Tag Archives: Zurich Living

Schmutzli – The Bad Santa

 Samichlaus and Schmutzli


Every country has its traditions and rituals and one of the more quirky and oddly satisfying of the Swiss Christmas season is Schmutzli.


Just like Venom to Spiderman, Dr. Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes and Magneto to Dr. Xavier, Schmutzli is a more sinister counter point to the good that Santa represents.

The answer to how this tradition came about is once again representative of another classic battle between Christianity and paganism. Originally it was a pagan ritual called Perchten which involved good spirits driving out the bad old spirits. With Samichlaus taking the Christian “good” role Schmutzli some how managed to evolve into the dark figure.

Samichlaus is not Santa Claus however and the celebration of “St Nicolas Day”is on the 6th of December, while both Christmas and St Nicolas Day both have the same origins they take on different forms, with the latter having much more in common with its original tradition of paganism than its commercialised American brother.

What is personally appealing about this tradition is the fact that it actually give children something to fear at Christmas. No longer is the classic taunt “Santas’ watching” applicable, the phrase “Schmutzli is watching” has far more fear behind it, and only rightly so, the black faced nemesis is associated with stealing children, carries a broom of sticks with which to hit misbehaving children and is even called  Père Fouettard or Father ‘Whip’ in the French speaking part of Switzerland.


Local teenagers have even been known to dress up as groups of Schmutzli’s and go around implementing their own style of vigilante Christmas justice on younger children.

All Christmas songs now have a new tune

You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I’m telling you why

Schmutzli is coming to town


He’s got a stick, And he’ll whip you twice;

It doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice Schmutzli is coming to town

He’ll steal when you’re sleeping, He’ll whip you when you’re awake He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So run for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out! You better not cry Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Schmutzli is coming to town Sounds like excellent incentive for good behaviour from children to me.

Furnishing Your New Home On A Budget In Zurich

Zurich Furniture


So many of us expats will have arrived here by plane, and what does that mean? Well it means we pay for excess luggage by the kilo as opposed to having the luxury of arriving with a van full of possessions.

Contrary to all the places I have previously lived, my new room in Zurich has NO furniture included. So with a limited budget how can you get the most bang for your buck?

Many new expats in a rush to furnish their new home, will however overlook the possibility of buying furniture second hand or even being given furniture, and just go straight to Ikea.

Very few apartments in Zurich are furnished and as a result it is common for people to give away, or sell cheaply their old furniture when they move. Most of this furniture will be Ikea but at a knock down price and maybe with a few bumps and scratches, but easily worth it, especially if you are only here for a limited time.

Here are some of the options I recommend for cheap or free furniture:


People with a larger budget can just go to Ikea, but beware, some of the larger items (leather couches) have a lead in time, however the short term value for money is clear especially when there is a sense of urgency to certain items, for example a bed.

Delivery: There can sometimes be a long delivery wait for large amounts of furniture ordered on-line. Also there is a delivery charge or you can hire a van from them directly (depending on availability -avoid weekends) Their help line speaks English though so make sure to ask them what options are best for you.


Expats on a tight budget with little German will find themselves at ease here. While the availability of suitable furniture here is sporadic it is helpful that all the wheeling and dealing is done through English. If you have the opportunity to get your furniture over a week or so, there are serious deals to be had.

However you must be vigilant and patient as good cheap furniture will be bought up quickly. If you spot the post early enough though sometimes you are lucky enough to get free or very cheap furniture, also try to haggle with the sellers if the costs are still too high for your budget, especially if you are buying multiple items as they will often be under pressure to get rid of the items quickly or will sympathise with your situation.

Delivery: this can be one of the biggest draw backs of buying cheap furniture second hand, the main reason people are selling it so cheaply is because they need to get rid of it and don’t want to move it personally. This means you must arrange to collect and deliver it yourself. See delivery headings below for more info.


This is a great website used by a lot of local people in Zurich and other main cities in Switzerland, the good news for Zurich users is that there is a special English speaking Zurich part, so things are easy to understand. However the main drawbacks to the English speaking site is that not many local German speaking Swiss people use it and it has few bargains to be had compared to its German speaking counter part (see below).

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


While all the adverts here are posted in German, it should be noted that there are thousands compared to the hundreds  in the English site. But finding the item that you are looking for will be slightly more difficult for the non German speaker, for this I recommend opening up google translate in a separate tab and just “google translate” everything, so while this may sound long and tedious you will find far more items of cheap or free furniture, and maybe pick up some new German vocabulary.

The furniture is in the “Allerlei, Mode & Schönheit “ section and then the “Wohnen” subsection, there are further subsections, but at this point it depends what you are looking for. Before google translating every add, try opening then and looking at  the picture and then finding the cost in the article, if the two items match what you are looking for then it is worth translating the add.

