What if we moved to Lausanne?
September 8, 2011 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about living in Lausanne, Switzerland.

We are contemplating a move to Lausanne, Switzerland in the near future. We are a family of two and would have a gross salary of about 140,000 CHF. Can you tell me about:

- The quality of life? What about with that salary?
- Potential to meet new people/make new friends? Is it a fairly open or closed culture?
- Public transit and commuting? What about a daily commute Lausanne-Geneva?
- Markets and food?
- Things to do around, i.e., outside the city?

Anything else you think of would be great. I have looked at some of the forums, but I am hoping for another perspective.

posted by ohio to Travel & Transportation around Lausanne, Switzerland (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Can't comment on Lausanne specifically but having recently moved to Basel here are my observations:

- quality of life all over Switzerland is very high, and whilst the cost of living is higher than elsewhere in the world your quoted salary should still allow 2 people to live very comfortably and allow you to travel around Europe for example should you want to do that

- public transit is excellent everywhere I've been in Switzerland - as in very frequent, very good coverage, very clean and reliable and good value, compared to for example the UK. I've not got a car and don't feel the need to get one and I frequently travel all around German speaking Switzerland. As to your specific commute - do a search on www.sbb.ch and see how many connections you have and how frequent etc

- you tend to get great outdoor activities all over Switzerland, the food is of high quality and you tend to find markets. It is worth noting that shopping tends to be restricted to working hrs and perhaps Saturdays, that it is generally difficult to schedule any kind of appointments or anything outside normal working hrs etc. On the upside, people do have lunch breaks etc. It's just a fairly quaint way of doing things. Recently I was working somewhere and the discount supermarket across the road had a two hr lunch break every day, where the shop was closed!!!

- ease of meeting people and making friends is an interesting point. Whenever I travel to the US it strikes me how completely random people strike up conversations with you about all manner of casual topics - people are very outgoing and chatty. The Swiss definitely don't do that. They are courteous and charming but will keep you at arm's length for a while/for ever. For example your Swiss colleagues will go to lunch with you at work quite happily but they will not generally involve you in their life after work, unless they have got to know you well and truly embraced you. Feel honoured and accepted if a Swiss person invites you to their home. After 9 months in Switzerland that has happened twice to me, both colleagues I have spent a lot of time with, one of whom I'd met several months before moving to Switzerland when we were both working in India for a while and all the western rotators were spending all their spare time together...

Which leaves you with the expat community and as half the people who live in Switzerland are expats there are large expat communities everywhere and they tend to embrace the new expats.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:40 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, I had a really long comment in the making, but then my browser window crashed, so I'll try to reconstruct it as best as I can. koahiatamadl has answered the generalities perfectly; I'll just fill in some Lausanne-specific details.

- The best way to make friends with locals in Switzerland is through shared interests, which are considered a much stronger basis for friendship than random circumstances such as who your next door neighbors are or who shares your work commute. Depending on your comfort level with French, Migros, one of our two supermarket-cooperative-juggernauts, runs an adult education center which also has a lot of arts/leisure-related classes. (They also offer French classes.)

- Public transit is expensive but fast, clean, frequent, and almost always on time. You may still need a car for hauling things around occasionally, but you won't be absolutely dependent on it the way you would be in all but the most public transit friendly US cities. As far as commuting between Lausanne and Geneva goes there are trains running at least twice an hour (more like four times an hour during working hours) for all but the small hours of the morning, taking 30-50+ minutes depending on how many stops they make. For daily commuting you can buy a travelcard for reduced fares.

- Perishable food quality is much higher, variety of other food products much lower than in the US. Food in France is comparable or better quality (depending on the exact product) and cheaper in France, and people often make the 2 hour round trip on weekends to stock up on certain foods. (In our case, duck/duck products, dark chocolate, and fancy salt.) If you eat a lot of alternative foods (allergen-free, organic, etc), health food stores do exist but the pickings are quite slim compared to the more cosmopolitan arts of the US.

- Stores close at 6:30 (7-7:30 for the largest department stores/supermarkets only) on weekdays, 6 on Saturdays, and aren't open Sundays. Many small Mom-and-pop shops are closed on Mondays as well.

