Readers tips: How to make friends in Switzerland

We asked our readers for advice on meeting new people in Switzerland. This is what you said.

Readers tips: How to make friends in Switzerland
File photo: Depositphotos

Making friends in any new country is difficult enough. In Switzerland, where people are generally pretty reserved and extremely respectful of other people’s privacy and time, it can be ever harder – especially if social life tends to be a bit more spontaneous where you come from.

Recently we asked readers for advice on how to break the ice and make friends in Switzerland. Here are some of your tips.

1) Learn the language

It might sound like a no-brainer, but the best way to a person’s heart is often through their ears. Even though lots of people in Switzerland speak a decent level of English (and are pretty nifty with foreign languages in general), there is nothing like the sort of communication that comes to speaking to someone in their own language.

As The Local reader Ritchie told us on Facebook: “Start small but be persistent, stick to your broken, poorly-pronounced, badly-translated speech and it’ll pay off,” he added.

In terms of learning the language, there are all sorts of classes on offer. One reader, Carolyn, who did graduate studies in Switzerland pointed out her university had offered tandem language classes and she had met people that way: a great way of killing two birds with one stone.

Read also: 18 interesting facts about Switzerland’s fourth language, Romansh

“The benefits [of tandem classes] are huge,” Myriam Moraz, who manages the University of Lausanne’s tandem scheme told The Local last year.

“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.” 

Of course, if you are learning Swiss German, there are a whole set of other issues. Here are some tips on learning the dialect from those who have.

2) …or learn another language

Language classes are a popular hobby in Switzerland, and if you want to meet Swiss people, doing a class in a popular foreign language (Spanish, for example) or another of the national languages (like Italian) is a great idea. 

Studying alongside Swiss people is also great because everyone is busy making mistakes and trying to make themselves understood – something that is not always the case in the rush of everyday Swiss life.

3) Join clubs!

Switzerland is the land of chocolate, cheese, cows…and clubs. Official figures show nearly six out of then people aged over 18 are members of a club, with four out of ten actively involved on a regular basis. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of readers suggested joining a club was a great way to meet people here.

Read also: The Local’s A–Z guide to essential Swiss culture

As reader Debbie told us on Facebook: “You like shooting there are shooting clubs, Tennis there are Tennis clubs, Hiking there are hiking clubs, you get the picture.”

Local town halls are a great place to start. There are also websites like this one which has an interactive map letting you select the canton you are interested in. You will be amazed by the variety on over.

4) Volunteer

Volunteering was another option suggested by a couple of readers,

As one of our readers, Hayat, told us: “The best way to make lots of wonderful friends in my opinion is to do volunteer in your area or different places!”

There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering in Switzerland. Try your local town hall for starters: Zurich, for example, has all sorts of options for English speakers ranging from tandem language classes to helping out elderly neighbours with things like shopping.

Read also: Nine things that are sure to surprise you about moving to Switzerland

In Basel, there is BaselConnect, which aims to promote collaboration between expats and locals, and in Geneva, there is Serve The City Geneva which links people wishing to volunteer with existing organizations.

Then there are nationwide organizations like Swiss Volunteers, which is always looking for people to assist with sports events, for example, or the charity Caritas, which offers volunteering possibilities ranging from running language classes for migrants to helping mountain farming families in need.

5) Have a positive attitude

Many of our readers stressed the importance of having an open mind and being open to new experiences.

“Say ‘yes’ to everything and put yourself outside of your comfort zone. You never know what gems you will meet!” was the advice of Local reader Jennifer.

Read also: 14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland

Meanwhile, another reader, Shelby, stressed the importance of just getting out there, organizing activities and having a smile ready for people.

“Some people took a couple years before they opened up (my old neighbours who were very shy) but eventually everyone did and we became friends,” Shelby told us on Facebook.

“I think some can be a bit closed to making friends as they think you will be gone shortly so why bother, but in general people are happy to meet new people. You just need a bit of patience and energy,” she added.

6) Plan, plan…and plan

One of our readers, Megan, stressed the importance of learning about and respecting Swiss customs, including the fact that you, as a newcomer in a group or an apartment building, are the one who is supposed to make the initial introduction.

Respecting customs is also crucial when it comes to arranging to see people socially – as anyone who has tried repeatedly to catch up with a Swiss acquaintance only to be told ‘no’ on multiple occasions will appreciate.

“Dropping by and expecting to come in or calling up to spontaneously hang out also doesn’t work for a lot of Swiss people as it is customary to schedule things well in advance,” says Megan.

Swiss people tend to plan a long way ahead. File photo: Depositphotos

The lesson here is to get out your diary and schedule things a long way in advance. Often it’s the only surefire way to ensure you will actually manage to meet up.

“Politeness and respect are key to getting to the gooey warm centre of the sometimes hard, reserved exterior of the Swiss.”

Read also: 20 telltale signs you have gone native in Switzerland

For members


Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland