Tips for US Newcomers to CERN
Hi. I tried to collect here some of things people I know or
I learned the hard way
the first few times we came to CERN, and others that were
picked up less painfully.
Hopefully it will spare you some
of the troubles I faced. If it also saves you money, feel free to
send me a commission. I would also be happy to hear from you if you wish to
add to this list.
There is a wealth of information available at
http://club-cwc-newcomers.web.cern.ch/club-cwc-newcomers , the CERN
Welcome Center page. In addition,
lots of useful information can be found on
the ATLAS visitor page
Arriving at Geneva Airport:
Geneva airport straddles France and Switzerland, and you can get out in either
by just following the signs.
You cannot necessarily go back and forth from one to one
to the other through the airport (I still haven't completely understood
the rules), so think before you commit to a country.
There are differences in what is available on the two sides:
- There is public transportation
from the Swiss side to CERN (bus) or Geneva (bus or train).
But from the French side you will have to take a cab or car (if you rented one
from the French side).
- Public transportation to CERN seems pretty stable now (2016) that the tram reaches CERN.
You can get up-to-date information on using public transportation toget to CERN at
- You can get a free ticket for the bus (or local train rides) at the airport.
There is a machine
dispensing these in the baggage claim area. Get it before you exit customs, as
you cannot return here once you leave. If you need to show your bus ticket to an
inspector (see transportation below) you will also have to show your plane ticket.
that France uses Euros and Switzerland Swiss Francs.
- Depending on whether you are going to France or Switzerland, make sure
you get from the bank some 1 and 2 Euro or 1 and 2 CHF coins - you'll see
why when you get to transportation.
- The French side is much less busy.
- France uses Euros and Switzerland Swiss Francs (CHF).
- In France, one sometimes saw (I have no longer seen this in 2016)
cash register and other displays both
in Euros and French Francs (worth about 1/10 a Euro). Don't pay the wrong
- The 1/2 CHF coin is smaller and worth more than the 10 or 20 cent ones
(before you ask about this, explain pennies, nickels and dimes to me).
- Exchanging money is a non-trivial process. I have found withdrawing money
from an ATM
to be the simplest method (and often the most economical) to get local currency.
- To get a ride on a bus or tram, you must buy a ticket at the machine located
near most stops. The ticket is good for a certain distance (the number of
zones you go through) and a certain time duration. To get to Geneva or CERN
from the airport, use Tout Geneve that which costs 3 CHF. Push the button
next to you choice, see the 3.00 light up, then deposit the 3 CHF (before the
light goes off).
- You can buy one hour, all day after 9:00 AM, or all day tickets
for increasing cost. You can also buy 2 zones, 3 zones, or more.
The after 9:00 AM 3 zone ticket is a great buy if you are spending a day touring Geneva.
- If you are staying at a hotel, you can get a public transporation free pass.
- Cern is in zone 10 and counts as 2 zones. If you are traveling between
CERN and St. Genis, you want to select France + one zone in the machine
(currently 4.80 CHF).
- When in doubt, use can use the newer machines near the tram which
allow you to push the destination zone (see the map on the machine) and
calculate for you what you should pay.
- Bus and train machines require exact change. They won't take 5
CHF coins, and in my experience may or may not take 1/2 CHF coins.
- Instead of constantly worrying about having exact change (which I did
until I discovered what I am about to tell you), one can use prepaid CART@BONUS
cards in the fare machines. These are available at the CERN Convenience Store
(near Restaurant 1) in denominations of 20, 30, and 50 CHF. The cards cannot
have money added to them. But is it has less than 1 fare on it, you can insert
it in the machine when buying a fare and partially pay with what is left
on the card, and then adding coins or another card.
- Inspectors occassionally come on the bus or tram to check whether riders have
a proper ticket, and to fine them if they don't.
- Buses and trams display on screens the next stop and the ultimate bus destination.
- In France, Switzerland, and much of Europe, cars on the right have right of way,
unless they have a stop or
yield sign. (I believe the big road also has appropriate signage, letting
you know your rights).
This means that if you are on big road and a tiny one without a stop
sign is coming up on your right, that a car there has right of way, and
will likley assert it!
Occassionally there are signs on the big road letting you know that there is something
coming up where you do or don't have right of way.
- Rural road speed limits in France and Switzerland are 90 km/hr and
80 km/hr respectively.
