Shopping Lessons 101

Deciphering the opening and closing times for Swiss Shops.

My first days in Switzerland were made up of two hours of German lessons and oodles of time. Time for the “I can’t do anything pity party.” I have been a passionate cook since I was 14 years old but couldn’t manage that unless my husband went shopping with me on Saturdays.I would freeze our weekly rations.   Unfortunately,I constantly forgot to take the ingriedients out of the freezer on time.

In 1985 most ExPats cried over the lack of closets.  I wept over the tragic loss of microwaves and dishwashers. I also mourned supermarkets opened seven days a week and “Stop and Robs” that were opened 24 hours AND seven days a week.  Forgetting something was never a problem.

Not so in Switzerland. The land of the free (free to close their shops whenever and as often as they chose) and brave (they left their merchandise on the streets during closing times.) In Miami that would have been an invitation for self-service.

My husband, fed up with my complaining, encouraged me to go shopping and make a fantastic dinner. “But I can’t understand anybody,” I wined.

“That won’t matter,” he promised. Young love, I actually believed him. I got on my retro pink bicycle and rode up to town.   I saw the Metzger – butcher shop and I recognized the Beck-Bäckerei - bakery.  There were two other shops.  All of them were closed.

I went back home and made yet another call to my husband.
“Everything is closed”

“Of course they are, its lunch time.  And besides its Monday.”

“The shops close during lunch? And why are the stores closed on Monday?”

“To give the shop owners a two-day weekend.  They also close on Wednesday afternoons.”

“Is that also a weekend?”

“Of course not, the kids are out of school.”

I was confused but he cleared it up for me. “These parents work on Saturday and don’t have much family time – this way they can do something with their kids.”  Ah how nice for them but it was not practical for me.

“Well, which store should I go to tomorrow; Marylong or Parisenne?”


“Did you hear me?”

“You just named two cigarette brands!”

“Well those were the signs hanging over the doors and I didn’t see a name anywhere else.”

After a ping-pong discussion he simplified things or maybe he simply gave up. “Go to Marylong never mind, just forget it. Go to the bakery and get some bread, we’ll eat Brötli (bread and butter) for dinner.” What had become my gourmet skills?

Later that afternoon, I cycled my way back into town. I entered the bakery nervous as a jitterbug. In the 80’s in the USA, the choice of bread was white sandwich bread, hot dog buns or hamburger buns.  All were pre-packaged. Here, there were shelves of brown bread and darker brown bread, with seeds or without seeds. Each loaf looked as though it would feed crowds at Galilee.

It wasn’t self-serve like in the states either.  You had to order it - with words. The bread was locked away, behind a glass counter and guarded by a very intimidating bread warden.
I spoke the phrase I had rehearsed for 30 minutes; “Ich möchte Brot bitte.” She wasn’t impressed. She glared at me and rattled a discourse in some language I didn’t understand.  For some unknown reason I felt confident she asked, "Which one?"  I resorted to pointing. She pulled out a loaf that was at least a foot long. “Can you cut it in half?” I pleaded.  She glared some more, tapped her foot daring me to speak one more foreign word to her. I reverted to the “hand and foot method”.  I sawed the make-believe-bread in half. She rolled her eyes, shook her head “nein”, stuffed the whole bread in a sack and eventually slapped it in my hands. What got her knickers in a knot?

She turned yapping and complaining while the other shoppers were whispering and pointing at me. That was happening to me a lot and it was demeaning. I was told I would be accepted if I tried. Well, I was trying.

Too frustrated for tears, I paid and went home contemplating just how far I had fallen? There was only one thing to do - call my husband. I think speed dial was invented because of me.  His secretary informed me that he was in a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed.  Well my whole life had been disturbed, it was turned upside down and it was HIS fault.

“This is an emergency!”  He came on the line and I screeched, “I gave up my career and now because of you I can’t even buy bread!” About that time the flood gates to my tear ducts opened. He listened to my hysteria. 

I am convinced he used the time to check flights and moving companies to get me back to the states. At the time, the dollar was worth 3 Sfr.  I guess he figured he couldn’t afford it. Boy did I win that one!  Years later I am an accomplished shopper and I have lots more opportunities; we have multiple “Stop and Robs” in our area, our shops even stay open until 19.00 and occasionally on Sundays.

If you are confused about the opening times, I sympathize with you and have made a chart for you under Shopping Tips.  If you can’t find what you are looking for maybe it looks different – I have the answers to some of your shopping mysteries. I would love for ya’ll to check them out. 


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