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11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad

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

Swiss people in traditional clothing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
The Swiss people in traditional clothing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP - don't make them wait in the cold. Photo: Lara de Salis

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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For members


UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?