How to improve your social life in Switzerland

Struggling to make friends here? These tips might help.

How to improve your social life in Switzerland
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
Photo: Racorn/Depositphotos
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.
Go online
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, – 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
Photo: Deklofenak/Depositphotos
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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Living in Switzerland: An expert’s guide on how to behave and what to expect

Switzerland is rich in customs and traditions. The Swiss pride themselves on being "punctual, reliable, diligent and modest" - as stated on Swiss National Day by president Ueli Maurer.

Navigating Swiss life can seem confusing.
Navigating Swiss life can seem confusing. File Photo: Seventyfour/

Swiss core values dictate the daily life and behaviour of Swiss locals. For foreigners living in Switzerland, this can make dealings with the locals challenging to navigate. Many newcomers to Switzerland often report feelings confused about why they’re shot looks of disapproval for being late or for being addressed bluntly about a problem.

Peter Nielsen, an experienced cross-cultural trainer, specializes in intercultural communication. He believes misunderstandings happen when foreigners are not aware of local customs and culturally acceptable behaviour.

READ ALSO: Ten things foreigners do that make Swiss people feel really uncomfortable

Based in Basel since 2002, Peter has been working to help foreigners settle into Swiss life. He shares his best tips for understanding Swiss local customs, some of which foreigners might find surprising.

Below is Peter’s practical advice on how to adjust to everyday life in Switzerland:

1. The Swiss are solution orientated, don’t take it personally

In Switzerland, people have little patience with long and complicated explanations. The Swiss generally like to keep information short and to the point. If they need more context, they will ask.

When addressing you with a problem, a local Swiss person who knows you will not lead into the topic slowly, but speak rather bluntly and expect you to do the same. The matter is perceived as an ‘issue,’ one to be fixed, so keep it solution-oriented and don’t take it personally. Once resolved, the Swiss move on and leave the past in the past.

Photo: Londondeposit/

However, if a Swiss person does not know you well, they will not be so direct. For example, a neighbour will not directly tell you what you are doing wrong. If there are issues regarding garbage disposal, noise and parking a Swiss person may call the police or appropriate authorities. They may even contact a landlord, or slip a note under your door. If your behaviour changes, or the problem is solved, then all is left in the past.

2. When receiving instructions, expect information overload   

When receiving insight and instruction, say from a landlord to tenant, then the information will be extremely detailed and explicit. Expect comprehensive written or oral information on most things, from how the washing machine works through to what you are allowed to do in the garden.

3. The Swiss will address issues directly and not sugar-coat anything

If we look at feedback, Anglo Saxon cultures will appreciate the sandwich method of feedback ( i.e. a pleasant statement, constructive criticism, followed by another pleasing statement). In Switzerland, this will often confuse the receiver. A correctional and only useful criticism approach will work better.

A scenario:

A parent and child are taking part in an activity together, and a local Swiss person sees a danger with/risk to the child. The Swiss will often immediately interfere. A Swiss person might approach the parent and state what is going on is not safe, or will move the child out of harm’s way.

For a Swiss person, this is meant to be a helping hand, a way of explaining that this particular situation is unsafe. It is NOT intended to be understood by the parent that he/she does not take care of a child well enough. It is NOT about the people involved; it is about the situation. The Swiss believe they have a responsibility towards one another when in the public sphere. Not addressing danger would be seen as neglecting or not adhering to a Swiss core value. 

4. Children are expected to be autonomous from an early age

Children are expected to take responsibility early on. A child in kindergarten will be expected to walk to and from kindergarten on their own after 2-3 weeks. In school one is expected to treat the others with respect and understanding, help one another, while having an academic focus at the same time.

READ ALSO: Parenting- should you raise independent children the ‘Swiss way’?

5. Greeting people in Switzerland

Photo: koldunova_anna/

When communicating with the Swiss, remember to use courtesy phrases. But the Swiss will have and use more than you – at least in their language which contradicts the “get to the point” Swiss way.

When initially meeting a Swiss person, you must shake hands (or kiss twice on the cheek if you know them socially). Then, say: “good to meet you.”

6. The Swiss goodbye

When the Swiss say goodbye, a mere farewell will not do. Translated into English it will be something like:

Swiss person: “Goodbye” – followed by your response
Swiss person: “Thank you” – followed by your response
Swiss person: “Have a good week” – followed by your response
Swiss person: “See you next Monday” – followed by your response
Swiss person: “Thank you (again)” and “Goodbye” (again)

A general rule is if the first goodbye was in German, the second might be in French (adieu – pronounced “Ade” or in Italian “ciao”) – followed by your response.

READ ALSO: Readers reveal: How Switzerland could improve its public transport system 

7. Eye-contact is good but the Swiss value personal space

Eye contact is essential when dealing with Swiss people; it relays trust. Gestures are not excessive. A wave with the hand, a nod of the head, a raised eyebrow is all that is needed. No, or little touching – never touch colleagues or anyone in a business setting. Silence is okay, used, and appreciated. Personal space is generally an arm’s length in a 90-degree angle from your nose.

Photo: VitalikRadko/

8. No need to queue in everyday situations

There is also no queuing culture; it is every man or woman for themselves. There is an exception to this rule when getting on/off the lift. Men generally will let women in first, and then enter. When exiting, there will be a bit of shuffling to get everyone moved around so that the ladies can get out first.