Different Ways to Be Polite in Switzerland

How to win the politeness game in Switzerland
How to win the politeness game in Switzerland | © Hans/ Pixabay
Sean Mowbray

The Swiss are quite fond of their social norms. It’s rather easy for a visitor to make a faux pas and seem like an uncivilised barbarian. So if you want to appear polite and well-mannered to your Swiss host you should follow these 12 rules.

Be punctual

It’s a bit of a stereotype, but it’s fundamentally true; the Swiss like to be punctual, and it’s kind of expected in return. If you say you’ll be meeting at 5 pm, you should try and make it for 5 pm, or better yet 4.59 pm. Otherwise, it’s considered rather rude.

Don’t break eye contact

For casual drinkers, and those who hate prolonged eye contact, this can be one of the most unsettling Swiss experiences. When your about to ‘cheers’, it’s customary to do the deed with every single person around the table but you have to look them directly in the eye when you do it. This is not only time consuming, it can also feel uncomfortable if you aren’t used to it.

Always wait for a toast

You should wait until the host offers a toast before sipping on your beverage, as it’s considered rude to skip this. If you’re sitting there parched after 30 minutes of waiting you can always offer one up yourself.

Bring a gift

If you are being hosted, whether it’s a party or a quiet coffee, it’s considered polite and normal to bring a long a little something for the host (flowers or a bottle of wine will do).

Handshake or a kiss?

Normally, a simple handshake suffices for a first meeting (don’t forget that eye contact), but often you’ll be invited to go for either two or three kisses on the cheek, depending where you are in the country. Always go with your right cheek first to avoid any headbutting incidents.

Say hello now and always

If you’re out and about, wandering through the wilderness and you happen upon someone along the way, you should extend them a greeting. You don’t have to divulge your darkest secrets, a simple hello will suffice and any international incidents will be avoided.

You have to say hi, even at 4,000 metres.

Don’t mind the dog

You’re about to dig into your delicious dinner at one of Switzerland’s fine restaurants, when in walks a couple with a slavering, whining pooch. This is a common sight in Swiss restaurants as dogs are allowed in almost every establishment. Swiss etiquette demands that you grin and bear this.

Expect a little personal space invasion

The Swiss have no qualms getting up in your grill on public transport, nor do they mind if they bump into you while navigating through the streets. An odd form of politeness is to play the Swiss at their own game by apologising about the mid-street collision and continue on your way.

“Oh, you’re standing on my… never mind”

Obey the fondue rules

The occasion to try fondue will undoubtedly pop up during your Swiss vacation. If you’re dining with Swiss folks you might want to brush up on your fondue eating etiquette before you dig into that cheesy goodness. Most of it is common sense (don’t spread your germs to everyone else).

Speak the language

This seems pretty common sense, but in a country with four official languages it can admittedly be daunting. This is in fact one of the common gripes that the Swiss have against foreigners. English is understood almost everywhere but a little bonjour, ciao or hallo goes a long way to ingratiating yourself with the locals.

Don’t fall into the stereotype trap

There are a whole bunch of Swiss stereotypes that you should know, many of them seem true at first, and you should be careful not blurt any out. The Swiss are quite guarded about their private life, so stick to safe topics of conversation. For instance, immigration is probably a no go.


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