Basel, Switzerland: Still Waters Run Deep

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Basel, Switzerland: Still Waters Run Deep

If you asked me to sum up Basel, Switzerland in just one short sentence, I would probably say “through the eyes of a foreigner, Basel is a city full of surprises.”

To say that Basel, Switzerland does not meet the stereotype of a Swiss city would be a lie. The place is clean, feels safe, feels predictable, gives the impression of being a bit too picture postcardy, everything is ordered, the people and the city follow the rules, everything reeks of competence and the people at least give the appearance of being a monochrome culture.

My father says “you can time your watch by the Swiss trains, and the trams for that matter too!”

He’s right, you probably can.

Joking aside, the comprehensive transport all around the city is really remarkable (especially for a Brit who is used to notoriously late and disrupted buses and trains). The transport being so efficient and comprehensive makes the whole city readily accessible to all. You can also cycle around easily and many people can be seen whizzing around by bicycle.

Living in Basel is an ordered, but also surprising experience. There is much more to the city than meets the eye, and perhaps you can best describe Basel as a place where still waters run deep.


Underneath the neat, orderly exterior is a city with surprising depth and a diverse, rich, multicultural society.

For a start, Switzerland actually has FOUR official languages. German, French, Italian and Romansh. If that isn’t a sign of multi-culturalism what is?


Drinking Water Fountain, Basel. PIC: David Garbett

In the city of Basel itself, they speak another form of German called Swiss German. This is a kind of dialect and my cousin living in Basel tells me that a fair comparison in the English language would be the difference between English and Glaswegian English. Theoretically you should understand each other, but there are no guarantees!

There is a lively and multicultural community of foreigners who work in Basel. People come from all over Europe and further afield; the USA, India, Iran, Turkey, Africa. This is very much reflected when you go to the cinema, you can see films in English with subtitles in different languages and the same films can usually be seen dubbed in French and German.


Fasnacht Festival, Basel. PIC: David Garbutt

The city is very much a seasonal one, with the smell of roasting chestnuts in winter, people enjoying the riverbanks in the summer, in the autumn the colours of the many trees in the city delight (I wish they wouldn’t insist on cleaning them all up so promptly though!), and in spring there are flowers.

One of my favourite times of the year is in the summer when you can be taking a tram through the city and then you see someone in their swimwear dripping wet! What on earth! They are dripping on the floor! No-one else is batting an eyelid… Well, what people are doing is they take the tram upriver, then go to the river that winds through the city, jump in, float downstream and then take the tram upstream again.


Down By the Water, Basel. PIC: David Garbutt

Basel is a rich place to visit for those who enjoy culture. There are museums, music events, festivals, art galleries, art museums, an underground heavy metal scene, little cobbled back streets with unusual shops indicating a thriving alternative scene, sculptures everywhere.

One of my favourite places to visit in Basel is the large Tinguely museum. Jean Tinguely was a marvellously eccentric artist who created these hotch potch, moving sculptures, of which you can see many around the city as well as at the museum. I have had the opportunity to visit many very famous art museums all over the world and I have to say the Tinguely museum has to be my favourite. I think because of it’s accessibility. His art is not something exclusive or hard to understand, anyone from 0-100 years can appreciate and enjoy the sculptures for their humour and engagement.


Tinguely fountain, Basel. PIC: David Garbutt

Switzerland has a odd kind of combination of liberal and right wing. The two forces juxtapose and strain against each other creating a fascinating kind of balance.

Their approach to low income families and people with addictions is very liberal. For example, even heroin addicts are given benefits, housing and a safe place to shoot up. The result is actually that there are very low crime rates. Thefts from shops and street robbery are very low and you will also notice there are very few or no people living on the streets.


Basel, Tram. PIC: David Garbutt

On the other hand, some of their rules for citizens are highly restrictive. For example, in a apartment block you cannot take a shower after 10pm because this is considered inconsiderate noise pollution. You are not allowed to mow your lawn on a Sunday because this is a day of rest. These are laws, people will call the police and they are enforceable.

There is national service for Swiss citizens. As a result of the national service, there are many registered gun owners, yet gun crime is very, very rare, basically unheard of.


Old Walls, Basel. PIC: David Garbutt

The democracy of Switzerland is officially the most democratic democracy in the world. Most of the rest of us have a patriarchal oligarchy or a representative democracy. Switzerland’s system puts many decisions to the eligible citizens, rather than having MP’s who vote on behalf of the voters. Yet, it took them, as a voting nation, until 2017 to vote that THIRD generation migrants can be naturalised Swiss citizens with the right to vote (this includes migrants from Italy, France, Germany).

Living in Basel is an ordered, but also surprising experience. There is much more to the city than meets the eye, and perhaps you can best describe Basel as a place where still waters run deep.

My last words on the matter are “if you ever get the opportunity to live in Basel, or even just visit, you should grab your chance with both hands and do not hesitate for a minute.”

Also check out Um Ayube’s story on Living in Wadi Rum.

Um A'yube

Um A'yube

Um A'yube is from a grassy, green, grey and rainy town in the South of England. She has a BA in Fine Art and a MA in Residential Landscape Architecture. Living in the desert in Jordan with a Bedouin husband and three children wasn't really in her plan for life, but what life goes as one plans? Living in the desert has given Um A'yube a new appreciation for rain, which she now holds to be one of the most wonderful things in Allah's creation. Um A'yube spends her time taking care of her three young children, her little house, a handful of goats and geese, and in her spare time writing and illustrating children's stories about Bedouin life of which she self published the first one, "Bedouin Bedtime," on kindle this year. Um A'yube has been living in the Wadi Rum desert since 2009. She considers herself very blessed to have the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place with people of such fascinating character. She would like to thank her husband for that!


  • Erika

    AA and I have been to Switzerland and we second this! It seems like a great place to live.

    June 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm
  • Dave Garbutt

    It is! Perfect climate – warm in summer (34 recently) and cool with snow in winter, near to mountains, lakes forests and castles.

    June 22, 2017 at 3:48 am