Surveys show that while expats in Switzerland have an excellent quality of life in many ways, they don’t exactly have a satisfying social life. So what can be done? Here, The Local outlines a few ways to get out there and make friends with the Swiss.
Share your language skills
Overcome the language barrier that lies between you and making friends by signing up to your local university’s tandem programme. The scheme connects people trying to learn a language with a native in that language – so you might offer your English in exchange for your Swiss tandem partner’s French, German or Italian.
“The benefits are huge,” confirms Myriam Moraz, who manages the University of Lausanne’s tandem scheme. She adds: “Along with practising oral skills, students learn a lot about the way of life in Switzerland. What they learn is much more effective than in a classroom, and it is a great way to make Swiss friends.”
Chinese student Qianhui Sun, who participated in the programme, says she had a “fabulous” tandem experience. “My tandem partner Loic and I dined out together very often, played bowling and went to discos together. He taught me tons of colloquial expressions and even how to swear in French!”
Other universities offering the tandem scheme include the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and the University of Basel.
Joining an online group dedicated to your area can be a handy place to seek out and share anecdotes with people locally. There are myriad such groups in Switzerland, including ‘Worldwide People in Zurich' on Facebook.
However, as Angelica Cipullo, co-founder of networking and events site My Girlfriend Guide, advises, it is important to “take it offline” too. She says: “It’s easy to read and ‘like’ and reply, but even more important to meet people in person. We at Girlfriend Guide host regular events in Zurich to bring women together.”
Lend a hand
Volunteering allows you to support good causes while meeting members of your local community.
Heidi Stadler, who lives near Zurich, found an interesting opportunity nearby. “I volunteer at the local cinema and this has allowed me to meet locals, those also volunteering and those going to the cinema,” she told The Local.
There are volunteering associations across the country, such as Swiss Volunteers, while Caritas offers varied opportunities, like running a language course for migrants and helping alpine farmers with the harvest. Meanwhile, city-specific organizations, such as Serve the City Geneva, need volunteers to help refugees, the homeless and the disabled.
Many vineyards in Switzerland, particularly the steep terraced vineyards of the Lavaux, look for volunteers to help out with the grape harvest. Not only is it a sociable day out with predominantly Swiss people, but you may also be rewarded for your efforts with a hearty lunch and a few free bottles of wine to take home.
Join a 'Meet Up' group
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
Whether you’re into skiing, hiking, languages, sewing or IT, meetup.com – an online platform that groups use to organize social events – is a great place to get in contact with likeminded people.
Dave O’Riordan set up SwissAlpineAdventure on Meet Up a decade ago to meet people to go mountain biking with. He tells The Local that he’s made some great friends through the group and loves its community spirit.
“A few years ago, I was going through a very hard time in my personal life, but I had organized and committed to a ski trip in the Jungfraujoch. When I got to the meeting point I was not feeling super good, but then the group arrived and their enthusiasm completely lifted my spirits,” he says,
Accept every offer – and make every effort
It can be hard to get to know the Swiss, so if work colleagues invite you to after-work drinks, don’t turn the opportunity down. Angelica of My Girlfriend Guide says the website might not exist had it not been for its founders accepting an invite.
“It’s important to take a chance and accept offers to meet,” she says. “Girlfriend Guide’s co-founders connected because we were each separately invited by a mutual friend to an evening out. Making friends does take effort and can be scary for sure, but the outcome is priceless!”
Sign up for an after-work activity
“I’ve always made the best connections by going to a class where I have a common interest with the other attendees,” adds Angelica, who has often enjoyed wine tastings as a means of meeting people across the world.
Tim Williams, an expat in Zurich, agrees, saying that joining a weekly squash session has helped him make some good Swiss friends. You might also try vegetable growing, dancing or language classes. A good place to start is the Klubschule Migros, which offers after-work activities at reasonable prices.
Attend a work-based club
It’s hardly groundbreaking that the office is a good place to meet people. But Tom Perkins, an American living in Basel, has made some of his best Swiss friends this way. “It has been difficult to meet people outside of work,” he admits, “but once you connect with Swiss people, from Basel at least, they are very open and nice.”
Cement these professional friendships by joining a work club. Many offices offer yoga classes or similar: one expat tells The Local that the changing room before and after midday yoga is a great place for banter with staff from other companies in the building. Ask your office manager about any opportunities in your workplace.
Know how to make the right impression
Lastly, while it’s all very well putting yourself in the right situations to make friends, anyone who has spent much time in Switzerland will know that making the right impression once in those situations is vital if you want to lay the foundations for a friendship.
Diccon Bewes, the highly regarded expert on all things Swiss, shares his top advice: “Try not to expect too much too soon, as Swiss people take their time to make friends and get to know someone. The reverse also applies, in that you shouldn't come across as an eager puppy who wants to be someone's friend on Facebook before you even know them. It's a fine line between pushy and stand-offish but it's a line you have to recognize.”