Switzerland explained For Members

The dos and don'ts of Swiss social etiquette

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
The dos and don'ts of Swiss social etiquette
Fondue is a favourite of the Swiss. Photo by Angela Pham on Unsplash

Toblerone, Heidi and Fasnacht: Switzerland in a nutshell - or is it? Anyone who thinks they know the ins and outs of Swiss culture from these classics couldn’t be more wrong. There's a plethora of unwritten rules when it comes to social behaviour.


Whether you are visiting the country as an exchange student or are here on a more permanent basis, you are likely to commit your fair share of faux pas on your way to becoming a true Swiss. But fear not, these can be easily avoided if you’re aware of some of the most important Swiss etiquette. Let’s check it out.

Greet the Swiss way

Grüezi, Bonjour, or maybe just a simple Hallo? Over the course of your time in Switzerland you will encounter many people, be it co-workers, fellow students or just strangers on the street – so it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with figuring out just how to greet people properly.

As with many things in Switzerland, the way to greet people, too, depends on the canton you’re in. In casual situations, such as when riding lifts or meeting people out on hikes, usually a friendly Grüezi, Bonjour, or Buongiorno will get the job done. Greeting anyone that isn’t friend or family with a Hallo is not common in Switzerland and is often perceived as rude. So, as a rule of thumb, always stick with the formal way of greeting people you’re not close with.


READ ALSO: Swiss culture shocks that may take some getting used to

A flag thrower performs with a Swiss flag in front of the Parliament.

A flag thrower performs with a Swiss flag in front of the Parliament. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

In a business environment, always greet people with a firm (!) handshake in addition to addressing them formally – this is crucial until the other person initiates an informal approach.

When it comes to greeting friends, however, the rules are generally a lot more relaxed, depending on the closeness of the friendship. While many Swiss friends are content with a quick Hoi, Salut, or Ciao, some will favour a more physical approach, such as a hug.

Good friends also greet each other with three kisses (left, right, left) – but be careful when greeting a French person, they start with the right!


Do give a small gift 

If you have been invited to a party or homecooked dinner by a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, the etiquette is to bring a small gift as a thank you. In Switzerland, most people choose to bring a bottle of wine or a seasonal bouquet of flowers. 

In a business setting, it is not necessary to bring or exchange a gift.

Bring a gift to your host in Switzerland.

Bring a gift to your host in Switzerland. Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

TIP: Refrain from bringing expensive or flashy gifts as this can be seen as tasteless and make your host uncomfortable.

Don't say the wrong thing in conversations

Once you’ve stepped inside a Swiss home you will want to make for interesting conversation, but before you know it, you could be on your way to committing your first crime against Swiss etiquette. That’s right, the Swiss are notoriously private people which means discussions around divisive topics, such as finances, politics, and religion, are best avoided.

Get dining etiquette right

We all know the feeling: You’ve been waiting for your order to arrive for longer than anticipated, your stomach is growling, and you’re growing increasingly impatient. But where some people may be tempted to raise a hand and wave over the restaurant staffer, in Switzerland this is considered a big no-no. Likewise, you should always wait for everyone’s dish to be served and wish the whole party a “Guten Appetit” prior to digging in. 

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

On that note, don’t be surprised to see a dog patrol the restaurant as you enjoy your long-awaited meal. Dogs are in fact allowed inside a remarkably high number of Swiss establishments, and diners are expected to pretend they’re part of the ambience.


Once you’ve finished your meal and are ready to ask for the bill, be sure to remember that tipping is not necessary in Switzerland as staff are paid a healthy salary. However, despite this, many Swiss still choose to round up their bills to the nearest franc.

If you’re invited for a dinner at someone’s home and the host wishes to make a toast, you will (regrettably) be expected to sit through the entire toast before eating. If you are the host yourself, remember it is important to make eye contact with your guests while addressing them. 

People with drinks

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Brush up on fondue skills

If you find yourself in the land of cheese and chocolate, you are very likely to indulge in some delicious fondue sooner or later. But eating the melted cheese dish isn’t as straightforward as you might think, so make sure to get a hang of some of the key fondue rules before losing your bread in the cheese (the loser buys the next round of drinks!).

TIP: Fondue is eaten in the winter, avoid restaurants offering it in the summer.


When out shopping, be sure to greet shopkeepers when entering a store and paying for goods. However, don’t expect fellow shoppers to queue up. The Swiss, while polite, do not have a queuing culture and will absolutely step in front of you if you let them!


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