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


Another website, but this one is only dedicated to free furniture and is available in English too. The downside is that it is for all of Switzerland and sometimes there are not many items available in Zurich

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


This website is not very well frequented by the Zurich population, but sometimes there are still rare deals to be had in the sale section. Craigslist is notorious for scams though so tread with caution.

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)

BROCKENHAUS – AKA the second-hand shops

There are several of these located in Zurich and some of the smaller ones in your area might be worth a visit for bric-a-brac, but the biggest and most popular one is located just on the North side of the Hauptbahnhoff train tracks, with 3 floors of stuff and loads of furniture it is definitely worth checking out. While the prices may not be as cheap as the charity shops you might be used to, it is still cheapER by Zurich standards. The shop itself is actually generally quite cool and has a great vintage feel about it. There is loads of stuff and it is all very well laid out and not cluttered. Also there are plenty of kitchen crockery and accessories if you just need a few bits and pieces as well as a modest English book section. Worth checking out, even if you don’t need anything.

Delivery: Apparently they do deliver, not sure exactly how much, but it depends on the size and cost of the item, they also do assembly.


There are a couple of really cool flea markets in Zurich. The one I am most familiar with is at Helvetiaplatz at the end of the Langstrasse 8-2.30 on a Saturday. Just to be warned, this is not a high class flea market but has more of a people just trying to sell their old stuff kinda feel. Still though there are some home gems to be had, but not so much furniture as it tends to be what people fit in their car. I probably wouldn’t recommend buying electronics there though, but you can always haggle which is fun, just make sure to brush up on your numbers in German as the majority of vendors speak no/very poor English.There is a good range of bicycles though if you are interested in a cheap and healthy way of getting around.

Delivery Options:

With most of the cheap and free furniture delivery is not an option. So keeping this in mind there are a number of options to get your stuff home safe.

Hiring a van for the day – only if you can arrange it so that you can pick up all your stuff at around the same time, still going to be a couple of hundred CHF. there are many different company’s so shopping around is recommended depending on your needs.

Man with a van– Great for larger items like beds and couches, paid by the hour though so long distances can become an issue. Cost and quality varies greatly, so it is definitely worth shopping around.

Public transport – works best in pairs for smaller single items. Make sure you travel off peak times.

Waren taxi – this is a third party service, kind of like a taxi for your furniture. Great for moves or pick ups from furniture shops where you have multiple items and don’t want to wait for long delivery times. They provide a large variety of moving services, again there are multiple company’s so shop around.

Mobility car sharing – this is like a public car sharing scheme. You subscribe to the service and then you have cheap access to cars all across Switzerland. A very good option for short collections trips as you pay per hour and kilometre. There is a sign up fee, and their website is available in English

Collection with friends – Friends, especially local friends are the best way to move stuff. So ask around amongst the people you know, even if they don’t have their own car maybe they have another sympathetic friend, a subscription to the mobility car scheme or can help you carry stuff on the bus. The value of this help should never be underestimated.

Always make sure to thank all  the people that helped you move or gave you furniture, this can be as simple nice box of chocolates or a dinner at your new place once you have settled in. You should always make sure to offer your friends similar help if they are moving too, as what goes around comes around.


Annual Wine Expo Anchors In Zurich

Avast Mateys, ye annual wine expo has recently Anchor’d at Zurich, with over 4000 different kinds o’ swill from over 165 merchants on 12 different  galleys.  Ye Expo only be in town for a limited time only the 3 – 17th o’ Novembarrr.

For those mateys that be waitin’ t’set sail on this quest of wine discovery, a ticket will set ye back 20 gold doubloons. However, if ye wait around the port entrance thar usually be a gaggle o’ land lubbers trying to sell ye their spare tickets at a cut throat rate. Make sure you pick up your treasure map (guide booklet) on the way in as otherwise the grog merchants will think that ye be just there t’be plunderin’ thar goods and not for actual tradin’.

When ye finally board the deck o’ the ships you have a pretty fine range o’ different merchants, none o’ which seem to be organised in a coherent way or region. One o’ the first rookie mistakes ye can make is just asking for any swill from the first stall thar be. This is where yar treasure map be worthy o’ consultation, locate the page in the map for the merchant in question (an easy way to do this is to look for thar page number badge all the stalls have on their back wall) and then study the different swill that they offer on the list. This is an important part of letting the merchant know that ye be half way serious about their swill on offer.

After having a few samples from, it be recommended t’be changing port unless ye be wishin’ to talk trade with the stall captain. The decks are awash with stalls an it be reccommended t’be tryin’ many different typs o’ swill that take yar fancy. Grub also be on offer for mateys who be needin’ t’take a break from the swill.

