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11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad

The Local
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11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Swiss people in traditional clothing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Which cliches are real and which are, well, cliches? These are some of the stereotypes or beliefs that the Swiss get tired of hearing.


Lara de Salis was born in Lausanne and grew up in the canton of Vaud. When studying languages in the UK at Cambridge University, she explained why she’s sick of hearing foreigners spouting these old clichés about the Swiss.

1.  “You’re basically French, right?”

To most foreigners I encounter, French-speaking Swiss are basically French, Italian-speaking Swiss are basically Italians, and German-speaking Swiss are basically German. No, no, no. I wouldn’t assume that people who speak English all share England’s culture, so don’t do that to the Swiss! While we’re on the subject, there is no Swiss German, but many unwritten Swiss German dialects. And no, the official language of Switzerland is definitely not Swedish.


2.  “The Swiss are always punctual and efficient (just look at the trains!)”

Punctuality is a "heavy moral burden". Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Yes, ok. But this can be a heavy moral burden, forcing Swiss people to maintain standards of punctuality abroad that often mean they’re left waiting for tardy foreigners. Sometimes in the cold. However often this may occur, we are physically unable to arrive later next time. As for the trains, they’re not always punctual. Just 99 percent of the time...

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

3.  “You’re used to the cold!”

When foreign friends triumphantly arrive several minutes later, their excuse usually is “but you’re used to the cold!” Rumour has it that Swiss people enjoy the cold and don’t mind a spot of chilly weather.

Yes, we’re used to cold winters, but summer is actually a very warm season here. When a bunch of English friends came over to Switzerland this summer they were stunned by how hot and sunny it was. Turns out lobsters do occasionally show up in Swiss lakes after all...

4. “The Swiss are all rich.”

Whilst Switzerland is a prosperous and stable country, we’re not all multi-millionaires. That’s why we never say we’re Swiss before paying for something abroad (we say we’re French/German/Italian instead).

5.  “Have you got a Swiss army knife handy?”

The Swiss: knifeless when travelling. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Yes, the Swiss like to be over-equipped for anything – including natural disasters – wherever we travel to. However, sadly, these days we’re not allowed to take our favourite knife abroad if only travelling with hand luggage, which means we’re condemned to let smug foreigners open our beer while suffering in silence, thinking about the bottle opener on the beloved red multitasking knife that we were forced to leave behind.

6.  “Switzerland has a dodgy banking system and is a tax haven”

This is particularly irritating.

Firstly, banking secrecy has now been abolished in Switzerland. Secondly, the recent case involving Apple reminds us that other West European countries such as Ireland could just as easily be called tax havens for big businesses.


ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland actually a tax haven?

7.  “You must be an amazing skier”

Yes, Switzerland is known for its mountains and lakes. To many foreigners, that means every Swiss kid basically masters skiing before they can even walk.

While Switzerland is a very sporting nation, this stereotype is only partly true. Some of my Swiss friends have skied way less often than English friends. After all, Verbier is practically an English colony...

8.  “The Swiss love cleaning”

It’s true we like cleaning so much we do it as a sport (it's called curling). Switzerland is a clean country with efficient sanitation.

However, I don’t like to admit it, because it gives foreign flatmates the perfect excuse to take advantage of their Swiss companions when arguing about house chores.

9.   “The Swiss only eat cheese and chocolate”

Chocolate fondue: " a crime". Photo: Denis Dervisevic

As a matter of fact, we do have chocolate very often… and cheese. But certainly not together, and not all the time.  What’s more, some purists think you shouldn’t eat melted chocolate from a pan like a cheese fondue. One of my Swiss teachers actually referred to chocolate fondue as a crime. So don’t do it.

10.  “Zurich is the Swiss capital”

No, wait, is it Geneva? Come on guys! Our capital is, of course, Bern.  That’s where parliament is. And where tourists come to see a couple of bears.

READ MORE: Why is Bern the ‘capital’ of Switzerland?

11. I’m not called Heidi

A version of this article was first published in September 2016.



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