- In Switzerland you are supposed to have your car lights on whenever you are driving;
I have seen very few people obeying this rule.
- This one seems obvious after you know it: For signs with a place name and arrows
at traffic circle exits, the arrow is pointing to the exit, not to a direction you
- Cars in a traffic circle have right of way, so watch for their signaling:
- Signal left when entering a traffic circle, and right when you are at the
exit you are going to leave it by.
- The best advice I got about driving is that if you are in a traffic
circle and aren't sure which is the right exit to get out, it is
to go around and around in circles until you have figured it out. This is also a great
way to pause if you are getting very frustrated.
- The circle is also a great way to make a U-turn.
- At Swiss/French border crossings, the lane on the right marked with a green symbol
is for locals who display this sign on their car and can pass through without fear of
being stopped. You stay on the left.
- If you are resident in France, French law says you may not use a Swiss-plated
car for more than 7 days. There is no exception for CERN cars.
- The European outlet has the ground pin in the wall socket rather
than on the cord you plug in. As you might stay in a modern apartment that
only has the grounded sockets, make sure that any plug or converter you buy
has a hole for the ground pin. Otherwise, you will not be able to plug
in your device.
- Switzerland uses a different electrical outlet than much of the rest
of Europe. The two pins are narrower and spaced slightly further apart.
The receptacles are built so that the full plug has to fit, not just the
pins. The standard long oval shaped converters often will not fit. If you
are plugging a grounded American plug into a converter without ground, the
ground pin will stick out and perhaps spark to the socket base (even if you are lucky
and the pin part does fit). The correct solution is to find the full converter
from 3 pin US to correctly shaped Switzerland. The alternative is 3-pin US
to Europe converter and then a Europe to Swiss
converter. Since there is no ground pin on the European plug, there is nothing
to stick out and spark. But you still must make sure that the Europe
to Switzerland converter has the correct shape or it won't fit.
The Swiss plug and socket, compared with the U.S. plug:
- Most scientists at CERN speak English. Many of the rest of the people
there don't. If you don't know French, an introductory "parlez vous anglais?"
(polite form of do you speak English) is a much better way to start a conversation
than just speaking English and assuming you are understood.
- If you don't know French well, here is a generalization that may be unfair, but it
has been my experience: People in Geneva will switch to English rather than let you
kill French. People in France will appreciate your effort, and are less likely
to know English (or at least to admit to knowing English).
Some How To's at CERN
- To get registered at CERN you will need a letter from your institution signed
by your chair stating that you are employed and that you have full
health insurance coverage.
- Phone usage at CERN: If you don't understand it, just ignore the French you hear
when you pick up the receiver, then:
For CERN numbers, just dial the 5 digit extension.
For Geneva, dial 0-022-number
For France, dial 10-04-number
For USA, dial *4 (ignore the French if you don't understand it) -
your pin code (talk to someone else to find out how to get this) -
0 (to leave CERN) - 00 (to leave Switzerland) - 1 (to enter USA) - then ten digit
area code plus number.
- To phone CERN from USA: 011-41-22- seven digit number.
To dial CERN from outside, you need 022- seven digit number.
- Room numbers at CERN are building number - floor number or letter - room number.
So 32-SB08 is building 32, basement, room B08.
- Addressing letters to CERN :
CH-1211 Geneva 23
Switzerland / Suisse
- The Users Office (where you get your badge in the cafeteria building) has all
sorts of useful stuff like maps of local towns and bus schedules.
- At supermarkets, you have to weigh by yourself produce sold by weight.
There is a number
displayed with the price. Put the item on the scale, press the appropiate number,
and a sticker
will come up for you to put on the plastic bag in which you put the produce.
- Supermarkets and other food stores very likely will not give you bags
to take your food
home in; you must bring your own. Supermarkets will often have strong bags
for sale for
30 cents or so.
- Shopping carts are released from the chain holding them to the next cart
by inserting a coin
(usually 1 CHF
or 1 Euro depending on which country you're in) and pressing the coin in.
You get the
coin back when you return the cart and press the chain back in.
- There are French customs regulations limiting the amounts of various foods
(such as dairy products) you can bring in from Switzerland. Some limits are low
enough that you need to worry about them even when shopping for your own use.
The Swiss socket photo is by Diego Casadei.
| -- last modified 8 March 2016 - It's amazing how many simple things about life here I still don't know.