Switzerland than other areas of Europe.

Many small hotels will put your group name or room numbers on your reserved breakfast table.  So, be sure to look for that when entering the breakfast area.  It is their way of ensuring that the tables are used efficiently as they have limited space.

Typically they serve a buffet of cereals, yogurts, breads, cheeses and meats.  Sometimes there are hard boiled eggs. And sometimes they have raw eggs and you have to boil them yourself.

One of my favorite discoveries is Birchermüesli.  Its yogurt with granola and small fresh and dried fruits.  It looks a little gross but it is one of my new preferred Swiss breakfast items.

Image courtesy of

They usually bring carafes of coffee and milk to your table.  Also something to look forward to – they usually heat the milk that they serve.  It is a nice perk.

Typically, you’ll find a small plastic bin on the table.  It’s for trash – for your tiny scraps / papers.  This has been interesting to our guests.  Speaking of waste, it is more proper in Europe to take small portions of food at a time in a buffet type setting.  It isn’t looked upon kindly if you leave tons of food on your plate like is common in the US.

Also, most breakfast rooms have signs indicating all food must be eaten in the dining area. So, it isn’t allowed to grab-and-go for later.  I have been guilty of this in the US with taking a piece of fruit for a snack later.  I feel like it isn’t as frowned upon back home as it is here.

Our most recent guests inquired why they don’t have pancakes, bacon and eggs like they do in America?  Answer:  It is just not their thing.    We haven’t seen this type of breakfast since we left the States unless its in our own kitchen.

However, although slightly different, we hope you enjoy the Swiss hotel experience!

A page from the Swiss rulebook: Visit and Thank you specifics

Post by Lauren

When moving to Switzerland, I read quite a lot about how to properly thank people and what to bring when you are invited to a true Swiss person’s home. All these books advised that it would be quite rare to actually get invited to a Swiss home as an ex-pat, since they only invite trusted long term friends vs. folks who are only here in two year stints. ( See more on this and tu and vous on Schwingen in Switzerland )

However, I thought we better be prepared, so I have noted the following:

Rule #1 – When going to a dinner party, you should bring a gift for the gentleman and a gift for the lady. So, perhaps a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Or chocolate for her and whisky for him.

We saw this when Gabe’s co-workers came to pick up the large items we had included in our shipment for them, after they found out it wasn’t possible to buy in Switzerland. They brought him a very nice bottle of champagne and me this gorgeous orchid that has been adding so much color to our home this summer. They obviously read the manual and I was impressed by their gesture.

Sub-Rule 1a – if there are children, you must also bring something for them like a chocolate or a toy.

Sub-Rule 1b – if you bring wine, it is noted to make sure it is of high quality.

Check. Good to know not to bring the Boones farm to the nice gatherings.

Sub-rule 1c – if you bring flowers, they should not be carnations, or lilies which mean death or yellow roses.

Sub-rule 1c1 – do not ever bring an even number of flowers. Only odd. Its bad luck to bring even.

Glad to know about the even/odd thing. I’ll make sure to note this.

However, I am concerned that they had to put the clause about buying carnations in this book…who is out there buying carnations anymore?

Rule # 2 – Always wait for your guest to offer a toast such as “Santé”* before drinking. Don’t clink your glasses like American’s do. Make sure to stare deeply into everyone’s eyes before taking a sip.

Check. I can handle that. We have actually been practicing the “santé” quite a bit. Except everyone seems to interpret “deeply” as “creepy”. See A executing the creepy santé below.

Rule #3 – leave by 9pm.

Check. When I lived in Charlotte and went to the gym at 5am, I can appreciate this rule. Most of my Charlotte friends have witnessed me falling asleep at my own dinner party. That was usually their signal to leave.

Also, we have heard that we shouldn’t make noise between 8pm and 8am. So, no running the dishwasher, washer/dryer and certainly no footsteps. We haven’t had any issues with neighbors so far, but our friends have had neighbors approach them and tell them that they won’t think twice about calling the police if they hear a peep from them after 10pm.

Rule # 4 – never ever show up at someone’s door unannounced. The Swiss are very private people.

Check. Every building has a door code anyway. I don’t plan on breaking in to crash on new nonexistent Swiss friends.

