SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

From ‘natel’ to ‘ça joue’: The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local

From “schmolitz” to “panosse”, some words and phrases common in the French-speaking part of Switzerland are different from their equivalents used in France. Here is the vernacular you should master if you live in Suisse Romandie.

From 'natel' to 'ça joue': The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local
No, the chalet is not crazy. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Each of Switzerland’s main languages – German, French and Italian – are shared with a larger and more influential neighbour. 

These three languages – when added to the unique Romansh language – makes for a diverse linguistic spectrum. 

It might come as a relief to foreigners living in one of the French-speaking cantons that differences between the Swiss version of the language and the one spoken in France is much smaller than the difference between standard German and Schwyzerdütch.

Except for some specific words and expressions, people in France understand their counterparts in Romandie much easier than is the case between Germans and Swiss-Germans.

READ MORE: ‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss-German words to learn?

The Local recently asked its readers what are the most important Swiss-French words to know.

Which parts of Switzerland speak French?

Geneva, Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel speak only French, while Valais and Fribourg speak predominantly French but also German. 

Bern, the seat of the de facto capital, is also bilingual, but with more German than French speakers. 

From the answers we received, several respondents mentioned the numbers. 

As anyone who has tried to learn French will tell you, the numbering system is particularly difficult – especially when you get in the double figures. 

The Swiss French numbering system is different to that of original French, with Swiss French using the words septante (seventy), huitante (eighty) and nonante (ninety). 

The Romands decided to simplify these words from their original French versions: soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt-dix, which literally translate to ‘sixty-ten’, ‘four twenties’ and ‘four twenties-ten’. 

However, regional differences are also at play here: Geneva uses the French version of these numbers, possibly because of its close proximity to France.

Some readers also mentioned the expression “ça joue”. Literally translated it means “it plays”, but in the Suisse Romande it means “yes, it’s alright”.

Other words and expressions mentioned in the reader survey were: “carnotzet” (a small bar), “bonap” (Bon appétit – enjoy your meal), “si jamais”, (if ever), vélo (bicycle), “ouais” (slangy oui – yes), and “tout de bon” (all the best).

READ MORE: Have your say: What are the most important Swiss French words to know?

Suisse-Romande versus France

Aside from the numbers mentioned above, some words and phrases used in this part of Switzerland are uniquely “Romand” and if you use them in France, chances are you will be met with a quizzical look.

Natel: Mobile phone (“téléphone mobile”)

French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Panosse: A wet broom (“serpillière in France)

Y a pas le feu au lac: Literally, this means “there’s no fire in the lake”. But what it actually means “there is no rush, no urgency.

Faire schmolitz : Wine drinking ritual in which two people decide to befriend each other by passing from the formal “vous” form to the more casual “tu”.

Schmoltz! Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Etre déçu en bien: Be pleasantly surprised (être agréablement surpris in France)

Ça va, le chalet?: Are you crazy ? (ça va pas la tête ?)

Tchô bonne: Have a good day /evening (bonne journée /soirée)

Lolette: a pacifier for babies (tétine in France)

Quart d’heure vaudois: This means a slight delay, not only in Vaud but in other Romand cantons as well (être en retard” in France). Please note that a similar expression doesn’t exist in the German-speaking cantons, and for a good reason: Swiss-Germans are rarely late.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Tenir les pouces: Just like in Anglo countries, crossing fingers brings good luck in Suisse Romande. But in France, you’d have to “croiser les doigts”.

Tenir les pouces: universal sign of good luck. Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Lost in translation?

If you are not totally familiar with the intricacies of the French language, keep in mind that these expressions have a different meaning in French than in English. Or, they may not mean what you think they might:

Préservatifs: No, these are not artificial food additives (“conservateurs”), but condoms. The latter is commonly found in food, the former usually isn’t.

Hors-ligne: This is often seen on buses in the Suisse Romandie. This doesn’t mean the bus is transporting horses; it does mean it is not in service.

Voilà, there you have it: some typical expressions you are bound to hear in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Tchô bonne! 

Member comments

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

JOBS

‘It’s competitive’: Essential advice for finding a job in Zurich

Looking for work in Zurich or contemplating a change? Before diving head first into your job search, here's some valuable information and advice from experts and readers who have managed to land a job in Switzerland's biggest jobs market.

A computer next to a pad and a cup of coffee on a wooden table
If you are looking for a job in Zurich, you will need these tools - along with The Local's Zurich job guide. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Living and working in Zurich offers many draw cards from high salaries, a favourable work-life balance and international working environment.

Yet the process of landing a job as a foreigner in Switzerland’s largest canton can be time-consuming and overwhelming when starting out.

READ MORE: Five insider tips to find a job in Switzerland

The labour market in Zurich

Switzerland runs a quota system for foreign labour, meaning there’s an annual cap on the number of permits issued to foreign workers per year.

