Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
Switzerland and Canada – similar and yet so different
Majestic mountains, glacier-fed lakes, rushing rivers, and the four seasons we all love; Canada and Switzerland have many similarities, and yet they are so different. Switzerland and Canada are often compared in terms of “quality of living”.
During my recent trip to Switzerland, I focused on catching some differences between the two countries. Despite my Swiss origin, I seem to be more Canadian than Swiss, feeling more at home in Canada than I do in Switzerland for most parts. Still, I love them both!
Whether Canadians visit Switzerland or the Swiss come to Canada, a culture shock must go both ways.
I love Canada and appreciate what the country has to offer, space, wilderness, opportunities, diversity and its people. On the other hand, I adore the beauty of Switzerland, love Swiss cheeses, enjoy drinking raw milk from the tap, and appreciate delicious tap water without chlorine. I admire the Swiss railway and transportation system which takes you anywhere on time.
Of course, I’m grateful to be a citizen of two of the best countries in the world, lucky me!
Update June 2022
This article was published first in April 2017. Since then, I was back in Switzerland for the second time in spring of 2022. At that time, I experienced another difference between Canada and Switzerland worth mentioning.
Life in Switzerland is back to normal just as it was in the pre-Covid era. The land border is open with no restrictions for anyone. It is like nothing ever happened. No mask-wearing anywhere, business is back to normal. In Switzerland, no one talks about the Corona virus anymore.
Not so in Canada, where tough travel restrictions, vaccination mandates and mask-wearing still exist. Unvaccinated people are not allowed to leave the country or board a plane, train or bus. What is happening in ‘The Land of the Free’?
11 differences you will notice between Canada and Switzerland
1. Freshwater from the tap
Switzerland probably has one of the best tap waters in the world. There are no extra added drugs or poisons in the Swiss water system. Whenever you turn on a tap it’s sparkling clear and fresh.
In Switzerland, nearly all restaurants will ask you a certain price for tap water as they have to serve it and wash the glasses, and it’s not because the water is so good. Most Swiss drink mineral water in restaurants instead which is not cheap.
The difference in water quality struck me at Toronto airport when I turned on the tap to wash my hands. Wow, did that ever smell of chlorine, a chemical regularly used in the water treatment process; no wonder most Canadians buy their drinking water in five-gallon jugs.
Still, chances are the water coming out of the tap in Canada is perfectly safe to drink, if you don’t mind the taste. To ask for a jug of water in restaurants is common in Canada and you will never get charged for it.
2. Swiss dairy cows are out to graze every day
Grazing dairy cows are a common sight in Switzerland, with cowbells or without; content and happy cows enjoying the green grass.
Canada’s dairy farms are larger than the Swiss ones and operated factory-like. The dairy cows are kept in barns and don’t get to see sunlight or taste the fresh grass.
3. Raw milk from the tap
Switzerland is known for the highest quality milk. That might be the reason that farmers in Switzerland are allowed to sell raw milk directly from the farm. Across Switzerland, milk vending machines offer farm-fresh milk 24/7.
In Canada, raw milk cannot legally be sold. Only if you happen to own your own cow can you legally consume raw milk; not to worry, B.C. residents can cross the border to Washington State and buy raw milk legally.
4. Swiss shopping experience on a Saturday afternoon
Try not to do that. Don’t go shopping on a Saturday afternoon in a Swiss shopping mall in Canton Lucerne. This will be a shocking experience for Canadians who are used to friendly sales personnel. Coming from Canada, we are a friendly bunch and shopping is not only business, we like to chat along the way. Most of the Swiss sales personnel don’t seem to appreciate this; especially not on a Saturday before starting the weekend.
All shops close at 4 pm on Saturday and don’t open again till Monday.
Talking about the unfriendly Swiss, get used to their unsmiling faces and expect rude behaviour, especially if you’re a foreigner. If you stand in line somebody probably jumps the queue, pushing right in front of you. If this happens, just use your elbow and push back in front of them.
In Canada, sales personnel, as well as servers in restaurants are extremely friendly in serving customers. If they don’t, they lose their job.
5. Alcoholic beverages and liquor at the Super Market
Switzerland’s drinking culture is more liberal than the controlled drinking in Canada. This starts with the Swiss grocery stores where alcoholic beverages are sold. The Swiss don’t need to go to a special store to buy their drinks.
Buying booze for a night out can be a big chore in some Canadian provinces where beer, wine, and spirits are only sold in provincially-owned and private liquor stores. In some provinces, the law recently changed and beer and local wines are sold at some grocery stores.
6. No GMO Food in Switzerland
Genetically modified (GMO) crops were banned in Switzerland in 2005 and have never been used in agriculture. In 1995, Switzerland introduced regulations requiring the labelling of food containing GMOs and was one of the first countries to introduce labelling requirements.
Instead, mandatory labelling of GMO food is not required in Canada. Canadians are often unaware that the foods they eat contain GMO ingredients.
7. Breastfeeding in public places
In general, the Swiss are very tolerant of public breastfeeding. If you can train yourself to do it in public places, you can just pull a chair at any coffee shop and get down to business. With mamamap you will easily find a place for breastfeeding that is close to you, where ever you are in Switzerland.
Although breastfeeding in public is a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the controversy over whether it is okay is still going on in 2017.
8. Narrow windy roads
Many roads in Switzerland are narrow and steep with hairpins making you concentrate on the driving. Depending on the season, the roads are crowded with cars and buses; you won’t find a Swiss road without traffic.
Although all the roads you drive are paved, some of them are scary. The incredible views remind you of the deep drop next to you and what could happen if you would swerve off too far to make space for an oncoming vehicle.
Most Canadian Roads are wide and made for large RVs and trucks, but not all the roads are paved. In northern Canada highways are built on permafrost and you need to be well-prepared for any road trip. And there is our wildlife we have to worry about.
Check out my related articles about driving in Canada:
You can rent a motorhome for travelling in Switzerland, similar to what you can rent in Canada. But if you decide to head for the alps I suggest you rent a small camper van, like the one in the picture. Those vans are widely available, offer all the basic comfort and make it easy to get around.
Small camper vans are not common in Canada. Our wide roads and enormous space call for huge Motorhomes and RVs.
Every Swiss town has its own church with a bell tower. Obviously, the bells ring every hour and additionally for any special occasion. To some, church bells ringing are a typical sound of Switzerland. To others, it’s an annoying noise that keeps them awake at night.
Traditionally, bells of all kinds have been a part of the Swiss culture, from church bells to cowbells.
Religion can be a sensitive topic in Canada. This is due to the fact that Canada has many different religious faiths and traditions. This results in having a number of different churches in every town and community. Many of the churches are just simple buildings and don’t resemble our image of a church.
All across Canada, many Christian churches are being abandoned or sold and make way for other uses.
11. Hiking Trails
Switzerland has 65,000 km of waymarked trails and lets you discover nearly every corner of the country. The trails are well marked and as varied as the scenery. It’s hard to get lost when you hike in Switzerland.
Signalization of mountain trails is a yellow signpost. Signalization of Alpine routes is a blue signpost. All signposts include information panels at the beginning of Alpine routes indicating special requirements.
The rugged Canadian landscape provides amazing trails for hiking. Because of Canada’s enormous size, trailheads are often difficult to get to and require good planning and lots of time. Forget about public transportation if you’re out in the backcountry. Canada’s large network of hiking trails offers many multiple day-hikes. Usually, there is no small town nearby and not many people on the trails. You’re pretty much on your own.
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