So far we have only done Canadienne Buffets at friends homes, more in the style we are used to. We like this as everyone just brings a dish and we don’t have to buy each other gifts ever time we go over to each others houses. But now we are prepared in the case of Swiss friends. We shall keep you posted if we ever need to use such rules! I’m not banking on it….

*Santé means “to your health” and is pronounced sonn-tay! You should try it at home.


A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: 1st Class

Post by Lauren

I wish this lesson for you hadn’t come with a 150 franc fine for us (equivalent of $200 USD) but unfortunately there is no such thing as a second chance or a warning in the minds of the Switzerland train patrol.

We have frequently ridden RER, regional trains, as it is the most direct way to get to and from the airport. Swiss trains are immaculate, perfect, and once they have had a good life riding along on the pristine swiss railways, it becomes their turn to be set free in the pasture. With the pasture being the airport and RER routes that are 15 minutes tops, and don’t require a world-class choo-choo.

You can ride these RER trains for the same price as a TPG ticket, so 3 CHF, or for us, free since we have an annual abonnement for public transport. From the airport, its literally free to encourage tourism.

What we didn’t know was that these little regional trains actually have a designation of first and second class. We went for the short line when boarding the train back from Russin, but mistakenly entered the first class cabin. No clue. No less than 30 seconds after the train started, we were approached. No biggie, we were all covered by our TPG passes. Not so much. They pointed out we were in first class.

“Oh, so sorry, we didn’t know. We’ll move,” we said.

“Trop tard,” said the stone-faced police man. This is “too late” in French.

“Really? We didn’t know these had classes, we’ll happily move there,” pointing at the 2nd class cabin, literally through a few yards, through the first set of doors.

He sternly asked for all our identification and issued us 4 tickets. By the time he finished issuing them all, we were at our very short destination of the main train station.

So, a very expensive lesson learned this weekend and a big buzz kill to the wine festival.

What do you think…..did we get what we deserved….or would you have given us a second chance?


Suiting it up in Geneva

Post by Lauren

Barney Stinson would love Geneva. Obviously for the level of awesomeness, but really the fellows in Geneva really know how to “suit it up”.

I still find it amazing to see everyone in their perfectly pressed suits whizzing by on their mopeds to work, on their bikes, and motorcycles. Men and women.

If you walk down the downtown Geneva anytime between 9a and 11a, you are sure to have a 3:1 suit to normal wear ratio. It makes me feel super self conscious since I am normally found in my gym clothes at that time.

If you think I’m kidding, even the guys at Globo gym behind the reception desk wear suits. Seriously..the gym?

I learned recently that the word suit in French is costume. I find this particularly funny in Geneva.

Look!!! A big sale on costumes!!

For more Swiss fashion trends, check out A’s blog.

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: Personal Space

Post by Lauren

Today we are addressing the Swiss rule book on personal space. Or lack thereof.

My displeasure at this cultural difference has been brewing for months. It erupted most often prior to most recent events at IKEA. As you shop at European IKEAs, people brush beside you, even where there is plenty of room. By the time we get to the frames, I am usually really to kill somebody. Gabe knows I have a time limit at IKEA due to this issue and tries to get me out of there in under an hour. Sometimes we had to go only in for one thing as we knew that the time to decide on two items might push me over the hour limit, and thus over the edge of sanity.

This place makes me go bonkers

While noticeable throughout the summer, the invasion of personal space became a forgotten thing at the end of the summer. I spent a lot of time back in the US where everyone sticks to themselves.

And upon return to Europe, the number of people in Geneva has multiplied. Like rabbits. If you were wondering where they went, they were all on vacation. Trams, buses, places are generally more crowded. In a crowd, one might try to separate from others to not invade another’s area. Not true in Switzerland. Even in empty places, they try to snuggle up next to you.

Yesterday, I went to the gym at 6:45am. The bus is empty at that hour. People usually don’t get going until 9am. So, I happily found an empty row on the bus. There were about 10 empty rows. I even had room to put my gym bag / purse on the seat next to me. So guess what next lady to board does? Sit beside me. I had to move my bag to my lap. Really?

And this morning, Gabe and I went together to the gym at 6:30am. Empty. Blissful. You get your pick of equipment. I laid a mat down to do abs for 20 minutes before disco spin. And my keys to my locker that i have to keep up with the whole time. On the vast vast vast floor, a lady comes and lays her mat on top of my keys about 3 inches from me. I said “pardon” and reached under her mat to get my keys. And she gave me a nasty look. Really?

