Newly Swissed Online Magazine

Telling time in Switzerland: how not to miss those trains

We are very happy to introduce our Spanish friend Sylvia who has decided to blog about her new life in Switzerland. While most of you are reading from abroad, Sylvia will be busy doing field research in Switzerland and will share her unique perspective right here on Newly Swissed! Take it away, Sylvia...

"It has been just three weeks since I have left Madrid and moved to Zurich (I am truly Newly Swissed!), so I am still in a state of mind where even the smallest thing is new, surprising, beautiful and sometimes complicated to me.


Telling time in Switzerland

The first thing that astonished me about Switzerland was the public transportation punctuality. I come from a place where "the train arrives at 1:15 PM" means that you can expect the arrival between 1:10 and 1:20 PM.

And when it comes to buses, one may take them at 1:15 PM and ask the driver whether that is the 1:00 PM bus or the 1:30 PM one and stay in an everlasting doubt, because, of course, the only answer would be a kind of furious roar.

But here, it is all different. Here, "the train leaves at 1:02 PM" means that it leaves at two past one (yes, ladies and gentlemen, apparently there is more than five, ten or a quarter past…). Not at three past or at one past. NO.

But OK, it is a train. It is all programmed. It seems possible. And the buses? Can someone please explain to me how a bus can arrive at 1:02 PM? Aren’t there streetlights? Traffic jams? Slow pedestrians crossing the street? There are, but when it comes to timing, the Swiss have reached such a level of perfection that they can amazingly control that.

Mondaine Station Clock Sunset

I am almost sure there are some public transportation workers whose duty is walking the dog slowly across the street so the 1:02 PM bus will not arrive at 1:01 PM. Just kidding. But seriously, if you move to Zurich, you should start paying attention to those small, useless-until-now lines on your watch between the numbers.

All of this is not magic, though. It all has to do with the guy who invented German.

Let me explain myself: In English, Spanish, French, Italian, etc., if I told you "it is half past one and we have to be somewhere at two", your brain would immediately tell you that you STILL have half an hour left. In German, however, that guy decided it would be more practical to say "es ist halb zwei" (it is "half two"), so what your brain would tell you is: "Oh my God, we’d better hurry up, we ONLY have half an hour left, half of the time is ALREADY gone!"

Furthermore, the guy developed the "fünf vor halb" and "fünf nach halb" strategy ("five to half", "five past half") to improve punctuality to the highest level ever.

It is true! I once read a study where they had scientifically proven that when a non-German speaker starts learning German, they suffer a restructuring of the brain and become more organized. Have you ever seen how people in Zurich can hop on a bus through ANY door and still, they all pay?

That's respect.

And, once again, they owe it to the guy who invented German. That overly rigid, overly complicated syntax our already beloved guy has created makes people need to listen to a whole sentence to be able to get the most important part of it. This results in respect, which, among other consequences, results in being punctual the Swiss way.

Talking of the devil, it is exactly 11:55 AM and I have to rescue my clothes from the shared laundry machines in the basement, for the next shift starts at 12:00... Well, that is another adventure to tell!"


A travel obsessed, positive thinking day dreamer from Spain who tries to gather as many experiences and memories as possible in Switzerland.


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