Swiss culture & customs

  • Hi there! I just moved from Ecuador to Switzerland but really find it hard to adapt to people over here. Any advice?

    07 Jun 2007, 05:25 Eduardo
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  • Swiss etiquette

    Hi Eduardo,

    maybe this info helps:

    The People

    The Swiss value cleanliness, honesty, hard work, and material possessions. Motto: "Unity, yes; Uniformity, no." They are very proud of their environment and have a long tradition of freedom. They value sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality and a sense of responsibility. They are very proud of their neutrality and promotion of worldwide peace. The Swiss have a deep-rooted respect for saving and the material wealth it brings.

    Meeting and Greeting

    Shake hands with everyone present -- men, women, and children -- at business or social meetings. Shake hands again when leaving.
    Handshakes are firm with eye contact.
    Allow the hosts to introduce you at parties.
    Use last names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Swiss hosts or colleagues to use their first names. Academic and professional titles are used frequently.
    First names are reserved for very close friends and family.
    Body Language

    Poor posture is frowned upon. Do not stretch or slouch in public.
    Do not point your index finger to your head. This is an insult.
    Body language varies from region to region in Switzerland.
    Corporate Culture

    The Swiss take punctuality for business and social meetings very seriously and expect that you will do likewise. Call with an explanation if you will be delayed.
    Business cards in English are acceptable. Hand your business card to the receptionist upon arrival for a meeting. Give a card to each person you meet subsequently.
    Generally, English is spoken in business with foreigners. Inquire beforehand to determine if an interpreter is needed.
    Business climate is very conservative. Meetings are generally impersonal, brisk, orderly, planned and task oriented.
    The Swiss tend to get right down to business after a few minutes of general discussion.
    Presentations and reports should be orderly, well-prepared, thorough and detailed.
    The Swiss are fair bargainers but not hagglers. Discussions are detailed, cautious, and often pessimistic. Decisions are made methodically.
    It is not acceptable to call a Swiss businessperson at home unless there is an emergency.
    Dining and Entertainment

    In the German parts of Switzerland, beckon a waiter by saying Herr Ober, and a waitress by saying Fräulein. It is considered rude to wave your hand.
    Business luncheons are more common than business breakfasts.
    Business entertainment is almost always done in a restaurant.
    Spouses are generally included in business dinners.
    The host proposes the first toast. Don't drink until after the toast is proposed.
    Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal -- not in your lap. However, keep your elbows off the table.
    Cut potatoes, soft foods and salads with a fork, not a knife.
    Use eating utensils at all times, including to eat fruit.
    Break bread with your hands if possible. Do not use a knife.
    If salt and pepper are not on the table, don't ask for them.
    Don't smoke at the dinner table. Wait, watch and ask permission before smoking.
    Sample everything offered to you. Try to finish everything on your plate when dining in someone's home. It is impolite to leave food on your plate.
    When you are finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
    Leave a party no later than midnight.
    It is considered impolite to ask for a tour of your hosts' home. If your hosts want to give a tour of their home, they will offer.

    Appearance should always be clean and neat. The Swiss are known for conservative and neat attire.
    Overly casual or sloppy attire is not appreciated.
    For business meetings, men should wear suits and ties; women should wear suits or dresses.

    Gifts are normally not exchanged at business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate at the successful conclusion of negotiations.
    Be prepared to give a gift in case you are given one. A gift with your company logo is acceptable.
    Give books, desk attire, whisky, cognac, good bourbon, or wine. Do not give anything sharp.
    When invited to someone's home, always bring a small gift for the hostess and a small gift for children.
    Give candy (good quality), pralines, flowers (unwrap before presenting, odd number), pastries.
    Do not bring large or expensive gifts. This is considered vulgar and makes receiver uncomfortable.
    Don't give red roses or carnations (these imply romance). White chrysanthemums and white asters are for funerals only.
    It is polite to send flowers to the hostess before a large party or the next day with a thank you note.
    Helpful Hints

    Be punctual.
    Show great respect for elderly.
    Don’t litter (you will be scolded publicly).
    Don’t chew gum or clean your fingernails in public.
    Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets while talking with people.
    Never put your feet on a desk, chair or table.
    Especially for Women

    More women are becoming more and more involved in business and public life in Switzerland, though the banking and finance industries continue to be dominated by men.
    Foreign businesswomen will be treated fairly and professionally in Switzerland.
    Many Swiss businessmen would be embarrassed if a foreign businesswoman invited them to dinner. Swiss men are very conservative and still expect to pay for a meal. If possible, a foreign businesswoman should invite a Swiss businessman to lunch rather than dinner.

