Barbecues, garden gatherings and larger street parties will enliven the streets of Switzerland on Friday evening as thousands take part in the convivial ‘fête des voisins’ or ‘Tag der Nachbarn’.
Invented by a Frenchman in 2000, European Neighbours’ Day is a Europe-wide initiative aiming to bring neighbourhoods closer together and “reconnect with the values of solidarity, brotherhood and friendship that should be at the forefront of neighbourly relations,” says the event’s official website.
The idea is to get together with your neighbours for a few drinks or a family picnic. Gatherings are organized by individuals, though many local authorities provide advice and kits to help people get started or promote their event.
From its origins in Paris in 2000 the idea quickly spread, and now some 30 million people in 36 countries participate annually.
Since the first Swiss Neighbours’ Day was held in Geneva in 2004, around 40 towns and communes in the country have signed up, the majority in French-speaking areas, though Lugano in Italian-speaking Ticino and German-speaking Zurich also celebrate.
Joining an event can be a great way for expats to get to know their neighbours.
“Nothing loosens up the Swiss quite like an apéro!” says Sally O’Brien, an Australian naturalized Swiss in Lausanne.
O’Brien’s apartment block celebrates the ‘fête des voisins’ every year, with parties that have become “pretty boisterous and really good fun,” she tells The Local.
“We meet in the park and everyone brings something to eat and something to drink. The kids all play together. When it gets dark we head back to our building and people usually take turns to offer a nightcap (or five) in various apartments.”
“I love it and think it's a wonderful idea. I wish they had such a thing in Australia, where I'm from,” she adds.
“Switzerland can be a tricky place to integrate and make local friends, so I would definitely recommend getting involved if your building or street does such a thing.
“If they don't, consider starting a party or just a small apéro: ours first took place in 2007 with a simple note in the foyer of the building, asking if anyone would be interested in a little picnic in the park.”
Barbara Albrecht, from the Neighbours’ Day organization team in Zurich and now St Gallen, told The Local that the day serves as a reminder that “it's good for you to have a friendly relationship with your neighbours”.
“People have a lot going on in their lives, but taking time for your neighbours is always a good way to spend time," she said.