- Lausanne has a lot of fun outdoor markets: farmers' markets over the summer, weekly flea markets, a Christmas fair, etc. There are lots of cultural and outdoor activities, and apparently the nightlife's great, but the overall pace of the city is much slower than most parts of the US I've been in.

Other random things off the top of my head:
- It's a lot easier to get by with just English than many other non-English-speaking countries, but it's still not recommended. If you don't have a fairly good grasp of French already, definitely learn even if you spend most of your time with English speakers, because you never know when you need your electricity checked and the electrician doesn't speak English (a situation my non-Francophone father had to deal with today while my mother and I were out of the house).
- Keep in mind that Switzerland is overall a fairly conservative country, although the Vaud/Geneva area is much more liberal.
- American pop culture filters in on a several month delay -- if you dislike spoilers you may have to brush up on your spoiler-dodging skills, or learn to live with 'em -- but Miyazaki films always show up a year earlier than in the US, I assume because of some sort of licensing deal.
posted by bettafish at 11:12 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the answers! One thing I forgot to ask: how hard will it be to find an apartment? What about one that accepts cats? What neighborhoods should we look for and what agencies should we use?
posted by ohio at 4:15 PM on September 8, 2011

You may find this blog useful (written by a friend of mine): http://swisswatching.com/
posted by danceswithlight at 7:49 PM on September 8, 2011

Sorry, I can't help with that -- I live with family, and they found our apartment while I was away at college (in the US). Buuuut I know plenty of people who keep cats in their apartment, so that at least I can't imagine being an issue. However, if you're thinking of bringing a cat over from the US you should definitely look into pet quarantine procedures both US --> Switzerland and coming back if you plan on returning before the end of your cat's lifespan. (I think US policy is more stringent than the Swiss's, last I heard.)
posted by bettafish at 7:23 AM on September 9, 2011

I lived in Lausanne for 2.5 years and I had a phenomenal experience. I think previous commenters have well described what it's like to live in Switzerland -- pretty expensive, but great quality of life and incredible public transportation. I would also say that, for someone like me coming from the US, I really enjoyed the "smallness" of Switzerland. You will frequently see places and things you recognize on TV or hear about them on the radio, the Mayor of Lausanne can often be seen wandering around the Hotel de Ville, and it isn't uncommon to read stories in the free newspaper about people you have met. Also, I really enjoyed the whole French language aspect: Swiss French is clear, easy to understand, and only slightly different from Parisian French. There's just something fun about saying "huitante" or "quel chenit!"

As for finding an apartment ... well, good luck. I wrote a couple of blog posts about my apartment hunt (I can private message you my blog, if you like) and all I can say is that it was the worst thing about Switzerland by far. In a nutshell: apartments are extremely scarce, the application process is very confusing, and the casual racism/anti-foreigner sentiment that you encounter will shock and anger you. Basically, the system is designed such that Swiss people, who know lots of other Swiss people and have great connections, have a difficult but not impossible time finding an apartment where as foreigners have a herculean task. I arrived in the middle of July but could not find a permanent place until the Middle of October. In that time, I visited roughly 60 apartments and made 39 applications before I finally found one.

As far as neighborhoods go, all of Lausanne is beautiful. The only place I really wouldn't want to live (due to general unpleasantness) would be Rue de la Borde/Place du Tunnel/Rue du Vallon. Other than that, my only concern would be proximity to transportation/work. Most foreigners, it seems, end up living either out in Renens/Chavannes/Ecublens (which is nice, but not close to town) or in the Place du Chauderon area. I lived near Place du Chauderon and I don't think a single tenant in my building was Swiss. Still, it was a cool area and a place I was happy to be. I would say, apply everywhere, check out each apartment on an individual basis, and just hope to get anything.

As far as agencies, I'm not sure if they are too helpful but there are a lot of websites that have pretty exhaustive listings of available apartments. I would recommend anibis.ch and immo.search.ch. As far as services go, I have heard good things about Immodiffusion, which might be worth your money.

Talking about Lausanne is pretty much my favorite activity, as my friends and family can unfortunately attest to. Feel free to message me if you have more questions. Don't miss the Collection de l'Art Brut, it's the best art gallery in the world!
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 10:41 AM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the info! Sounds doable.

Why is Rue de la Borde/Place du Tunnel/Rue du Vallon unpleasant? Is it a red light district?
posted by ohio at 7:20 AM on September 10, 2011

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