How to know when spring has sprung in Switzerland

April 27, 2010, No comments

Spring is in full swing in Switzerland, and there’s a very easy way to tell: don’t listen for the first cuckoo, just go shopping in three shops.

  • Newsagents. Postcards follow the seasons as closely as swallows and TV adverts. Since October, Swiss postcard racks will have been filled with winter wonderland scenes and snowy extravaganzas; as soon as they’ve been replaced with snow-free cards you know that spring is in the air. I’d never seen seasonal postcards before, but the Swiss view them as a natural extension of the distinct seasons. It would be so illogical to sell snowy scenes in summer, even if that’s what tourists half-expect to see.
  • Sports shops. Swiss sport isn’t all about snow and ice. When the melting starts, the snow line slowly climbs up the slopes, and the hikers are not far behind. A sure sign that winter is over is when the sports shops change their displays, with boots going from giant ski ones to sturdy hiking numbers, and jackets shrinking from big and puffy to hi-tech lightweight. Walking is definitely big business in Switzerland, and the tills start ringing just about the same time as the birds begin singing.
  • Supermarkets. You don’t need to watch the weather forecast to know what season it is – you just need to visit the fruit & veg section of a Swiss supermarket. Produce, and prices, seem to change daily, depending on what’s ripe and ready to eat. And in spring that means asparagus. Fat white stalks (white ones are more popular here than green) sit in massed ranks, looking rather like mini-missiles waiting to be shown off at a May Day parade in Moscow. No wonder every restaurant seems to have asparagus on the menu.

 Of course for me, and for 19% of the Swiss population, the clearest sign that spring is here is not the longer evenings or the warmer days. Nor is it the sight of calves in the fields and blossom on the trees. It is that the sneezing has started, along with the itchy eyes and runny nose. Welcome to hay fever season, the most irritating three months of the year.

My suffering reaches its peak in June, when the best answer is often to go where the air is clear, up above the plant-line. Just such a solution led to a rather confused conversation between Gregor and my mother, who couldn’t work out quite why I had gone up a mountain when I had a high fever. It wasn’t that I was wandering delirious through the Alps, or suffering from altitude sickness, but merely that ‘hay’ often sounds more like ‘high’ when pronounced by Swiss people. And that gives a whole new meaning to getting high on grass.

As for summer, well that’s not far off. The first day of the Swiss summer is when the thermometer goes over 25C across most of the country. Anything over 25C is officially a summer’s day in Switzerland, an eminently practical way of deciding the seasons. Here comes the summer.

Leave a Comment