Traditions & Customs

Traditions & Customs

English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated, even if you are replied to in English. It is always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.

Make an effort to at least learn "Hello", "Goodbye", "Please", and "Thank You" in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of the verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who is considered to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers. As a general rule, you should not use the informal with someone you do not know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder. Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a grey area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times - left, right, left - and is a common custom when being introduced to someone in the French and German speaking parts. If it is a business related meeting, however, you just shake hands. Don't be shy - if you reject the advance it may appear awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips to the skin after all, as a fake "air" kiss will do.

Littering is seen as particularly anti-social. In some cantons, there are fines for littering (about 40 to 80 Swiss francs), and there are plans to make littering generally illegal, including heftier fines. Make sure that you put your recyclable litter in the correctly labeled bin, as some have special containers for paper and PET plastic. Some municipal bins actually have restrictions on the times they should be used to avoid excess noise!

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.


Take care not to inadvertently violate privacy of anybody in Switzerland. The Swiss Civil Code and Federal Act of Data Protection states that it is forbidden to make recordings of a person without their explicit consent and this is also true for pictures and video recordings as soon as a person is recognisable. Potentially you could be sentenced for up to 3 years prison for taking and especially publishing pictures and other recordings of any person without their explicit consent, so take care of what you make pictures and respect the request for privacy for both the general public and celebrities alike

Leave a Reply

Switzerland - Travel guide

Go next