5 Surprising Habits of the Swiss

There's more to Switzerland than mountains and goats. Kirsty Smith

Life in Switzerland can be a shock to the system. . .but not if you're prepared.

Despite moving abroad to start a new life in a new culture, many expats find themselves making friends with people from home. It’s a sort of safety blanket knowing that they have the same cultural background and more often than not, a similar sense of humour. Dependent on where you live, having friends from home may also be your only opportunity to speak in your mother tongue, which can give your brain a welcome break.

Even though I’ve lived in several countries and have Swiss friends here, I am no exception to the rule and also have a lot of British friends. Swiss people generally aren’t exactly known for their sense of humour and can come across as quite standoffish to begin with. In reality, they do have their own unique charm and are very friendly.

Aside from people, there are other cultural differences to watch out for in Switzerland. Here are my top five Swiss-isms:

1. Swiss people don't queue 

The fact that queuing in Switzerland is absolutely not a thing is probably my biggest pet peeve about this country. The Swiss have a very “every man for himself” attitude towards life. Don’t be offended if people jump in front of you when you’re getting on a train or skip the queue in the supermarket. They aren’t being rude on purpose; it’s just their way.

2. The cost of living is different

In many lists about life in Switzerland, this item is top. The only reason it’s not the top of mine is because people need to get over it. Yes, things cost more here. But the average salary is three times as high as in the UK, so it swings and roundabouts really.

Some of the things that I find most expensive are travel (but there are so many passes), meat (maybe consider a vegetarian diet?) and alcohol (this is probably a blessing in disguise).

3. Punctuality is proper

This is a big one. Normally when someone says "meet you at 7:00 p.m." that means anything from 6.45 to 7:15 p.m. In Switzerland, 7:00 means 7:00 on the dot. If you’re not there by 7:00:01, the person you’re meeting will probably be reaching for their phone to check that you’re still coming. So to avoid any awkward encounters in both your social and professional life, check your train times in advance and if in doubt, just be early. 

4. Greetings are more than just a handshake

Greeting someone seems simple enough to a British person because we don’t really do anything apart from say "hello" and hug people we know quite well. But in Switzerland, there is a whole fiasco that you have to negotiate. In short, if it’s your employer or you’re meeting someone for the first time, a handshake and "freue mich" ("nice to meet you") is fine. But when you meet a friend, you should exchange three cheek kisses (yes, three). This is something I always forget to do and really need to make more of an effort with. Thankfully, most of my generation are happy with a hug.

5. Big brother is watching you. 

Not literally, but it can sometimes feel like there are cameras in every part of this country. As I mentioned in my previous article, the amount of paperwork you have to deal with as an immigrant is nothing short of a mountain, but it doesn’t stop once you’ve completed the initial registration. The authorities do like to keep tabs on people living in their country so don’t be surprised by the countless letters you’ll receive asking you questions about your job situation, tax declarations and unpaid bills that you’ve already paid; they’re just really interested in who lives here and want to make sure the country runs like clockwork.

I hope this makes anyone thinking about moving to Switzerland feel more prepared about the massive changes you’re about to encounter. Despite the pernickety nature of the country, it really is a wonderful place to live and their preciseness and determination only makes day-to-day life more efficient.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Kirsty Smith

Originally from Scotland, Kirsty Smith has a Master’s in languages and is a keen traveller. She is currently based in Zurich, Switzerland, where she is a language assistant for the British Council and also a freelance translator, proofreader and post-editor.

Website: https://littleladygoesglobal.wordpress.com

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