It’s all very International, but not very Swiss. Give integration a go.

It’s all very International, but not very Swiss. Give integration a go.

As an expat when you first enter the land of chocolate and cheese, everything seems surprisingly easy. Signs and train announcements are in English, everyone from shop assistants to politicians and even most of the tramps speak English and everyone seems very friendly and keen to help. Although bus drivers are 50 / 50. And don’t get me started on the farmers.

But underlying this there are several unwritten rules or perhaps ‘ways of life’ that are of great importance if you wish to survive in this landlocked island no matter how long you plan on staying.


1) Don’t describe the Swiss as Swedish or ask if they speak Swiss; this ignorance, once the correct forms have been filled out, will most likely get you deported or possibly shot.

2) Don’t take the mickey out of their rules and regulations, especially not the paperwork side of it.

3) When you’ve had a few drinks do not engage the police in friendly banter, they’ve got guns.

4) Don’t try and steal a policeman’s gun.

5) Use the Zebra crossings. In Australia you get fined for ‘J walking’ which can be defined as ‘crossing a road, not on a Zebra crossing’. I thought it meant walking around naked (which I discovered is actually quite acceptable down there). However in Switzerland the drivers will do absolutely anything in their power to stop and let you cross if you are at a designated crossing. Smoke pouring from their brakes they nod politely as you traverse the road staring in horror at the 50 car pile-up that they have just caused. However if you should dare to try and cross the road anywhere other than at a designated crossing the drivers suddenly take the definition of a citizen’s arrest a bit too far as they try and flatten you. So I cannot stress enough the importance of using a zebra crossing in Switzerland. There is a popular Swiss ‘joke’ about this “Why did ze Chicken cross ze road?” “Ve don’t know but did it use ze official crossink?” they say, reaching for a form.

6) This is a problem I still have issues with, even after living here for 6 years; who, when and how to kiss. Now first things first; you don’t kiss the guys. Girls do. Guys don’t. Unless they’re French. But kissing the girls now that’s a difficult one. Often it varies from girl to girl but they all have their individual random rules; some kiss once, some do both cheeks and some do it three times. Sometimes when I first meet someone I just keep kissing them until it gets really, really awkward. It’s impossible for me to offer any advice on this as it’s just too random; but I’d stop after 10.

7) Don’t over – stereotype the Swiss. By this I mean be careful how far you take the Swiss stereotype. One of Switzerland’s key incomes is the tourism industry so yes every now and then they do stick Heidi – esque clothes on, blow on some long trumpets and eat cheese but I saw first hand during a screening of Casino Royale the reaction of the Swiss audience to the, perhaps overly stereotypical Swiss Banker in the film. Further-more when the witty Mr Bond, James Bond asked if he “brought any chocolate with him“ things turned nasty…

8) Don’t mention the war. I know we associate this one with the Germans but I reckon the Swiss are feeling pretty guilty for not helping out. To be on the safe side don’t bring it up.

9) Just be careful when you go hiking or skiing, the rural areas of Switzerland are very…. rural. At the start it’s just old women glaring and muttering, but it swiftly descends into a fight for survival, whole villages hunting you, flaming torches, the works. And when they catch you they boil you alive. In a fondue.

I was going to have a go at writing 10 tips to help a foreigner survive in Switzerland but as you can probably tell from my last point my ideas were perhaps getting a little bit thin. Switzerland is very easy to settle in as an expatriate but you do seem to find yourself in a small closed off world; International Men’s / Women’s / Mother and Child clubs / schools it’s all very international, but not very Swiss. So what to do? Simply put a bit of effort in and learn German. If you become involved in local clubs / societies and really start to understand and more over appreciate the culture, a whole new world will be opened up to you. So, step through the Wardrobe, go into the Matrix, find Nemo, I’m getting confused but definitely give integration a go.

About the Author

Tim Attkinsfirst moved to Zug in 2006 and spent two years at the Zurich International School before heading to University in the UK. Every holiday was spent enjoying what Zug and Switzerland had to offer. Upon graduating he spent a year undertaking various company internships in Zug. He's currently back in the UK undertaking a Sports Marketing masters with a view to moving back to Switzerland upon graduating. Tim has a very 'dangerous', yet humorous approach to writing and really doesn't mean to offend anyone!View all posts by Tim Attkins →