Culture and Etiquette in Switzerland
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What are the dos and don'ts in Switzerland? Is it rude not to tip in Switzerland? How do Swiss people greet each other? If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland and are wondering about the country’s cultural norms, our overview of Switzerland etiquette is on hand to help.
The magnificent mountain ranges that are arguably the main draw for visitors to Switzerland have also played a pivotal role in forming Switzerland’s national identity.
They're also among the reasons you voted Switzerland one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Within this rugged environment, community spirit is perhaps stronger than anywhere else in Europe. Since the country is not an ethnic, linguistic or religious unity, it has survived — so the Swiss are fond of saying — through the will of its people to resolve their differences.
Not only are there four official languages spoken (German, French, Italian and Romansh), but communities divide into Catholic and Protestant. At the same time, regional characteristics remain sharply defined and diverse.
Local pride is fuelled by a range of traditional customs, most of which stem from pagan or medieval Christian festivals. Most prominent of these is carnival, held throughout the country on or around Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent.
In the centre and the east, the old isolation of tight-knit mountain communities lingers on in Swiss German Kantönligeist (“little cantonal spirit”) — a parochialism leavened by down-to-earth rumbustiousness.
To the west lies the Röstigraben, a comical name given to the invisible language border between French-speaking Switzerland, where they don’t eat the traditional potato dish Rösti, and German-speaking Switzerland, where they do.
These different communities are held together through a unique style of “bottom-up” democracy, which ensures real power still rests with the people.
Discover more about accommodation in Switzerland.
Wherever you are, take the time to greet everyone you meet. That applies to shop keepers, hotel staff, bar and restaurant staff when you arrive, and hikers and skiers you encounter in the great outdoors.
In the case of the latter, it’s customary — and considered polite — to greet everyone in a group. A quick hello, friendly nod, or making eye contact as you hike by will do the trick.
Given that Switzerland is blessed with excellent outdoor experiences, this is one of those top Switzerland travel tips you can thank us for later.
When it comes to first encounters, your best bet is to keep it formal — offer a firm handshake and use surnames.
In German-language situations, use the formal “Sie” until they suggest switching to the informal “Du”.
When it comes to kissing — even the air variety — keep it for closer friends. Once you've broken that barrier, convention sees the Swiss kiss three times, starting with the right cheek.
Related to the above, it’s worth learning some local lingo to seem polite, and enhance your Swiss travel experience.
Be sure to check what’s spoken in the region you’re visiting. Switzerland has four official languages — German, French, Romansh and Italian, the latter of which is spoken in the Ticino region.
In good news, The Rough Guide to Switzerland includes overviews of all four languages and key words and phrases to help you communicate.
We’ll keep this one short and sweet — never litter. It really is a massive faux pas when it comes to following good Swiss etiquette.
It goes without saying that clothing depends on where you are and what you’re doing — hardcore summer hiking and depth-of-winter skiing dictate the need for special attire, depending on when you decide is the best time to visit Switzerland. That said, when you’re exploring towns or cities, or dining out, it’s best to opt for a smarter look.
Rule number one: don’t be late. If you have a reservation, or are meeting someone at a restaurant, be sure to be on time.
Rule number two: don’t flag down restaurant staff with a wave of the hand. And, in German-speaking regions, address staff as Herr Ober (male) or Fräulein (female).
Rule number three: brush up on your fondue skills, as revealed in our guide to eating and drinking in Switzerland.
All bar, restaurant and hotel bills are calculated with fifteen percent service included — staff are on proper salaries and tipping is officially abolished.
That said, unless service was truly diabolical, everyone rounds up to the nearest franc. In restaurants, it’s common to add two or three francs.
Perhaps reinforcing a Swiss stereotype, it’s polite to be punctual in Switzerland. Don’t turn up late for restaurant reservations, tours, meetings or events.
Be sure to greet shopkeepers, but don’t expect other customers to stand in line.
While the Swiss are a polite people, Switzerland doesn’t have a queuing culture, so don’t be shocked if a fellow shopper steps in front of you.
With its visitor-friendly efficiency, tolerant attitudes to breastfeeding in public, generously-stocked pharmacies and unimpeachable safety record, Switzerland is an easy country to travel with children.
Be aware, though, that children under the age of 12 and under 150cm in height will need special booster seats, or front-facing child seats, when travelling by car, including taxis.
Children can be included on passes such as the Swiss Travel Pass, which can be bought in advance.
Alongside all those winter snow-based activities, many Swiss festivals include child-focused events such as street performances.
Meanwhile, grown-ups and kids of all ages can enjoy stacks of amazing train rides — no surprise given that Switzerland features in our overview of the best scenic train rides in Europe.
Switzerland is very tolerant towards gay (schwul, gai, gay), lesbian (lesbisch, lesbien, lesbico) and transgender (transgender, transgenre, transgender) lifestyles.
The age of consent is 16. All towns have lobby organizations which serve as a focus for the local scene.
Want to know more about Switzerland? The Rough Guide to Switzerland and our tips on things not to miss in Switzerland will help you plan your Switzerland vacation. The same goes for our Switzerland travel tips.
Not a fan of planning? Consider booking a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland, to touring the Grand Circle.
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