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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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CULTURE

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

Depopulation threatens the future of Switzerland's picturesque mountain villages, but three brothers are trying to keep theirs alive by capturing its essence in a bottle.

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

In the one-road hamlet of Souboz, nearly 900 metres (2,950 feet) up in the Jura mountains, the nature-loving Gyger brothers distill whatever they forage, such as gentian roots and juniper, in a bid to sustain the local economy.

Switzerland is trying to stave off the slow-motion extinction of its remote communities as young people move to the cities for jobs and opportunities.

Thanks to a grant from the Swiss Mountain Aid foundation, the Gygers were able transform their grandfather’s old home into the Gagygnole distillery,
turning professional a couple of years ago.

The name comes from eldest brother Gaetan’s nickname Gagy, and gnole — French slang for a drop of the hard stuff.

On the ground floor of an old farmhouse, the scent of coriander and juniper berries hangs in the air, while warmth emanates from the 2.5-metre-high copper still in which Gaetan distills gin over a wood fire.

“This production site has been in our lives since we were very young. We really have roots anchored in our village,” he told AFP.
 An agronomist by training, Gaetan, now 30, had studied in Geneva.

“We didn’t want to set up in the city,” he said, despite the bigger potential client base.

 Mountains in Swiss DNA

The brothers’ choice is a rare one in Switzerland.

The mountains cover 70 percent of the country, but three-quarters of the population lives on the plain between the Juras in the north and the Alps in
the south and east.

Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich all lie in the area of relatively flat terrain between the two mountain ranges.

The mountain villages are emptying, their grocery stores are closing and, as in Souboz, the schools are shutting, too, as the population gradually
shifts ever more towards the lower-lying towns and cities.

The population of Souboz has dropped from 135 in 2012 to 85 last year.

Faced with the slow-motion exodus, some villages are trying everything they can to reverse the tide, including financial incentives to attract newcomers,
such as offering empty houses for a symbolic sum of one Swiss franc.

READ MORE: ‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

And Swiss Mountain Aid provides funding to hundreds of entrepreneurs, such as the Gyger brothers, to bring jobs and business to the hills.

The mountains are “part of our genes, our DNA”, but “if we want to keep the mountains alive, there must be people”, said the foundation’s chairman Willy Gehriger. “We act like the spark,” he explained.

Established in 1943 to help lift mountain dwellers out of poverty, the privately-funded foundation mainly supported farmers initially — but broadened its scope around a dozen years ago. Now it helps small businesses, installs Wi-Fi, pays for computer courses and funds the transformation of dilapidated listed buildings into tourist accommodation.

Gehriger said the agricultural sector alone was no longer enough to keep the mountains thriving.

 Message in a bottle

 Dressed in baseball caps and t-shirts and armed with an iPad, the Gygers are far from the stocky, rustic, grumpy stereotype of mountain men.They are on a mission to repopulate Souboz and revive the economy in the local Juras.

“We’re aware of doing something good for Souboz. Our mountain regions have enormous potential. They’re really something that we Swiss should be proud of,” said middle brother Luca, 27.

Their gamble has paid off as the family business has a handful of employees and occasionally takes on local artisans and farmers to help bottle up the
brothers’ original gin, whisky and vodka recipes.

Last year, they produced 18,000 bottles of spirits.

Gagygnole’s eaux de vie are sold in 200 shops around Switzerland and one of their concoctions was voted the best gin in the country last year — while the brothers’ gin fondue is also a hit.

The Gygers think it is still too early to consider exporting.

“We always refused because it was difficult in terms of logistics, but why not… as long as it goes with our philosophy,” said 26-year-old Tim.
 

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