Me and me mateys walked the plank near 22 o’clock, and it be advised t’be boardin’ on a day that most mateys be swabbin’ the decks and t’be arriving in advance  o’ 17 o’clock, as the galleys be swamped with landlubbers and difficult to navigate later in the evenin’s.

This be indeed a fruitful quest worthy o’ 20 doubloons, and I be givin’ it me full Arrrrrproval.

24/7 Shopping in Zurich

For expats who come from where 24 hour shopping is the norm, it takes some time to adjust to the limited shopping hours in Zurich. For a long time the particular exception was gas station convenience stores which were open 24/7. No longer. Zurich officials have long (for 20 years) tolerated these 24/7 gas station convenience stores, but now the federal government has banned them from being open 24 hours a day. Specifically they must be closed between 1-5am. For expats coming from more laissez-faire economic environments, these rules on shop opening times are usually easy to learn, but challenging to adapt to and difficult to understand. What used to be easy can now seem daunting. Expats might ask “where should I t go if I urgently need some medication?” or “what if I want to pick up a last-minute missing ingredient for a Sunday meal?” While all of your local shops are closed on Sunday, there are options  for Sunday shopping besides gas station convenience stores. 24 Hour Pharmacies There are 2 24 hour pharmacies in Zurich. From experience, both have multilingual pharmacists that speak English well. Bellevue Apotheke – Theatrestrasse 14 Bahnhof Apotheke – Bahnhofplatz 15 Sunday Shopping For whatever reason, shops located inside SBB owned property are allowed to be open on Sunday so one can get some Sunday shopping done at both the main train station (Zurich Hauptbahnhof) and Bahnhof Enge. Zurich Hauptbahnhof (aka ShopVille) – 9:00 – 20:00 Sunday ShopVille has a wide variety of shopping from groceries, to clothes and electronics. Most of the shops are quite small so they have a limited selection. A full list of shops and a map is located here (German). Bahnhof Enge – 10:00 – 20:00 Sunday Similar to ShopVille, but with much fewer shops. The main shop here is Migros, the large grocery store chain, but there is also a copy store, an electronics store and a bakery. A list of shops and individual opening and closing times is here (German). Holiday Sunday Shopping As we are starting to get into the holiday season, it is important to mention that the rules regarding Sunday shopping are relaxed before Christmas for certain shops and shopping centers. The rules here are confusing, but it seems the shops can choose to be open no more than 3 Sundays.  For example, the large shopping mall SihlCity will be open Sunday November 29th, December 6th, skip a Sunday and then be open again Sunday December 20th from 11:00 – 18:00 .

Lessons Learnt From A First Year In Zurich

We have just come to the end of our first year of living and working in Zurich and I thought it would be useful to note down some of the lessons learnt.So, in no particular order, here you go…

    • Always make sure you have a valid ticket when you use public transport. If you get used to buying a particular type of ticket (eg a 9 O’clock Pass) and you are traveling at a different time than usual, make sure your ticket is valid. If you get this wrong, you might get out of jail with the SBB iPhone application.
    • When you are sure you have the right ticket, double check! The SBB inspectors are clinically efficient. In the last 24 hours I saw a penalty fine being given to a blind disabled woman.
    • Don’t obsess about buying a car or importing one. With a few minutes planning, the train system and Mobility system can cover any journey.
    • You will inevitably go to IKEA. You can rent a van from them for a few hours if you don’t have your own way of getting the packs home, or you can get them delivered. If you have to go on a Saturday, wait until after lunch.
    • If you can, explore the local area on foot or by bike. You will see and experience things that you do not pick up in a car or on the bus.
    • When you use one of the automated petrol payment systems, make sure that the pump you have selected is the one you are using. Some stations have more than one diesel pump but only one is actually usable. When you have finished, check that the pump resets to zero.
    • When using a local company for any service, make sure you know exactly what their charges are. For some reason, it is acceptable for a company to charge you for their time traveling from their base to your home. They will charge in distance and time.
    • The benefit of learning the language cannot be overstated. It may be easy enough getting by in English but speaking (or attempting to speak) the language is better for you and sometimes gets you better service.
    • Timekeeping is extremely important. The transport system is reliable enough that you can accurately plan how to get around.
    • When you have an administrative task to perform, like arranging healthcare or a driving licence, asking five people what to do will give you ten different answers! You can usually get a good idea of what to do at the English Forum.
    • You live in a wonderful country. Respect it and respect its people.

It’s a fairly arbitrary list but is based on experience.Feel free to add your own experiences in the comments.