Chronicles of a writer abroad

Cultural differences in safety measures


There were safety precautions that I took for granted, living in Canada.  A house/apartment/workplace/essentially any building you visited was outfitted with a fire alarm (and often a carbon monoxide detector, too). Main doors of buildings opened out, to the street, instead of inward, so that a frenzied crowd pushing to get out in case of fire wouldn’t make opening the door impossible. It was not possible to lose the means to open the door to exit your apartment.

Right about now, you’re saying “huh? I didn’t get the last thing. What do you mean you can lose to the means to exit your apartment?” Well, I mean exactly that. I want to explain to you using words, but unfortunately my knowledge of lock terminology is not up to snuff. So instead, let’s make use of a visual aid. See this?

I think this is called a deadbolt, but I don’t want to confuse you in case it’s not. In my mind, it’s that-thing-you-twist-to-lock-your-door-from-the-inside. But I expect there’s a more technical term, if you want to enlighten me.

Anyway, that thing? It doesn’t exist here in der Schweiz, at least not that I’ve seen. The way that the front door to my apartment works is that you have to use a key on both sides: to unlock when you’re outside of the apartment, and to lock up again when you’re inside. Stelian and I received three keys to our apartment, so for safety and convenience’s sake, we keep one key in the lock on the inside of the door at all times. Good solution? Ja, except you cannot have two keys fully inserted in the lock at the same time. Ergo, when you are preparing to leave the apartment, you have to pull the inside key halfway out so that you can insert your other key from the outside to lock up. This drives me bonkers, because I’m always forgetting to do it. I end up trying to lock the door and realizing that I can’t, and then I have to reopen the door and reach back in to pull out the key, at which point Cleo inevitably darts out, runs down the stairs, and starts meowing in front of our neighbours’ doors. Precious seconds are lost as I go to retrieve her, and you know, time is money! (Okay: time isn’t actually money for me as a hausfrau/hopeful scribbler, but I’m growing tired of this routine.)

Dear Switzerland: deadbolts (or whatever they are called). They are simple. But they work so brilliantly. Please look into them.

And I am pretty sure that this “keyholes on both sides” system is state-of-the-art here, because the locks in our building were replaced shortly after we moved in. I wildly hoping that I would see a deadbolt when the technician was done. To my dismay, he just smiled as he showed me how to use the key to lock the new lock from the inside.

Imagine, if you only had the same number of keys as residents in the suite, and you didn’t have a spare to keep stuck in the door. What if you couldn’t find your keys when there was a fire? I shudder to think about it, and if there is ever some kind of  Swiss congress on safety, and Canadian expats are by some miracle invited to participate, I plan to deliver an impassioned address on this subject.

The lack of household fire alarms is somewhat puzzling to me as well. I am not familiar with the stats concerning how many lives they actually save, but isn’t it one of those things that might help, and certainly won’t hurt?

I’m not trying to put the Swiss down here. I feel like they are probably more safety-conscious in other ways…fruits and vegetables, for instance, seem less mutated here, and I’m not as leery of what non-organic food might contain, since farms are still run by families, using more traditional methods. I also think that if I bought a Swiss-made comforter or pillow, it would be less apt to be packed with government-mandated chemical flame retardants than it would be in North America (some of you have already heard my rant on this).

Don’t different nations get together to discuss the merits and drawbacks of their varying approaches to household/industrial/food safety? Or am I just being a wide-eyed dreamer here?

You don’t have to answer that.


6 thoughts on “Cultural differences in safety measures

  1. I wonder, if you were to visit your hardware store, buy a deadbolt and politely ask to have it installed ( don’t ask me how you are going to do that!), would that solve your problem?
    The Swiss arrangement sounds like a disaster waiting to happen and since I don’t live in Switzerland, I can make snide remarks from afar. 🙂

  2. YES!!! I have almost the same problem!!! there aren’t deadbolts here in the UK, it’s so stange…we have this skeleton key to lock the door if both of us are out and then just a “snib” key for other times..I remember on my first day of work I left early and locked the door from the outside as I usually would in canada and discovered that I had unknowingly locked my partner inside the flat! he had a meeting that day and had to throw his keys down to his client so he could open the door from the outside…who ever heard of locking a person in a flat?!! deadbolts, europe. look into them.

    • Being able to lock someone inside the apartment: SO DANGEROUS! Or are we North Americans just catastrophic thinkers? Nah…definitely SO DANGEROUS, however you slice it.

  3. I thought the Swiss were highly organised…maybe one request for a deadbolt might start an avalanche of similar requests as people see its advantages.
    We can dream 🙂

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