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UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

In Switzerland, you might hear the term 'Bünzli' to describe someone. What does it mean?

A person wearing socks with sandals
Socks with sandals are a part of the Bünzli uniform. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

One of many cultural curiosities, a Bünzli is someone who is simultaneously very Swiss – but whom the Swiss make significant fun of. 

The term has no direct English translation, which can make it a little confusing at first to understand. 

At least in part because it is relatively difficult to translate into English, the word Bünzli itself is often used among English speakers who live in Switzerland. 

Here’s what you need to know about Bünzli, a truly Swiss phenomenon. 

What is a Bünzli? 

The term Bünzli is a Swiss German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, has narrow mind and view of things and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition. It is almost always used as a criticism or in a negative context. 

While the internet gives up the translation ‘philistine’ in English, there are other elements which make a Bünzli a Bünzli. 

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too.

Other English words like fussy, fastidious, stodgy and exact also describe a Bünzli. 

A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

A Bünzli will have a perfectly manicured garden and will never want to split a bill evenly, instead demanding to pay exactly what he or she had – and nothing more. 

He is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant.

Some say Bünzli are particularly Swiss, like a distilled, concentrated form of pure Swiss-ness, although the fact that Bünzli are usually the target of ridicule from Swiss people indicates that foreigners are not the only ones who find the behaviour weird or out of line. 

The best English translation is probably a ‘goody two-shoes’, although in this case the more likely attire is socks paired with Adiletten. Yep, you get the idea.


Wearing Adiletten with socks doesn’t make you a Buenzli…but it helps. Photo: Christian H. Flickr

Still not sure what a Bünzli is? 

If you still don’t know what a Bünzli is, it might be helpful to see a few further examples. 

The following YouTube video goes through some specifics of the Bünzli is in Swiss German (although if you already speak Swiss German, you’ll likely know what a Bünzli is). 

Switzerland’s English forum often holds debates where expats look to discover the exact meaning of the term

Swiss news site Watson lists several reader examples of their Bünzli experiences, from having the police called for a noise complaint at 10:01pm, to telling tourists who asked for directions while holding a train door open to let go of the door so the train can leave. 

How do I spot one? 

For those who still don’t exactly know what a Bünzli is, don’t fret.

It’ll often happen the other way around, i.e. the Bünzli will discover you, when you haven’t done your recycling or when your doormat is the wrong way around in front of your apartment or when you cycle across the pedestrian crossing with no cars around. 

Keep the above in mind and trust us, you’ll know one when you see one. 

Have you had any Bünzli experiences? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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CRIME

Swiss tighten gun shop security after burglary spree

Gun shops in Switzerland will need to implement a range of tighter security measures, after a series of burglaries across the country.

Guns in a weapon shop in Switzerland
Guns are more popular in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe, although the country's strong gun rules mean there hasn't been a mass shooting for 20 years. STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP

The new security requirements will come into force from January 1 but gun shops will have five years to upgrade their security systems, the Federal Department of Justice and Police said in a statement released on Thursday. 

Over the past 12 months, several arms shops have been the target of burglaries or attempted break-ins.

The new security requirements cover safety standards for doors and windows, while shops must also have video surveillance.

Gun shops will also have to keep certain weapons such as automatic firearms in a security cabinet with an alarm linked directly to the police or an alarm centre.

EXPLAINED: Understanding Switzerland’s obsession with guns

Guns are popular in Switzerland, which has the highest gun ownership rate of any European country. 

In Switzerland, where shootings are extremely rare, the attachment to arms is rooted in the tradition of militiamen keeping their rifles at home.

Weapons are therefore widespread, though it it difficult to know how many are in civilian hands in the absence of a national register.

According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey research centre, in 2017 Swiss civilians possessed more than 2.3 million weapons — nearly three for every 10 people, putting Switzerland 16th in the world for the number of weapons per capita.

Gun laws in Switzerland are relatively tight, although politicians on the right side of the spectrum have continually called for the rules to be relaxed, in particular after attacks and terrorist incidents

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