What makes the Swiss tick? Unspoken rules to help you settle in

Every country has its own cultural quirks and personality traits, Switzerland is no exception. There are a number of funny tales and myths about Swiss people’s habits and Swiss culture, but we will let you discover them and the truth behind them in your own time…

There are however a few unspoken rules that the Swiss do take seriously. In order to help our contractors settle in Switzerland and get off on the right foot, we have made a list of tips. Take these points on board and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a local:

  1. Punctuality: All jokes aside, this is key to Swiss life. This goes for private arrangements as well as work-related meetings and especially interviews. Be on time, or if possible 5 – 10 minutes early. If you are going to be late by more than 5 minutes, let them know as early as possible or cancel in advance. If you are regularly late, you will fail to impress and may not get invited again.
  2. Greetings: Before Corona it was common courtesy to greet people by name, with a handshake whilst making eye contact. Although handshakes are off, the rest still applies and is considered good manners. If you arrive at a small party with a group of people, it is expected that you will make a quick round to introduce yourself and greet each person in the room.
  3. Settling into your neighbourhood: As a newcomer, it is up to you to make the first move. It is good manners to introduce yourself to your close neighbours and maybe even invite them over for a drink. This will make settling in a lot easier and lay the foundations for good neighbourly relations.
  4. Be a perfect guest: If you are invited for a meal, bring a small bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine for your host. When you are offered a glass of wine, wait for the host to make a toast before drinking. If you clink glasses, look the person into their eyes (not to do so is considered rude). Before you start with your meal say ‚bon appétit‘ / ‚guten Appetit‘ / ‚en Guete‘ which means ‚enjoy your meal‘. You don’t have to say all of them 🙂
  5. Sunday is a day of rest: Avoid noisy activities! Sundays (and public holidays) are regarded as quiet days, where people take a break and relax in peace and quiet. Note the ‘peace and quiet’ part. On these days do not mow the lawn, let your children play outside before late morning, drill holes in walls or listen to loud music. Although all this can sound strange and restrictive at first, many ex-pats come to enjoy the break.
  6. Recycling: The Swiss are world champions in recycling. You will find all the necessary information on what, how and where to recycle on your communities‘ website, from your neighbours or here. In addition, most villages and cities have special bin bags for rubbish. Use of them is compulsory and any other bags (incl. standard black rubbish bags) will not be disposed of by the refuse collection. You can buy rubbish bags for your area at the till in your local supermarkets.
  7. Cleanliness: Switzerland is very clean. We use bins and do not throw litter on the floor. We even have special green bins called Robidog, where special dog waste bags are also dispensed. When you go hiking or have a BBQ in a public space, make sure you take all your rubbish back and discard (recycle) it at home.

Although Swiss people can come across as a little distant and reserved (and like to stare – to which I have no explanation why), ask them for help if you are not sure how something works or need directions. Swiss people are helpful and friendly and it will be appreciated that you have asked!

Lastly, if you fancy having a giggle about Swiss stereotypes, I can recommend the book Laughing Along with the Swiss by Paul Bilton, a British Expat living in Switzerland. Although you shouldn’t take everything in the book too seriously, it is an easy, informative and funny way to learn about the Swiss – enjoy!