Six steps to getting along better with the Swiss

Shane Norton
Shane Norton - [email protected]
Six steps to getting along better with the Swiss
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If you value the same things the Swiss do, you have a better chance of building positive relationships with them, says Zurich-based communications trainer Shane Norton. But what if you don’t?


Be reliable

Being reliable may not mean the same to you as it does the Swiss.

Being reliable to Swiss means arriving on time and prepared for what ever it is you agreed to do. The Swiss like to start promptly and do not appreciate delays or unexpected surprises.

This also applies to their social lives where things also seem to run in a rather regimented way.

I have upset many a Swiss friend by turning up to go mountain biking with a bike that requires adjustments or repairs.

Where an English friend may have then proceeded to help me repair the problem, my Swiss friends would scold me for not doing it earlier or not having the skills to do it myself in the first place.

Learn from my mistakes, arrive prepared whatever you do.

Be polite and respectful

Respect is a big word in Switzerland.

People are relatively equal in standing and are expected to be treated as such, especially in the Swiss German part of the country which is not influenced by the French system of hierarchy.

Never talk down to someone, be sure to shake hands and use last names where appropriate before being invited to use first names. The waiter may be serving you lunch but he is no less a person than you.

Privacy is also contained within this point because I believe it has something to do with respect. Respect other people’s right for privacy and do not expect them to share their lives with you.

Openness comes with friendship and friendship has to be earned in Switzerland. So until then remain respectful, say please and thank you and be sure to value the people around you, their right for privacy and right to a peaceful uninterrupted life.

Recognize quality

My Swiss friends don’t talk about how cheaply they managed to buy something for, but rather how good the product or service they bought was.

Sure money matters and people expect value but they also expect to pay a lot and receive a lot.

Therefore offering goods or services too cheaply and at poor quality will not help you, skipping on the quality of your conference lunch buffet is a no go and boasting about your bargain ski jacket before complaining you are cold will not win you any friends.

I also advise you to buy Swiss. Swiss products and services have a reputation for quality that matches the importance put on quality by their countrymen.

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If you buy and display Swiss products you will appeal both to their love of quality and their stark patriotism putting you all, apart from your wallet, in a win-win situation.

Demonstrate frugality

The Swiss love money but they show it in a reserved manner.

Parading down Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse in your finest Guccis and gold chains may only get you sneered at.

Sure, dress nicely and buy expensive things but do not show them off. Look for the more inconspicuous brands that many shops sell on the Bahnhofstrasse, the clothes look uninspiring at best but come with extra-ordinary price tags, these are exactly the kind of clothes I am talking about.

Likewise, buying your friends or business partners dinner from time to time will be regarded warmly but do not wave your money around and invite the whole bar to drinks.

Never speak about money and certainly not about how much you have or will be receiving. In a land of money, money is a taboo in public.


The Swiss are on the whole a uniform bunch. In Switzerland I tend to try and keep my individuality hidden inside until I get to know people.

This is difficult for many people, especially from those from loud and extroverted cultures but it pays dividends.

As you get to know people, you can show more and more of your true colours and once people know they can count on you to conform when needed to they will start to appreciate your wonderful unique self.

So avoid controversy and large displays of emotion in public or too early on in a relationship and you will begin to build the trust of people, then when you do go, as what they might see as, radical they will love and understand you enough to accept you for who you really are.

But remember . . .

The comments and recommendations above are based on generalizations and how we would expect the average person to behave. Of course, this average person doesn’t exist in the real world so use our recommendations as a starting block and watch your Swiss friends and colleagues carefully to find out how they personally behave and then adapt your behaviour to fit.

Finally, don’t despair if you get things wrong. You can’t please everyone and cultural clashes lead to greater learning for us all. I find cultural differences to be one of the most fascinating and interesting parts of our lives, so enjoy exploring them and finding new and interesting ways to think, feel and behave.

British expat Norton is a communications trainer who founded Powerful Professional English and is manager of RHZ Sprachen a Zurich-based school that specializes in teaching over 50 world languages.


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