For members


EXPLAINED: When should you greet a Swiss person?

The Swiss have very specific etiquette rules and are sticklers for complying with each one, including when and how to greet friends and strangers. Here's how you can navigate this sometimes complicated web.

EXPLAINED: When should you greet a Swiss person?
Elbow bump is now an accepted way of greeting. Photo by: Cedric Fauntleroy on Pexels

You are probably already accustomed to routinely greeting your friends, acquaintances, boss, co-workers, and hopefully neighbours too.

You might even be aware that saying hello (in whichever of the three national languages you speak) to your doctor, dentist, or staff in various administrative or business offices is also de rigueur.

But what about strangers — should you greet them as well?

If you think saying grüezi, bonjour, or buongiorno to people who randomly cross your life’s path is redundant, think again.

Not doing so could be taken as lack of integration — probably the worst mistake a foreigner in Switzerland could make, aside from breaking the law, asking for social assistance, or claiming Belgian chocolate is tastier than Swiss.

READ MORE: 14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland

In fact, in some places not saying ‘hello’ could deprive you of Swiss citizenship.

There is an actual case of this happening: in 2016, a family from Kosovo was denied their request for naturalisation in Bubendorf, Basel-Country, because they did not greet people they passed in the street (as well as wearing sweatpants). 

While this is probably an extreme example, the fact remains that greeting people, especially those in your village, is a must (whether or not you are in a habit of wearing your jogging bottoms).

It is all the more important in smaller communities where you are likely to meet the same  people over and over again, and your faux-pas are more likely to be noticed, remembered, and held against you for all eternity.

It is not an impossible scenario in a small community that a person you snub on the street just happens to sit on your local naturalisation committee.

READ MORE: 16 ways to make your life in Switzerland easier without really trying

But this also holds true in general, even in situations where you won’t see the same person / people ever again. For instance:

  • When you enter a small store, café or restaurant, say hello the moment you set your foot inside; when departing, say auf wiedersehen, au revoir, or arrivederci.
  • And if you are in a store and need assistance from a staff member, start with a hello and not an ‘excuse me’.
  • The same greeting etiquette applies when you enter or leave an elevator or any other closed space where you encounter people.
  • This may not be the case in larger cities, but in small towns you should actually greet bus drivers and passengers, bidding them goodbye when you leave. You may be surprised to discover they respond in kind.
  • It is also common to say hello to people you meet on hiking trails or other walks — the rule of the thumb is that if your paths cross, a greeting is in order.

Greeting people on hiking trails in a must. Photo: Pixabay

How do you greet people?

For eons and up until March 2020, the Swiss just loved to say ‘hi’ and ‘bye ‘with a three-cheek kiss.

It didn’t matter whether they knew someone for a long time or for five minutes —the right cheek-left cheek-right cheek ritual was practiced with everyone they met.

Thankfully, this custom has fallen victim to the pandemic and nobody can predict whether it will fully ever re-emerge but, at least for the time being, there is a reprieve from this virus-friendly way of interacting.

Instead the ‘elbow touch’ became the new ‘normal’ way of greeting people.

However, neither the three-cheek-peck nor the elbow bump are considered as signs of successful integration.

As far as we know, practicing either or both will not help anyone obtain Swiss citizenship, though the rules may change.

READ MORE: Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

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For members


Provenance probe of Nazi era trove goes on display in Switzerland

When a museum in Bern inherited a spectacular collection of some 1,600 artworks, including by masters like Monet, Gauguin and Picasso, it spent seven months mulling whether to accept the offer.

Provenance probe of Nazi era trove goes on display in Switzerland

The collection left to the Kunstmuseum in 2014 by Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father Hildebrand Gurlitt had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis, included works looted from Jewish owners during World War II.

A new exhibit, “Taking stock. Gurlitt in Review”, explores the museum’s journey researching the pieces’ provenance and the challenges of determining its obligations in the face of the tumultuous Gurlitt legacy.

The exhibit, which will run from Friday through mid-January, comes after the museum last year agreed how to handle works whose provenance remained undetermined.

It gave up 38 works known or suspected to be looted by the Nazis, but decided to hold onto 1,091 pieces where provenance information was incomplete but gave no indication of looting.

Some slammed that decision as immoral, but the museum hit back, stressing the “big responsibility” it took on when it accepted the Gurlitt bequest.

“We developed categories to be able to make a reasonable decision” based on the provenance and any possible indications of looting, Marcel Brulhart, the museum board member and legal expert, said during a presentation of the exhibit.

“I think we have found a fair solution.”


Living in a cluttered Munich apartment surrounded by paintings by the likes of Chagall and Matisse, Cornelius Gurlitt suddenly found himself in the
spotlight after German tax authorities discovered part of his collection in 2012.

Before he died in 2014 at the age of 81, the man described by media as an eccentric recluse struck an agreement with the German government that any plundered works would be returned to their rightful owners.

The Bern museum, which he named as his sole heir, said it would honour that wish, and set about trying to determine each piece’s provenance.

Some of the works were determined to have been seized from Jews by the Nazis and sold on, confiscated as “degenerate” works, or sold by their fleeing Jewish owners at a low price.

“It is an illusion to think that we will ever have full insight” into the artworks’ provenance, Brulhart told AFP.

“History moves forward, and many documents have been destroyed.”

He stressed that Hildebrand Gurlitt had collected art his entire life, but only worked for the Third Reich “for a very limited period”.

Brulhart said, in his opinion, the Gurlitt affair marked a real “turning point” by showing it is possible to find fair solutions even in cases where
insight into a piece’s provenance is incomplete.

‘Total transparency’

Museum director Nina Zimmer said they had aimed from the start for “total transparency” with the unique international provenance research project.

It had endeavoured to reevaluate prior expertise when new information surfaced and had sought fair solutions with any possible rights-holders, even
in cases where the provenance was not fully established, she said.

So far, 11 works have been restituted, including a long-lost Matisse painting “Seated Woman”, which was returned to the family of the late art
dealer Paul Rosenberg in 2015.

Nearly 30 works are still disputed, Brulhart said.

The current exhibit is the third at the Bern museum focused on the Gurlitt collection, after ones in 2017 and 2018.

It explores in detail the ethical guidelines, legal framework and results of the research project into the Gurlitt trove, curator Nikola Doll told AFP.

Through 14 individual thematic spaces, it presents around 350 pieces, including historical documents linked to the fraught bequest from national
archives in Germany, France and Switzerland.

Artworks on display from the collection include those by masters like Cezanne, Kandinsky, Munch and Rodin.