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FACT CHECK: Is there really an 'implicit seat rule' on Swiss trains?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
FACT CHECK: Is there really an 'implicit seat rule' on Swiss trains?
Make sure you choose the right seat. Photo: © SBB CFF FFS media

As people in Switzerland are sticklers for rules and regulations, the one concerning seating on trains sounds legitimate. But is it really?


A post on Reddit, which was picked up by Swiss media over the weekend, mentions an “implicit seating rule” supposedly in place on national trains (SBB).

The post is intended to explain to clueless foreign tourists the correct way of choosing a seat in a row of four (two seats each facing each other) when there is already a passenger occupying one of the seats.

The “implicit rule,” according to the post, is that “if you join a single person in a four-seater compartment, then you should not choose the seat directly next to or directly opposite them, but the seat that is diagonally across from them.”

In other words, according to this chart on Reddit (which we suspect was designed by a persnickety Swiss), if someone is already sitting in seat 1, the new passenger should take seat number 2, not 3 or 4.

Is this rule actually a ‘thing on Swiss trains?
Reddit users are divided on this point.

“The seating arrangement is just right. I get annoyed when I'm in first seat and someone is sitting in fourth," one person said.

Another commented “Yes! Or when the second person is in the third seat . Then I think to myself: 'Why are you invading my space?’"

But this point of view is not unanimous among Reddit users.

"I'm 40 and I never thought anyone could be upset because I sat in the wrong seat. When it's empty, I sit there, and if this bothers you, take a tranquiliser," one said.

Another poster joked: "The seating arrangement is part of the official examination if you want to become a Swiss citizen."

But knowing how bizarre some of the questions on the naturalisation test are, this could very well be true.

READ ALSO: The 8 weirdest Swiss citizenship exam questions 


Does this seating rule actually exist?
If it does, it is one of those ‘unwritten’ rules that seem to abound in Switzerland.

In any case, this particular regulation doesn’t appear to be part of the official SBB guideline.

Under the heading “Proper behaviour,” the company mentions several safety rules and general conduct to avoid accidents and injuries while waiting for, or riding on, the train.

Curiously though, among resources “on how to behave properly on public transport,” the SBB suggests videos than can be downloaded from its site.

They are entitled “Happy End.” 


Is there actually such a thing as proper etiquette on Swiss trains?

Yes, though it's an unofficial, experience-based one.

Anecdotal and observational evidence suggests that commuters don't like fellow passengers eating strongly smelling foods like tuna sandwiches; being noisy (such as telephone calls and snoring); loud, uncontrolled children; putting bags on the seat next to them; and one of the biggest 'no-nos' — putting feet up on the seat across.

This last peeve is actually a subject of a Reddit post as well.

As one American user wrote, he put his feet up (without taking off his shoes) on a seat across "and a woman came up to me very angry and lectured me on not doing it. In America, it’s very common and acceptable for people to do this on a bus or train".

A response from one of the users: "Maybe it's common and acceptable in America to do this, but since no one uses public transportation there, it's not an issue." 



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