Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland
In some countries, neighbours don’t need an instruction manual on how to treat each other in a courteous and respectful way. But the Swiss have their own — written and unwritten — etiquette.
Although this can be difficult to discern for foreigners, Swiss seem to know these rules by heart — perhaps because they created them.
Though for people from another country, these ‘dos and don’ts’ may seem odd at first, practicing them is a sign of cultural integration — and it does make communal life a lot more pleasant.
Here’s how to make it work.
A drink is just a drink
Being social and yet keeping your distance (that is, respecting your neighbour’s privacy) is a delicate balancing act, but this is a skill you must learn if you are going to live in an apartment building.
When you first move in, it is customary to invite your neighbours for a drink so you can introduce yourself. This is usually a polite gathering, but if you think it will lead to close friendships, you are wrong.
There may, of course, be exceptions, but in most cases you will probably not (or rarely) see your neighbours in social situations.
The Local is thinking about writing a long-firm article entitled “How to make Swiss friends in 250 easy steps”, although we're not sure if we can narrow it down to such a short list.
Socially accepted greetings
The Swiss are sticklers for proper greeting etiquette. If you see a neighbour and don’t greet them, you may become the building’s outcast.
However, don’t call them by their first name, unless instructed (by them) to do so.
The proper way to address a person is to say grüezi, bonjour, or buongiorno, followed by Frau/Herr, Madame/ Monsieur, or Signora/Signore, and then the last name.
‘Hey, you’ or ‘Whazzup?’ is not going to cut it in Switzerland.
When planning a party, leave a note
If you are going to have a company and make noise, post a note in the building, informing your neighbours of the date and time of the event, and apologising in advance for any disturbance.
Or, you can tell them directly if you happen to see them out and about — but only after the obligatory grüezi, bonjour, or buongiorno are exchanged (see above).
All apartment buildings in Switzerland have a noise ordinance in place, which bans loud noises after 10pm. You might have heard that you are not even allowed to flush your toilet after this time, but in most buildings this is not the case, unless your toilet sounds like a jackhammer.
However, loud music, TV, and other noises are strictly verboten.
In Switzerland, Sundays are considered rest days so your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by a sound of a lawn mower, hedge cutter, or nail being hammered into a wall.
Be a sensitive laundry user
Most Swiss apartment buildings have a communal washer and dryer, and each tenant has his attributed day and time to do the laundry.
There are two rules to remember here: One, don’t hog the machines on a day that’s not yours, unless you agree with a neighbour to switch schedules.
Two, always clean up the machines and the area around them after use.
Don’t do a half-hearted job: remove the lint and other debris from the dryer, wipe the inside of the machines, and sweep the floor if necessary.
The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.
Dumping your garbage bags haphazardly in front of the building rather than at the official drop-off spot, or putting out your trash for collection on the wrong day of the week, will not only annoy your neighbours, but municipal authorities as well.
Likewise, not segregating your waste — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — will not win you any ‘good neighbour’ awards either.
Your garden gnomes are rude
With modern garden gnomes invented in neighbouring Germany, it's no surprise to see them all across gardens in Switzerland - and particularly in the German-speaking part.
However, if your garden gnome is of the rude variety - for instance one with the audacity to bear its buttocks - then you might be annoying your neighbours without realising it.
Some Swiss, particularly in rural areas, can be a little prudish when it comes to nudity, like this Aargau couple, who sued to get their neighbour's gnome to put some pants on.
They decided to sue in late 2021 because she refuses to move her butt-naked garden gnome, which is facing directly the pensioners’ kitchen window.
“When I look north, I see an ass”, the indignant husband testified in a district court.
They argue the neighbour deliberately placed the offensive gnome in the couple’s field of vision, an accusation that the gnome owner vehemently denies.
As the plaintiffs consider the incident to be “an attack on their honour”, they request that the gnome owner be fined of 1,050 francs.
Let’s hope this last tip rings a bell…
If you are a foreigner, you may not know that cows and churches are ubiquitous in every part of Switzerland. Both have very loud bells that chime incessantly.
They are, however, integral parts of the Swiss culture and people love them. They will not take your complaints about the noise kindly.
So if you are a light sleeper, don’t rent in a building located near a church or a meadow.
And you should also avoid farmhouses with roosters, unless you live for early mornings.