The British are renowned for their ability to form an orderly and polite queue, often wordlessly and without being asked. It almost feels like a form of social conditioning that’s been handed down through the generations. Put a few Brits in the middle of an empty hall, so the joke goes, wait five minutes and you’ll have a queue.
But woe betide anyone who tries to barge in. The British may be reserved, but nothing provokes their ire as much as a queue jumper.
Speaking as an expat, I posit that parking is the Swiss equivalent to Britain’s queuing obsession. Parking is a topic guaranteed to get people here hot under the collar, especially when it comes to private or communal areas. I still find this extreme reaction a little baffling, so here are my top tips to avoid sticky situations:
- Under no circumstances park anywhere other than in your allocated space, even for five minutes, and even if this means you must walk to the opposite end of an almost-permanently empty car park. You may accidentally park in someone else’s space and as they won’t dream of temporarily using a different spot, they will get extremely angry with you.
- Communal ‘visitor’ parking is a shared space outside apartment blocks that is greedily coveted by the residents. Prepare your visitors to receive “do not park here” notes stuck to their windscreens, even if they park absolutely correctly.
- Watch out for red and white chains draped across driveways. And if you happen to live opposite such a friendly house, be prepared to get shouted at if your wheels touch said driveway as you turn out of your property.
You have been warned…
Blue = honour
On a more upbeat note, when it comes to public parking, I think the Swiss system works rather well. You should always check the signs, but largely speaking blue zones are free parking and white zones are paid parking.
To use the blue zones, you need a blue parking disc (which you can pick up for free in lots of places like banks). Simply turn the disc to indicate when you arrive, then you can stay up to the maximum amount of time indicated on the road signs. It’s a really simple, honour-based system that works.
Even when it comes to the white zones, by and large I think the Swiss rules and charges aren’t too unreasonable. Apart from one notable and memorable experience about five years ago in the Gstaad Coop car park.
It was Christmas Day. We parked up as usual, but as it was a public holiday it didn’t occur to us that we had to buy a ticket. In hindsight a foolish assumption, but at the time I couldn’t (a) imagine any traffic wardens would be working that day and (b) they would exhibit such Scrooge-like behaviour as to issue parking fines.
How wrong I was! We returned to our car after lunch and there is was: the little pink slip of paper tucked behind our windscreen wipers. I was almost surprised it hadn’t been slipped inside a Christmas card…
So the moral of the story is to respect local customs. In Gstaad you may not be able to stop for as much as five minutes in your neighbour’s empty parking space (even if they don’t own a car), but no one bats an eye if you smilingly jostle your way right up to the cable car barrier, bypassing all the people who arrived before you.