Culture and Etiquette in Switzerland

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Gruyere castle, Switzerland © lsantek/Shutterstock

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.  

Overview of Switzerland’s cultural landscape 

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. 

Mountains have shaped Switzerland's culture  © 4kclips/Shutterstock

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. 

Delve deeper into Switzerland's culture

Experience festivals in Switzerland

Take expert-led tours

Stay in historic accommodation

  • Best for literary romantics: Angleterre & Residence, Lausanne. This classy hotel occupies eighteenth-century mansions, including where Byron is said to have written The Prisoner of Chillon.
  • Best for big occasions: Trois Rois, Basel. Founded in 1681, this is one of Europe's grandest hotels, and counts Napoleon, Dickens, Wagner and Picasso among its former guests.
  • Best for old-time Alpine glamour: Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Zermatt. The grandest hotel in the canton, and one of the finest in the country.

Discover more about accommodation in Switzerland .

Greeting your fellow mountain-hikers is a must-do of Swiss etiquette © Swiss Tourism

Meeting and greeting — Switzerland etiquette basics 

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. 

Keeping kissing for closer friends is a top tip of Switzerland etiquette © Shutterstock

Learn the lingo(s)

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. 

You could also arm yourself with Rough Guides' phrasebooks covering, French , German and Italian .

Keep it clean

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.

Learning the lingo is one of our top Switzerland travel tips — test your Italian in Gandria, Ticino ©  Keitma/Shutterstock

What to wear in Switzerland

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.

Dining etiquette in Switzerland

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

Delve deeper into Swiss dining

Book food-focussed tours

Stay in food-focussed accommodation

  • Best for big spenders: Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne. One of Switzerland’s finest hotels, this is set in ten-acre waterside gardens and serves award-winning food.
  • Best for al fresco fine dining:: Hotel Ascona., Ascona, Ticino. This plush hillside four-star offers fine views from the rooms, dining terrace, and palm-fringed gardens.
  • Best for lakeside charm: Hotel Krone, Thun. This smart hotel on Thun's Old Town square and steps from the river, has contemporary styling and two upmarket restaurants.

Avoid sticky situations by brushing up on dining etiquette in Switzerland © Shulevskyy Volodymyr/Shutterstoc

Tipping 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. 

Time-keeping in Switzerland

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. 

Bern's Zytglogge astronomical clock tower — helping citizens keep track of time for centuries © MrinaD_37/Shutterstock

Shopping etiquette in Switzerland

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.

Travelling with children in Switzerland

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 .

Kids will love gliding by mountains on the Glacier Express © Swiss Tourism

Tips for travelling with children in Switzerland

What to do

Where to stay

  • Best for self-catering comfort: Spannort, Engelberg. Somewhere between a hotel and hostel, this excellent-value option has large multi-bed rooms.
  • Best for active families: Hotel Paradis, Leukerbad. This unfussy B&B has lovely rooms and apartments is a great place for families looking to be very active, 
  • Best for Alpine adventures: Camping Jungfrau, Lauterbrunnen. This large family-oriented campsite boasts six-person bungalows and dorms in addition to tent space.

LGBTQ+ travellers in Switzerland

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.

National mouthpieces are Pink Cross and Los, while city organizations include VoGay in Lausanne

Known as the San Fransisco of Switzerland, lovely Lausanne has its own LBGTQ+ organisation © Shutterstock

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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