Life in Switzerland 101

Culture Tips/Etiquette , Expat Life Jun 04, 2019 No Comments

Located in the heart of Europe, landlocked and mountainous Switzerland has succeeded in maintaining neutrality and stability throughout the centuries. This stability has allowed Switzerland to prosper, and it is now one of the richest countries in the world.

Switzerland also is home to four different language communities: French, German, Italian and Romansch. The country is composed of 26 cantons (states), and its capital is the German-speaking city of Bern.

The Swiss have a difficult time defining ‘Swissness’ themselves, but overall, they are motivated by a desire for unification. ‘Unity, but not uniformity’ is a Swiss motto. Key principles in Swiss society include cleanliness, a strong work ethic and honesty. The Swiss value thrift, tolerance, punctuality and discretion regarding one’s financial situation.

Foreigners, mainly from surrounding European countries, make up almost a quarter of the population.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, although it is a very important trading partner and is part of the Schengen Area, the borderless European zone that abolishes internal borders and simplifies movement between the 26 participating European nations.

Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross and home to numerous international organizations, notably the second headquarters of the United Nations, located in Geneva.

Cuisine

Swiss cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of its three main language communities and neighbors (France, Italy, and Germany).

Fondue (meaning ‘melted’ in French) is perhaps Switzerland’s most well-known dish. It consists of a pot of melted cheese placed in the middle of the table and kept over low heat. Diners dip bits of bread into the cheese with a long and narrow two-pronged fork.

Raclette is another famous Swiss dish, also consisting of melted cheese, which is traditionally served with potatoes, pickled onions or cucumbers and dried meats, such as prosciutto.

Other traditional Swiss foods include rösti (fried grated potatoes, often formed into a round shape), dreikönigskuchen (a special cake served on Epiphany, January 6), birchermüesli, (whole-grain cereal with fruits and milk), pastetli (meat pie), spaetzle (egg noodle or dumpling) and apfelküchlein, deep-fried apple rings served with vanilla sauce.

Recreation

The Swiss are very fond of sports. Football (soccer) is perhaps the most popular sport, with Zurich being home to FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Ice hockey also is immensely popular, and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is also based in Zurich.

Tennis has become a popular sport in Switzerland, especially since Swiss players Martina Hingis and Roger Federer have won numerous Grand Slams. Stan Wawrinka has become an international tennis star in recent years, with 3 Grand Slam titles.

Switzerland is a winter sports paradise, with many mountain peaks over 4,000 meters/13,123 feet. The Swiss enjoy typical winter sports, such as skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, ice skating and snowshoeing. Despite its small size, Switzerland ranks among the top eight countries with the highest number of Winter Olympics medal winners.

With so many mountains, Switzerland is popular for practitioners of extreme sports, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, bungee jumping and BASE jumping (jumping from a cliff, bridge or other high point or tall structure with a parachute). Other popular activities include hiking (there are about 60,000 kilometers/37,282 miles of hiking trails in the country), as well as mountain biking and swimming.

Vocabulary

Below are some helpful phrases in German, French, Italian, and Romansch.

English German French Italian Romansch
Good morning Guten morgen Bonjour Buon giorno Bien gi
Good evening Guten abend Bonsoir Buona sera Buna sera
How are you? Wie geht’s? Comment ça va? Come va? Co vai?
Thank you Danke Merci Grazie Engraziel
Please Bitte S’il vous plait Per favore Per plaschair
You’re welcome Bitte Je vous en prie Prego Anzi
Goodbye Auf wiedersehen Au revoir Arrivederci Sin seveser

 

Acting Like a Local

  • The Swiss are extremely law-abiding. Do not cross the street on red, litter or make noise in the evening or on Sunday morning, among other things. In some areas, residents will not hesitate to publicly scold the offender.
  • Newcomers are expected to invite neighbors over for coffee or tea – not the other way around. The same holds true for birthday celebrations. The person celebrating his or her birthday invites others to the party.
  • The guest should wait for a toast before drinking or eating. The local equivalent of ‘Cheers’ – Santé /Prost /Salute (in French, German and Italian) – is said before drinking.
  • When exchanging a toast, it is considered rude not to look at each individual person in the eye at the same time as the glasses touch or are lifted.
  • A wish for a ‘good appetite’ – Bon appétit /Guten appetit/Buon appetite (in French, German and Italian) – is said before eating a meal.
  • Never point an index finger at someone’s head, as it is seen as impolite.
  • Do not wave a hand, whistle or snap fingers to beckon a server in a restaurant; this is considered rude.
  • Loudly chewing gum in public is frowned upon.
  • Tipping is not necessary, as a 15% tip is included in the bill with most services, but it is appreciated.
  • Traditionally, the person who drops bread into the fondue pot either pays the bill or has to do a dare.



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