I am just waiting for what fun is in store for space invasion tomorrow. I am considering getting a bubble suit to protect myself.

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Honor System

Post by Lauren

As you have probably noticed from our blog, the Swiss love to follow rules. Part of the reason I get yelled and honked at is that they assume everyone else wants to follow all the rules, perfectly, just like them. They aren’t trying to be mean, they just assume that others would want to know that we are doing something wrong so I could fix it. In their minds, they are “helping you out”. Sometimes, its okay, when I really do something wrong…I want to fix it. But when I am yelled at for crossing the street, with no cars coming for miles, just because the red man hasn’t turned to a green man, then that is when it annoys me.

But along the same lines, it’s this trait that shapes one of my favorite Swiss characteristics and that is their trust and honesty. It isn’t unusual for the Swiss to leave their doors unlocked, and even keys in the car on the street. Its that same assumption that no one would do anything wrong knowingly.

That is why Swiss bank accounts are numbered, without names in association. It’s each persons responsibility to report their taxes honestly. This is why there was such a big to-do when the US demanded Switzerland hand over the American’s bank account information who might be hiding money. To the Swiss, banking is private, and they believe their citizens will report honestly their bank information when it comes to tax time.

An example of this is the TPG, the transportation system. There are machines to buy tickets, but no one checks your tickets prior to boarding the bus or tram. Yet, they don’t seem to have any problem with this. I have seen two random checks in my 4 months here, and no one was in violation.

Another example is when paying for a paper. You aren’t required to put the coins in before taking a paper. You just drop them in a separate bucket. Its simple….just the honor system.

You never have to worry about someone short-changing you in Switzerland. It would be unheard of. Its a good thing, as my French numbers are still not up to par.

I find it refreshing that they have this must trust in others.

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Dryer

Post by Lauren

It isn’t unusual to see people wear the same outfit for a few days in a row in Europe. It’s a very common occurrence for your professor to wear the same outfit all week, or co-workers.

One theory I have is on the difficulty of doing laundry. We find ourselves very lucky to have a washer/dryer in our place. This isn’t normal. There are two main reasons someone wouldn’t have this in their home:
1. most buildings are older and don’t have the hookups.
2. the price is insane. I mean insane.

Buying a W/D in the US isn’t that bad. I did get a GE Friends and Family deal, but think mine maybe cost 800 for both, including the delivery. We were floored by prices upon arrival here. The low end units are about 3000 CHF for a pair, with most being in the 5000-6000 / pair range. Add on 20% for exchange rate and it ends up being more than a lot of cars.

I actually recently learned that there is a reason….that is, beyond the fact that everything is just laughably more expensive here. On of my books states that everything is tinier in Switzerland so they have to make special W/D units for this little country in order for them to fit into most bathrooms. You can then see how producing only a few units a year would raise the prices. And thank goodness we have the tiny ones. As you read in our post about their arrival, there are only 6 inches between the edge and our shower pit currently. If it were bigger, we couldn’t fit in the shower.

Don't be jealous that I can do laundry and shower at the same time.

But, these little guys can’t fit but maybe 8 garments at a time. Or two towels. Or maybe one set of sheets – if you are lucky to get the fitted and the normal in the same load. And then it takes 5 hours to do a completely load as the washer cycle is 2:20 and the dryer is 2:30. Don’t even think you’d be lucky enough to have a set of dry clothes after 2 ½ hours either. They are still wet at that point. I think it is some sort of protective mechanism to prevent wasting electricity. I mean, why would you even want your clothes to be dry when they come out of the dryer? So wasteful. Just kidding. I only have that attitude since I can’t trick the darn thing. I try to empty the bladder* turn it off/on and confuse the machine to dry it like a fresh load, but it knows. It’s smart. It turns for a minute until I leave the room. Then it shuts off again. There is no tricking a Swiss dryer to waste electricity. It wouldn’t be very Swiss of it. So I still have to air dry everything all over the house after it has dryer time.

*Don’t be jealous of the fact that our dryer has a bladder. You have to empty it after every load or else nothing gets dry at all. Don’t believe me or know what a dryer bladder is? Here is a shot….luckily the bathtub is right there so i don’t have to find out where to dump the entire tank.

This must be emptied between every load and sometimes during loads with heavy items like towels