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'It's a lonely country to live in': What you think about life in Switzerland

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The Local - [email protected]
'It's a lonely country to live in': What you think about life in Switzerland
A lonely swiss flag. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

A recent global survey of expats found that foreigners in Switzerland thought the country was hard to settle in, partly because it was so difficult to make friends with the locals. Is it really? Here's what you had to say.


Of the 64 nations surveyed as part of the report - which took into account the responses of more than 20,000 participants - Switzerland ranked 61st for finding new friends and 59th for settling in. Switzerland also ranked 62nd for cost of living.

We asked our readers for their experiences - and to get a better idea if the Swiss really do remain neutral when it comes to striking up new friendships. 

READ: No friends and sky high costs: Living in Switzerland for expats

While these findings are fresh, the results are nothing new for expats in Switzerland. A 2013 study by HSBC found that while Switzerland was the best country to make money, it was the worst place to make friends. 

A similar poll completed by The Local’s Swiss readers in 2018 led to many of the same conclusions. 


Making friends is hard to do 

Readers who replied to our survey overwhelmingly agreed to the findings. All but a handful of our respondents said that making friends was hard for internationals in Switzerland. 

One respondent, Danys, attributed these difficulties to the Swiss’ ‘closed-mindedness’ when it comes to expanding their social circles. 

“The mentality of Swiss people is really closed and even though many have traveled around the world for holidays, very few have had the expat experience… They are born and die in their social circle,” Danys said. Another respondent agreed: “the Swiss people are not so open minded, they are polite, so formal but moreover I found them as conservative”. 

A Swiss social circle. ROMAIN LAFABREGUE / AFP

Meier wrote that the Swiss have a snooty mentality when it comes to foreigners. “The majority of Swiss are insular. They keep friends from childhood forever, don't like change, and believe that their way of life is superior to most”. 

One further respondent, Magc, said that this could make Switzerland an isolated and lonely place to live in. 

“The Swiss tend to stick to other Swiss people and don't like to include outsiders into their circles… As an expat from Canada, I don't look foreign, but as soon as Swiss people speak to me in Swiss German, they hear my broken German and see that I can't fully understand what they are saying and tend to not go further to communicate,” she said. 

“It’s a lonely country to live in.”


Those who successfully broke the ice? 

Not all of our readers said they experienced a lonely life in Switzerland. 

Some of our respondents said they’d managed to break the ice when it came to making friends in Switzerland, saying it all depended on cultural understanding. 

Mark told The Local that it was up to expats to make an effort to understand Swiss culture.

“It's relatively easy, just drop the fake modern Anglo Saxon phenomenon that everyone is your best friend and someone you can overshare with and then you'll swiftly find the Swiss (and certainly the Swiss-Germans) quickly accepting and welcoming of you,” Mark said. 

Expats have a responsibility to adapt to Swiss cultural norms, no matter how odd - or cold - they may seem. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Another was of the same opinion, saying that expats needed to overcome their tendencies to only become friends with each other. 

“Moving to a country requires give and take and a respect for the local culture, especially in countries that are smaller and where populations may possibly feel overwhelmed by expats. Expats also tend to stick to making friendships amongst themselves which has a tendency to isolate the Swiss”. 



How to win friends and influence people? 

What were our readers tips for anyone finding it difficult to make friends? The most common - and perhaps most obvious - piece of advice was to learn the local language. 

Similar to a reader survey completed by The Local Switzerland in 2018, brushing up on the language - whether that be German, French or Italian - where you live is the best way to build connections. 

One told The Local that not being able to speak the language wouldn’t be accepted in other countries, so an ability to communicate only in English shouldn’t be expected in Switzerland. 

“Many expats don’t make enough effort to learn or to speak the national languages. After all, is it acceptable to say does only Spanish for example in the UK and then to expect friendships?”

Another agreed: “If you can speak the language then obviously, life is a lot easier. Things do get a bit complicated when you get to the dialect side of 'Swiss German' and all but at the end of the day it all comes down to how much effort an expat puts into being sociable”. 

If all else fails? Chocolate

A few of our respondents also said that getting to know people through the workplace, or joining clubs around specific interests, was the best way to get to know local people. 

Know the way to a Swiss person's heart: chocolate. RICHARD A. BROOKS / AFP

One respondent, Sonya, said that having a Swiss partner was a great way to be integrated into local social groups. 

“Mine (partner) is a native and helps to bridge the communication gap between other people and makes meeting/introducing to others easier,” she said. 

Another, Mark, said that fighting against Swiss cultural norms was a recipe for loneliness. 

“(Expats need) an acceptance that "the rules" are the glue that makes it a cohesive society with a great quality of life. Sometimes they seem crazy but deliberately kicking back against you just makes you unhappy and an outcast,” he said. 

Perhaps our favourite reader tip however for making new friends was a one-word answer focusing on Switzerland’s best known export. 



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Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2019/10/01 11:59
Yes, it's important to adapt to the reality of Swiss Cultural norms and etc. It's also important to respect the way people are and specially where they come from. However, by experience I can clearly see that people complain a lot about the closeness of the Swiss ones, but are they being open themselves? It's not vomiting or oversharing your life freely that you are going to make friends, period. It's not putting yourself as a victim that people will come to you and be sorry about your situation being lonelly. It takes times and persistence to make yourself aware about your defense mechanisms to push people away as well. When you complain about something, normally you are projecting this feelings to another person or situation that yourself are in as well. In theory is super nice read for example Brené Brown and make yourself vulnerable. But are you showing your vulnerability for the right reasons? Probably not. Many people here are emotionally unavailable (including myself in the past) and they struggle to understand and accept it. I have seem and talking to many people lately about this subject and the feeling is in general the same.

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