Avoid Making This Toilet Mistake When Visiting Switzerland

It's important to be aware of a country's unique customs and laws before you cross its borders. This can prevent unnecessary issues and ensure you remain respectful. While many of these guidelines will likely be obvious or innate (i.e. do not steal), others might catch you off guard. For instance, as a foreigner in Switzerland, you might innocently flush the toilet in the middle of the night. But, doing so might lead to the locals next door snubbing you in the morning. 

This is because flushing the toilet after 10 p.m. or before 7 a.m. can be considered rude if your Swiss neighbor overhears it. Despite their infamous neutrality, this is a matter that the Swiss take a definitive stance on. To be clear, flushing the toilet during these hours is not illegal, though it's a popular urban legend. However, making noise during designated rest periods is. 

For instance, in Zurich, periods of quiet time include 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., and all day long on Sundays. If you're living in a rental property, these rules are often pretty strict as the landlord is entitled to define what kind of noise is prohibited (otherwise, just use your common sense). At some point, it's possible that landlords used this right to prohibit flushing the toilet past 10 p.m., resulting in the illegal flushing myth.

Rental properties have a unique set of rules

As previously mentioned, landlords in Switzerland are allowed to create a rather specific, lengthy list of caveats in their tenant contracts. This is what's known as the "house rules" or "Hausordnung." Whatever is detailed by your landlord can be enforced by local authorities. Well, almost. In the past, Swiss landlords were notorious for instituting an extensive, overly restrictive list of conditions. This included rules like when to flush the toilet or do your laundry. But there is no standardized, nationwide law or policy on such things. 

A landlord must provide a substantial argument that their house rules are reasonable and not too invasive. However, noise pollution laws and the practicality of house rules are somewhat open to debate. Given the case-by-case nature of these laws, Thomas Oberle, a lawyer with the Swiss homeowners' association HEV, told The Local that despite a tenant's legal protections around dubious house rules, "I wouldn't recommend running a bath at night as the noise would be inconsiderate," for instance. Again, common sense is key.

Being polite is a huge part of Swiss culture

Switzerland is known for some of the best skiing and long-distance hiking trails in the world. It's also known for having a mix of distinct cultures united under the Swiss nationality. With four official national languages — German, French, Italian, and Romansh — the Swiss have become experts in cohabitating peacefully. As a result, their culture prioritizes the importance of polite behavior. 

The conservative, quiet, and rule-following nature of Swiss people likely explains why loud disturbances are so frowned upon. While most countries have some rules regulating noise pollution, Switzerland enforces theirs with a very tight grip. For instance, in the US, you cannot throw large, raging parties, past certain designated hours. But, in Switzerland, you are asked to abstain from laughter and arguments that could be overheard by neighbors. 

If you're coming from a relatively more boisterous country and visiting Switzerland, coping with culture shock might be more challenging than usual. You don't have to silence yourself or do anything drastic, but just remember to observe the local quiet hours, always be considerate of those around you, and try to hold off on your midnight flush if you can.