Annoying the Swiss: Cultural Etiquette in Switzerland

I go to Switzerland rather frequently for work. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve deepened my understanding just a bit regarding the basic tenets of Swiss culture, and I can now say with confidence that I know exactly enough to have a mediocre chance of not standing out like a sore American thumb from Geneva to Zurich. I like the Swiss; I want never to annoy them with my cultural obtuseness. Therefore, as today’s creative outlet, I submit for your consideration my quick reference list of ten things to do or not do to ensure that you never annoy the Swiss as you travel within their beautiful country:
1. Shhhhhh. Switzerland has rules–several of them–about noise. You can’t blast Megadeth at 2 AM and expect to get away with it. That goes for the general jaunt about town as well. Folks in Switzerland simply like peace and quiet. If you hang out at the co-op talking at the same decibel level as does Fran Drescher, you could potentially annoy the Swiss.

2. Understand Switzerland’s linguistic boundaries. This country is a marvel of cultural variety, language included. Depending upon the region in which you find yourself, your Swiss friends could speak German, French, or even Italian as their mother tongue. Chances are good that they speak all three (in addition to spot-on English), but you should try and understand the linguistic roots of the people you’re around, or you may at some point annoy the Swiss.

3. Related to the suggestion above, if you find yourself in the German-speaking region of Switzerland (for example, Zurich and it’s environs), realize there is a difference between German and Swiss-German. To my non-German-speaking ear, it sounds like Swiss-German is a slightly gentler version of the language. It’s almost cute. Just don’t say that, however, or you will very likely annoy the Swiss.

4. Don’t litter. Switzerland is extremely clean, and the Swiss are justifiably proud of their excellence in beautification, natural living, and order. Great care is taken to make things green, clean, and eco-friendly. Trashing the environment is one way to actually piss off the Swiss.

5. Don’t bitch about how expensive everything is. It’s true–cost of living in that country is through the roof, but don’t you think the locals know that?

6. Don’t be late. Just…don’t. Ignoring the clock will tick off the Swiss.

7. Don’t get defensive when you discuss politics. The Swiss are interested in a good intellectual conversation, whether it be on Tchaikovsky or Thai cooking or Trump, and your discussion partner will want to engage your brain. But try not to take it to an emotional place. You may not annoy the Swiss, but you just might disappoint them.

8. Don’t diss the chocolate. Do you prefer Hershey’s or Cadbury to the exclusion of all else? Fab, but keep that to yourself. The Swiss are (and rightfully so) quite proud of their reputation and history as chocolatiers. Be polite about your preferences, and stay complimentary, or you will, indubitably, annoy the Swiss.

9. Don’t make a point of asking for Swiss cheese. Just trust me on this one.

10. Remember, it’s three kisses in Switzerland. Not one, not two. Three. If you get it wrong, you won’t annoy the Swiss, but if you get it right, you’ll make them see that you understand their culture and their homeland just a little bit more than they may be used to. And for that, they might just kiss you back.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


  1. I only just stumbled upon this blog, but spot on with the Swiss. I moved into Switzerland 50 years ago from London (am a cockney) and 48 years ago married a Swiss. I lived in Zürich for two years and have now been in Solothurn for the rest (now a small village just outside of Solothurn). I must agree with all your points, although I found Zurich dialect a little too wide and prefer the Bernese version (although I speak Solothurner dialect which is in that direction). I love the No. 10 about the three kisses, something I had to learn, but probably now do it automatically. I also had to get used to shaking everyone’s hand if you met an acquaintence or someone for the first time.

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