Willkommen in Zürich! For being the world’s fourth major financial center and the largest city in Switzerland, Zurich is actually not a big place. With a population of “only” ~390,000 in the city proper (2MM in the metropolitan area) it is smaller than half the size of San Francisco. Imagine that! It’s also a town with many foreigners and expats, which consist of 24% of the population.
Switzerland is a relatively small country (~16,000 sq miles; slightly larger than the state of Maryland) that is bordered by France on the west, Germany in the north, Italy in the south and the Principality of Liechtenstein and Austria in the east.
Right. This is where you ask yourself…what the heck is the Principality of Liechtenstein?
As geography dictates, there are four main languages spoken in Switzerland: German (74%), French (21%), Italian (4%), and Romansh (1%). Not to mention that almost everyone here can speak English!
Zurich is only about a half hour south of Germany so naturally, German is the language most widely used here. Although most people do speak a little English, all the signs, menus, directions, etc are written in German so learning the language is helpful. I mean, am I eating pork or am I eating horse? That’s an important distinction! Fortunately, all the product descriptions are written in 3 languages: German, Italian and French. So between them, it’s possible to understand some context.
Although German is the official language in Zurich, the Zurichois have a spoken language they use to communicate with each other, known as Swiss-German, which unfortunately, cannot be deciphered by anyone but themselves…not even the Germans! Scheiße! Let’s just take the language skills one day at a time.
Getting Around Town
Zurich is divided into 12 districts or kreis and public transportation will get you anywhere. The main train station here, the Hauptbahnhof or HB for short, is in the city center and can be easily accessible from any district and even neighboring countries. It is one of the busiest train stations in the world and serves almost 3,000 trains daily! Even with that type of traffic, the trains are kept incredibly punctual…I don’t expect anything less from the nation that makes watches 🙂 This will get one spoiled rather quickly.
Down from the Hauptbahnhof and extending southeast of the city is the beautiful Lake Zurich, the Zürichsee, which provides a great respite from the Swiss summers – the Swiss do not have air conditioning and therefore, life here in the summer revolves greatly around the lake. It surprises me that even with the large number of people, dogs, ducks and swans swimming in the lake, the water is still crystal clear and untainted.