‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?
Making friends in Switzerland may not be easy, but it's not impossible. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez/ Unsplash
Surveys suggest that international residents in Switzerland find it difficult to make friends with local people. What do our readers say?

Among the many culture shocks among people moving to Switzerland relates to making friends. 

A common perception of typical Swiss (if such a stereotype actually exists) is that they are aloof and unfriendly, especially toward foreigners.

The Local Switzerland has often polled its readers to ask about culture shocks, with a common response being that the Swiss tend to be cold. 

One of the of polls carried out to find out how easy or difficult it is to make friends in Switzerland indicates that the “Swiss really do remain neutral when it comes to striking up new friendships”. You can see other surveys on this subject here and here.

Is it actually true?

The Local Switzerland reached out to readers to ask about their integration experiences – and whether they found making friends to be difficult. 

One longtime resident of Geneva, who is originally from the United States, found that most Swiss are not unfriendly or suspicious of foreigners.

Rather, they approach friendships the same way they do everything else: slowly and cautiously.

“It’s not in their nature to make friends immediately, like Americans do”, she told The Local, based on her own experience.

“The Swiss have the innate sense of privacy — their own and other people’s. That’s why it takes them longer to befriend someone and trust them”.

She added that this is more the case with the older generation accustomed to rules of social etiquette; “young people are more open and spontaneous in this regard”.

READ: Eight ways to make sure you get along with your Swiss neighbours

The Local asked its readers on Facebook on June 4th, 2021, to share their opinions and experiences of making friends in Switzerland.

We received 32 comments, many of which confirmed the stereotypes – while other people said they had fewer difficulties. 

Some of the comments negate the popular perception of Swiss people as being unfriendly toward foreigners.

“I never had a problem making Swiss friends. In fact, some of my closest friends are Swiss. I find them friendlier than some other nationalities who live here”, said Kathryn Moll-Bland.

Pakkaorn Chueachan seconds this opinion. “I live in a small city. The people here are really nice to me and supportive. I make new friends almost every day”, she said.

For others, it is more a matter of being patient and not expecting friendships to happen overnight.

“It seems to take a lot longer to develop a deeper friendship with them, kind of like peeling through layers of an onion”, according to Ashley Molloy. “But once you do get closer, they are highly reliable and trustworthy friends to have”.

No friends and sky-high costs: The downsides of Switzerland for expats

But for some internationals, making Swiss friends is challenging.

Peter Donker found several reasons why this is so: the family-oriented culture and language.  

“With regards to the former, I was struck by how much time people spend with their extended family on the weekends instead of with friends. The Swiss do not easily move from region to region, so they remain close to siblings, cousins, etc. And this means there is a tendency to hang out with them in free time, which makes it more difficult for others to ‘intrude’”.

As far as language is concerned,  “to make a friends you need to share a language thoroughly. This also means that the Swiss have a hard time making good friends across language divides. It impacts everyone”,  Donker said.

He also made another important point: “The friends one makes in adolescence are “special” in the sense that you have lived formative years with them. It is hard to make similar friendships later in life, regardless of which country you move to. I am willing to bet that quite a few people complaining about the Swiss being difficult to make friends with would have the same feeling had they migrated to another country”.

Interestingly, the most scathing view of friendships in Switzerland came from a Swiss person, who pointed out that it is not easy to make friends even for a local.

“There is a natural distance in our character that makes us respect boundaries. Maybe we are somewhat suspicious of the ‘unknown’?” noted Laurent Biehly.

“I remember going to bars where I would see people I knew who would just greet me but not come sit close by. The biggest compliment I ever received is: you are so not Swiss”, he added.

So how can a foreigner make friends with the Swiss?

There is a joke that it takes 254 steps to befriend a Swiss, but we will sum it up in six.

Master the language

This is a ‘must’ not just to establish friendships, but also to be able to communicate with the locals in general.

Plus, this shows people that you are willing to integrate and not expect everyone else to speak to you in your language (this is the case of some foreigners whose nationality we shall not mention).

READ MORE: How to improve your social life in Switzerland

Learn about Switzerland

Learn as much as you can about Switzerland; if you don’t know something, ask

This will show people you are truly and genuinely interested in their country. They will appreciate it.

Don’t criticise

The Swiss are proud of their country and they hate it when foreigners who settle here start criticising local culture, customs and traditions.

Instead of telling people what is wrong in Switzerland and how it could be improved, focus on all the positive aspects of living here.

By the same token, don’t tell locals how much better your own country is. This will create resentment and hostility, not friendship.

Go for drinks

If your co-workers are in a habit of going for drinks after work, join them.  Wine drinking is a big part of Swiss culture and you won’t win any points for refusing to participate in this social custom.

Readers tips: How to make friends in Switzerland

Join sports activities

The Swiss are pretty athletic and often participate in various sports activities on the weekends. In you get involved in any group / team activity that interests you, you will boost your chances of making friends.

Last but not least: be friendly yourself

If you want to be accepted (after fulfilling all the above points), become the kind of person people want to befriend: open, outgoing, fun (at least some of the time), trustworthy, and reliable.


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