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Why Covid has made the Swiss ‘more anti-social than ever’

Vaccination and other Covid-related matters are among the factors that make Switzerland’s population less friendly and solidarity towards others, a new study shows.

Social distance: More people in Switzerland ‘focus on themselves’. Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash
Social distance: More people in Switzerland ‘focus on themselves’. Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Even in the best of times, the Swiss are not known for being particularly friendly toward outsiders, including foreigners.

But the pandemic has made them less amiable, even to people in their social circles.

Social ties in Switzerland “have sunk to an all-time low”, according to a new survey, the Hope Barometer 2022, conducted by University of St. Gallen on behalf of the Swiss Association for Future Research (Swissfuture) and the Swiss Society for Positive Psychology (SWIPPA).

Covid restrictions and the vaccination have divided Switzerland’s residents in 2021, the study shows.

“On one hand, there was the ‘silent majority’, who got vaccinated and saw the measures as a quick way out of the crisis. On the other hand, the critics of the measures rebelled against the ‘state dictatorship’ and ‘vaccination pressure’. That left its mark on the solidarity of the Swiss”, said Andreas M. Krafft, study author and Swissfuture’s board member.

The willingness to help other people through difficult times dropped to 68 percent in 2021, from 72 percent the previous year.

The burden of Covid-19 has created social tensions, Krafft said, because after almost two years of non-stop pandemic, people are disillusioned and tired of the situation.

While in 2020, they showed a strong sense of solidarity in order to overcome the crisis, “now this fire of togetherness is largely extinguished. This causes people to focus primarily on themselves and expect more responsibility from others”.

The contentious issue of vaccinations has also impacted friendships and divided families, the study found. 

“People trust others less because of differences of opinion on such fundamental issues”.

Is this lassitude and uncaring attitude specific to Switzerland?

While general conclusions can’t be drawn, some countries have managed to “stay together” during the pandemic to a greater extent than Switzerland, Krafft said.

“In Portugal, for example, there is still great social support among people”, he pointed out, attributing this cohesiveness to the fact that “a large majority of the population has been vaccinated and therefore there is less tension”.

But in Switzerland “many people feel left alone, with no sense of community”, he said.

The point of divisiveness was also raised by the new Swiss president Ignazio Cassis in his New Year’s speech, where he mentioned “a strong risk of polarisation” because of the pandemic.

“Coronavirus continues to strain the country. It makes us vulnerable and it carries insecurity. Sometimes it also isolates us”, he said.

Pandemic versus ‘normal’ times

The study demonstrates that the strain of the pandemic made Switzerland’s population less “social”, partly due to divergent opinions among pro and anti-vaxxers.

But what was the situation like before Covid struck?

A number of surveys carried out among Switzerland’s international community reported that many foreigners found it difficult to make friends with the Swiss.

One such poll, conducted by Internations in 2019, showed “perceived unfriendliness towards new arrivals”.

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

The Local too has conducted surveys among its readers to find out whether, based on their own experience, the Swiss really are aloof and unfriendly toward foreigners.

One such survey indicates “the Swiss really do remain neutral when it comes to striking up new friendships”.

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 said.

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

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For members


REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers, showing their fireballs on warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. In Switzerland, some towns want to make the event even more special by turning off their lights.

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

Every year, skywatchers get ready for the Perseid meteor shower, which in 2022 is going to peak in the early hours of Saturday, just before dawn. At its peak, it will be possible to see about 200 shooting starts per hour if the conditions are optimal.

The Perseids, as this particular meteor shower is known, are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Its small dust particles (not actual stars) burn up when they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. They can be observed worldwide but are best viewed in the northern hemisphere.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

And they may be in large parts of Switzerland. Despite the full moon blocking some of the views (don’t worry, the moon should set at around 2 am), the skies should be clear of clouds during the early hours of Saturday, according to the Swiss meteorology agency MeteoSchweiz.

Some cities also want to remove another major obstacle to stargazing: the artificial lightning that hides most of our stars, the Milky Way, and many shooting stars. The Projet Perseides invites Swiss towns to turn off municipal lights and incentivise stargazing.

The project, created in the French-speaking cantons, has gathered support mainly in western Swiss, but, according to the organisers: “Ultimately, we are targeting the whole of Europe”.

Which cities are participating?

You can find the complete list of municipalities here. The communes include Champagne, Grandson, La Chaux, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Provence, Yverdon-les-Bains, Fribourg, and more than 100 others.

The project invites the municipalities to turn off their public lightning and convince citizens and businesses to do the same – all voluntarily.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Projet Perseides started in Orbe in 2019 when the non-profit association convinced the town and surrounding municipalities to turn out the lights. In 2020, nearly 120 Vaud cities joined the project. The following year, they were joined by cities in Valais, Fribourg and Neuchâtel, according to the site.

What if my city is not among them?

Even if your city is not a part of the project, it is still possible to watch the phenomenon. The best time would be between 2 am (when the bright full moon sets) and pre-dawn hours, so until around 5 am.

The association says: “to enjoy the night, don’t look at light sources. Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness”. This includes ditching your phone for a few hours.

If you can visit a part of town with little artificial light, perhaps going up a mountain, for example, you also improve your chances of seeing more of the shower.