Switzerland explained For Members

EXPLAINED: When and where you can (and can't) try small talk in Switzerland

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: When and where you can (and can't) try small talk in Switzerland
The Swiss welcome small talk in certain circumstances. Photo by ELEVATE:

In Switzerland, it can often be seen as bothersome or intrusive to start off a casual conversation with a stranger at any given moment. Yet, there are situations where making small talk is perfectly acceptable.


Speaking to strangers in Switzerland can be daunting, and it can be hard to know which settings are most conducive to small talk. 

But this is one of those hurdles that foreigners may need to get over in order to make acquaintances and practice their language skills – for if you never talk to Swiss people, then your language skills will only progress so much. 

However, foreigners might be (rightfully) nervous to strike up a random conversation with Swiss people, because they are often stereotyped as being quite reserved.

In reality, the Swiss welcome small talk in many scenarios, so long as you pick the right location, topic, and remember to start off the chat with the proper form of greeting.

Share your own experiences and views in the comments section below.


Unlike in some other countries, the Swiss are surprisingly approachable whenever you find yourself alone in a lift with them and some form of small talk is usually expected.

When entering a lift in Switzerland, it is crucial to remember to greet your fellow lift riders properly to start off on the right foot. If you fail to do so, it may be wiser to drop the small talk altogether.

Usually, a friendly – but formal - Grüezi, Bonjour, or Buongiorno, depending on the region you are in, will get the job done.

Remember, 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.

If you happen to ride a company lift, it is appropriate to ask questions relating to your workplace, such as “How long have you worked here?”. In any other situation it is best to stick with the weather.

Just remember you are in an enclosed space, be mindful of how much you reveal. You never know who is listening.


Swimming pools

With temperatures in Switzerland forecast to climb closer to 30C next week, many Swiss residents are looking forward to resume pool season with a visit to their local "badi" or "bain".

Coincidentally, Switzerland’s swimming pool facilities make for an ideal small talk spot and present ample opportunity – such as the children’s pool area or snack bar - to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

Not only do badis or bains have the advantage of a casual setting, but you are also catching the Swiss on their day off surrounded by sunshine, fun, and delicious food.


So, feel free to pick a busy spot to place your towel on and say hello to your “neighbours” who might just invite you to play a round of table tennis or beach volleyball.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's outdoor pool culture

Cigarette breaks

To this day, cigarette breaks are common – though not necessarily welcome - in the Swiss workplace.

If a Swiss smoker finds themselves having a cigarette break next to another smoker, they can spark up a short conversation. The best (worst) thing? You will already have your unhealthy habit in common which makes for a handy conversation starter.

Likewise, if the chat becomes uncomfortable, too long, or simply runs its course, you can always say you’re in a hurry to get back to your job.


Bars and pubs

In bars and pubs, the Swiss tend to either arrive with friends in tow or – as is often the case in smaller towns - frequent the same locality by themselves on a regular basis.

But while that means they are often well acquainted with the regulars, they do not necessarily limit their conversations to those they already know – particularly if you’re sat at the bar or are in the queue to order a few pints. In this scenario, it is perfectly fine to comment on the locality or choice of drink.


Every summer, Switzerland plays host to a multitude of festivals and events, be it music, dance, theatre, or cinemas. But while they all make for great small talk, if you’re looking to really practice your language skills and make a friend or two, Swiss music festivals are your best bet.


Whether you are going to a large-scale event such as the Paléo Festival Nyon with over 100,000 festivalgoers, or prefer to drop by a local jazz show, you will likely have an easy time bonding with like-minded music lovers.

For one, there is an external factor to focus on (a concert), you are not trapped at the same table, and it’s always possible to drift on to someone else. Plus, many people will have had a drink or two – enough to make even the most reserved Swiss person open up.


If you happen to have children or work as a babysitter, you will know that striking up a conversation with parents comes easy. You have something in common in your children and an external focal point, which helps takes the pressure off the conversation at hand.

The children are busy playing, wandering off, crying, or simply need your attention, providing both you and your conversation partner with an inflow of new topics – and an escape route - to discuss.

At the school gates

The situation is fairly similar if you happen to be the parent or guardian of a school-aged child in Switzerland. Though most parents let their children walk to and from school, some don’t, making drop-off and pick-up an ideal time for you to strike up a conversation.

Likewise, if you take your child to the park, you might find yourself seated on a bench beside another parent. Resist the urge to look down at your phone and initiate a casual chat instead. After all, you already have at least one important topic in common.

What about situations to avoid small talk?

There are some moments where small talk is not appreciated in Switzerland. The most important thing is to know the right times to strike up conversations, and these tend to be different than what you might be used to in your home country.

Public transport

While it is appreciated to ask your fellow passenger whether the seat next/opposite of them is already occupied on a train – yes, even if it quite obviously is still available – when it comes to public transport, be it bus or train, the Swiss prefer to travel in silence.

Generally, the Swiss have a low tolerance for noisy people on public transport and bus drivers are known to tell passengers off if their music is playing too loud. Instead, most people pass the time by reading a book or newspaper or listening to music on low volume (with headphones of course).

However, there is one exception: if you need help, for instance with getting a stroller onto the train, then the Swiss are usually very happy to assist. You will however have to nudge them as they will often wait until they are asked to help before springing into action.

When seated at a restaurant or café

This might sound strange to many foreigners, but when out at a restaurant or bar, Swiss people tend to keep the conversation to the people they are seated with (mostly friends and family). Expect some surprise if you walk up to their table or even strike up a conversation with the table next to you.

The doctor's waiting room

Another example of a silent space - you won't find Swiss people chatting to one another at the doctor's surgery. This is seen as a private or intimate location where again, noise of any kind, barring a quiet whisper between family members, is unwelcome.


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