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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 been back in Switzerland in the spring of 2022. At that time, I experienced another difference between Canada and Switzerland worth mentioning.

Life in Switzerland was back to normal just as it was in the pre-Covid era. The land border was open with no restrictions for anyone. It was like nothing ever happened. No mask-wearing anywhere, and business was back to normal. In Switzerland, no one mentioned Coronavirus anymore.

Not so in Canada, where tough travel restrictions, vaccination mandates and mask-wearing still existed at the time. 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

Drinking Water Canada
Water fountains are all over Switzerland

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

Dairy Cows grazing in Switzerland
Happy and healthy Swiss cows

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 operate 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

Raw Milk from the tap on farms in Switzerland
Raw milk from the tap at the farm

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 a cow can you 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

Lucerne Switzerland along the Reuss
LIve along Lake Vierwaldstaettersee (Lake Luderne)

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

Canada vs Switzerland
Booze selection at a small-town supermarket

Switzerland’s drinking culture is more liberal than 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

Heisse Marroni - speciality
Heissi Marroni (roasted chestnuts)

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

Lucerne on the lake - Switzerland
Beautiful Lucerne

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, wherever 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

Switzerland - narrow roads
Driving narrow Swiss mountain 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:

9. Campervans

Campervan hire Switzerland
Camping experience Switzerland

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.

10. Churches

Swiss Churches
Every village has a church tower with a ringing bell

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 because Canada has many different religious faiths and traditions. This results in having several 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

Hiking Trails Switzerland
Hiking paradise Switzerland where you can’t get lost

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.

The signalization of mountain trails is a yellow signpost. The 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.

But no matter where you hike in Canada, you can easily encounter wild animals. Learn about the Canadian wilderness dangers and be safe.

Canada wildflowers
Swiss wildflowers

Related Article

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Yrene Dee

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.


  1. ferdaws kharazmi

    Beautiful article! I am really happy someone wrote an article about two best countries in the world I love both of them currently I live in Canada I am so thankful to be here.
    Switzerland has been my dream country.high mountains, clean water, high living standard as you mentioned.
    After moving to Canada two years ago I always have been curious about our differences in terms of culture, education, language and infrastructure. In fact, Switzerland is not only similar to Canada but also to Afghanistan. funny eh? in terms of natural living in mountain villages, having access to rivers, eating fresh vegetables, a lot of agriculture land. very similar but a century behind Switzerland in terms of education, infrastructure, security, health, anyway I hope next generation will enjoy high quality of living in Afghanistan one day.
    I am sorry that you had awful shopping experience and with people I hope that is not the case for every tourist.

    • Yrene Dee

      Thanks for your comment. Wow, Afganistan would have never come to my mind for similarities with the two countries. When were you there?

  2. tourist

    great website! enjoyed the article, however, in Canada dairy cows do see sunlight and taste grass- we just have mass production farms which means they usually are a year old before spending their lives in the pasture.

    • Yrene Dee

      Hi Tourist, thanks for your comment. You’re right, I noticed the last couple of years dairy cows grazing in Canada, which is a good thing. And yes, in Canada it’s more mass production and therefore a different situation. Switzerland also gets much more rain and has lush green grass all year round, which seems to add to the quality of dairy products. (Nothing against Canadian Dairy farmers of course!)

  3. John McElheran

    Regarding cows.

    I come from dairy country in eastern Ontario. Cows are always outside during the spring, summer, fall and winter if it’s not too cold. They may not be too far from the barn because they have to come in for milking but they are outside.

    Out west where I live they are also always outside grazing. I never heard of cows being inside all the time.
    Did you go to a factory farm or feed lot ? If they were always in the barn you wouldn’t have cowboys.

    • Yrene Dee

      Thanks, John for your feedback. Maybe the dairy farms I know of are exceptions. Good to know that Canadian cows get to graze as well.

  4. Simi

    Hi. Very useful. What do you have to say when comparing Zurich Vs Vancouver for

    1. Education till high school and later
    2. Social Life on Weekends
    3. Weather in Vancouver
    4. Life with Family and Kids till age of 15.
    5. Public Transport for Work and Family
    6. Crime and Safety
    7. Healthcare – Private Vs Public

    • Yrene Dee

      As a born Swiss, my opinion might be different than someone else’s, but here it is:
      Swiss education is first class but more stressful for students and more strict than in Canada. The weather is similar and it rains a lot but cooler temperatures in Vancouver. Lots to do for families with kids. In Switzerland, you can manage without a car as they have an amazing countrywide transportation system but not so in Canada. If you want to travel in Canada you will need a car unless you stay in the city. Switzerland is known as one of the safest places in the world.
      I’ll be updating this blog shortly and will try to add some differences and similarities you mentioned.

  5. Addi

    Although large motor homes and RVs are popular among retirees in Canada there are A LOT of smaller vans and trailers of varying shapes and sizes on the road as well.

    • Yrene Dee

      You’re right, there are more and more smaller sized campers and vans on the road in Canada as well.

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