The Office for Economy and Labour for canton Zurich (AWA) says they issued 5317 work permits in total to third-country nationals in 2021.

This included permit renewals, those already living in Switzerland (for example students) and workers who were only staying for a short time.

In 2022, the canton of Zurich has 393 short-stay L permits and 246 residence B permits for third-country workers in its reserve (although the canton can request for more at the federal level if this runs out).

As Switzerland operates a dual system, the permits are first screened by the canton before being reviewed by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

READ MORE: How much do university graduates earn in Switzerland – and who earns the most?

Compared to other cantons, Zurich has more permits at its disposal.

That’s because the canton is the biggest economic driver contributing over 20 percent to the national GDP.

It employs a fifth of the country’s workers and is home to 116,000 companies such as Google, ABB, Microsoft, AXA and Swiss Re.

The AWA declined to name the companies that hired the largest number of foreign workers. However, they did acknowledge that one third of work permits issued in Zurich go toward the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier

Generally speaking though, the most employable sector is still healthcare with the highest number of employees at 55,200. Other notable sectors include education – thanks to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the University of Zurich – and financial services.

A third of all Swiss banks are situated in the Zurich region including UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer and it is estimated that 9 percent of workers in canton Zurich are employed in the industry. 

For those who may be sitting on the fence about working in Zurich, it may be a good time to take the plunge now. Michael Page found a 38 percent jump in the number of advertised jobs from January to December 2021.

The most sought after roles were: IT specialists, engineers, B2B sales professionals and business administrators.

The Swiss city of Zurich. Photo by Tobias A. Müller on Unsplash

The Swiss city of Zurich. Photo by Tobias A. Müller on Unsplash

What the experts say

One of the questions that inevitably arises is: how much does German matter? Nikolaus Schönecker, Senior Team Lead at Hays in Zurich specialises in filling permanent roles in the IT sector.

“The amount of roles not requiring German or Swiss German is increasing, since many companies are realising this is the only way to challenge the shortage of experts,” he says. Nevertheless, having even rudimentary language skills can set you apart from other foreign candidates.

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

“Show your willingness to learn German. If you aim to be able to follow business meetings in German at a B1 level and reply in English, the barriers will be lower.” 

Stephan Surber, Senior Partner at Page Executive Switzerland, advises job-hunters to connect with the local expat community as well as country-related networking organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce.

Most of these groups including AmCham, Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish-Swiss Chamber of Commerce also publish a list of its members online, which may be a good guide to finding international firms based in Zurich.

He also suggests jobseekers to target expert networks such as the CFA or ACCA community for financial analysts and accountants. 

EXPLAINED: Which Swiss cantons have a minimum wage?

There are many English-language job portals on hand such as jobsinzurich.com, LinkedIn and The Local’s own job platform. But experts we spoke to said that recruitment agencies or headhunters could prove useful in finding hidden opportunities that are not yet on the market.

They can also provide feedback on interviews and ask their clients questions that a direct candidate would not usually get to ask. 

And if you eventually find yourself across an interviewer, aim to be modest and genuine. “Although self-confidence can surely help in most jobs, most Swiss people dislike bragging and overstating,” reminds Schönecker. “So try to show your best side in a realistic way.” 

What our readers advise

Amadej Kristjan Kocbek moved to Zurich and began working as a Data Engineer at AI services company Unit8 in August 2021. “Based on the lower response rates I got, I could feel that the job market is more competitive in Switzerland than in surrounding countries, but not prohibitively so.”

Originally from Slovenia, Kocbek found his current job through SwissDevJobs, a job portal which focuses on the IT industry. Although he used German with half the companies he interviewed with, most of them did not see it as mandatory.

He recommends people to come with at least a year of relevant experience, to send in job applications in the same language as the advertisement and ultimately, to have persistence for the entire process. “If you only send a few dozen applications and land a job, that’s already very successful.”

Meanwhile, Leeor Groen from Australia began working as an Advisory Assistant Manager at the audit and advisory firm PwC after completing his studies at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Freelancing in Switzerland: What foreign nationals need to know

The process was lengthy; his start date was postponed several months as he waited for the approval of his short-term L permit abroad in Tel Aviv. He eventually transferred to a B permit after 11 months.

“It’s hard to break into the job market without a residency permit and language skills especially for early stage graduate positions,” says Groen who is now in the process of applying for permanent residency. “You’re basically relying on your network.”

Groen was most recently a Partner at Blockchain Valley Ventures and says he was brought on as the first employee only after getting in touch with its CEO. 

A survey among our readers echoed these sentiments. Many said that cultivating a strong professional network is key to the job search and agreed that speaking German was at least beneficial to very important.

Other advice we received included having reference letters ready, to be patient with the process (which can stretch over a month), and to avoid overselling oneself.  

To stay on the job market in Switzerland, stay tuned to The Local and check out our Jobs board. 

SHOW COMMENTS