    Paul 07 Jun 2007, 05:25 - Report
  • Swiss manners

    The Swiss are extremely polite. Expressions like “thank you very much” or “my pleasure” are used all the time. Car drivers are very courteous with pedestrians. If they notice that someone wants to cross the street, they will stop and give a hand signal to the pedestrian indicating that he or she can cross safely. The pedestrian, out of gratitude, should respond by a hand signal or a quick glance accompanied by a nod of the head. In small cities, villages, and on mountain trails, it is customary to greet people you pass (even if you do not know them) with a cordial Gruezi (hello) or Bonjour (good day). In cities, this gesture is still used when entering stores or small cafés.

    It is considered equally civil to give your seat to senior citizens and pregnant women on public transportation. Even if it is true that women appreciate good manners, you should not try too hard to impress them. It is up to you to judge how much chivalry a woman expects. But be careful not to make her feel childish or relegate her to a position of inferiority. Swiss women also enjoy their independence and many of them no longer appreciate the paternalistic aspect of courtesy. If a woman insists on sharing the bill or treating you to dinner, you can protest politely but go along with it. She will feel as though you see her as an equal and will feel satisfied that she does not owe you anything.

    Trixxy 07 Jun 2007, 05:26 - Report
  • Business culture in Switzerland

    For doing business in Switzerland:

    Doing Business in Switzerland - Business Etiquette
    For the international business person doing business in a foreign country offers certain intercultural challenges. Differences in culture mean differences in etiquette and protocol. Understanding a country's business culture, protocol and etiquette is important in achieving success abroad.

    This guide to doing business in Switzerland offers some introductory points to some of the above mentioned areas such as business culture and etiquette. It is not intended to summarise all ‘doing business tips’ nor meant to stereotype the Spanish people. Rather, it highlights some important key areas for consideration when doing business in Switzerland. We have focused on three areas: how to meet and greet, communicate and conduct business meetings.

    Meeting & Greeting:

    When meeting people, shake hands with all present. Swiss society is rather formal and people tend to address each other, whether colleague, neighbour or acquaintance, by their surname. This is not only a sign and respect but one of the manifestations of the Swiss propensity for privacy. However, in some of the multinationals in Switzerland this is changing and first names are a little more common.
    At first always address someone first by his or her professional title and family name. Only when invited to should one use first names.

    Switzerland has four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansch. Romansch is spoken by 1 percent of the population in the eastern part of the country. Swiss-German is a dialect spoken in all the German-speaking cantons.

    In German-speaking Switzerland, use the courtesy titles “Herr” to address a man and “Frau” to address a woman; in French-speaking areas, use “Monsieur” and “Madame”; in Italian- speaking areas, use “Signore” and “Signora”.


    The Swiss are a private people, so try to avoid asking personal questions until a good relationship has been established. What constitutes personal are areas such as occupation, age, marital status, religion, etc.
    The communication style can come across as quite sober; initially it is advisable to avoid jokes and engaging in any banter as this may be misconstrued.

    Meetings & Negotiations:

    The Swiss are known for getting the best possible deal in negotiations without ever appearing aggressive or demanding. Through quiet self-confidence and a no-nonsense approach to business they sidestep 'hard-sell' and other high- pressure tactics. In addition they will refuse to rush a decision until they have properly examined all the facts and information and reported these to the decision maker(s).

    Swiss business culture is very hierarchical. Although those in senior positions will come across as modest there exist very clear lines of authority that are not crossed. Only the highest individuals in authority make final decisions even if others disagree with it.
    A successful meeting and/or business relationship revolves around one being a responsible, sound and honest businessperson. Maintaining control over your emotions and leading a disciplined personal life are also esteemed qualities.

    Trixxy 07 Jun 2007, 05:27 - Report
  • nope

    After living in such a stupid, xenophobic country for 4 years, the Swiss are pretty stuck up and do not want to socialise with strangers. Therefore, IGNORE all the "swiss rules" and let them go to hell. I will waive at waiters and waitress and point at my head as much as I want, stupid swiss.

    stupid swiss 30 Jun 2008, 10:31 - Report
  • Switzerland does not have any culture

    in the past Switzerland was a recognized country in human rights, democracy and tolerence, but today it is well known in racism and xenophobia, today most swiss young are skinheads, swiss people don't like to see non european foreigners especially the black ones '' black sheeps '', so if I were you I would not care about them.

    2010 is the apocalypse 15 Jul 2008, 04:36 - Report
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