Switzerland Manners and Etiquette

Have you ever traveled just a state or two away and were amazed at how different the people are? Not that one state has better people than another but different simply because of their expressions, words and dialects. In one state a toboggan is a hat; travel a couple of states south and a toboggan is a sled. Imagine then, traveling thousands of miles away, how much different things will be.

Visiting or doing business in Switzerland can be complicated in some cases, since the country is a multilingual area varying from French to German to Italian languages amongst the others. Many of the citizens also speak some English, making it a little easier on the visiting American but one never knows when you’ve left a German-speaking area of Switzerland and entered into a mostly French-speaking region.

In Switzerland you’ll find things are different from place to place. What’s acceptable in one area is not in another. The country is made up of 26 individual cantons, something similar to a county, in America. Rules and laws can change from canton to canton, much as they do between cities and counties in America.

The Swiss are known for their commendable work ethics and in fact, their attitude is almost superior in nature. When working with the Swiss be punctual to all meetings, but not early. Dress up but dress conservatively. Go easy on the jewelry or other displays of wealth.

Being even a few minutes late for a meeting is especially rude and inconsiderate. Be business-like throughout the meeting, avoid jokes until you know the associates well. Swiss, for the most part, say what they think so with this crowd, you don’t often have to wonder what’s going through their minds. They can be very forthcoming, even blunt, at times. Whether at a business meeting or a social event avoid asking personal questions about money, marriage, income, kids and age and the Swiss will do the same. They are private people and will treat your privacy with respect as well.

Address the Swiss by title, like “Dr.”, if you happen to know their title. If not, use “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or Miss if you’re all speaking English. Different languages are spoken, depending upon the area you’re in, so try to find out in advance of your meeting whether you will need German, Italian or English titles. Hyphenated surnames are pronounced using both words; never call the person by one of the hyphenated words.

Business is serious and handled as such. The Swiss place little value on humor during a meeting. Be straightforward and concise. Don’t boast, make jokes, gesture wildly or act superior in any way during a meeting. Women business people will find it even harder to advance in the Swiss culture. Be conservative but organized, precise and knowledgeable. Keep accurate notes about the meeting and supply the associates with a written summary. Pass out business cards with the credentials of your company plainly stated. If, for instance, the company has been in business for 25 years make sure that is stated on your card. The Swiss are more impressed with achievement than fancy lettering or gold embossing.

It’s not necessary to become friends with your associates before the business discussions. Most Swiss are cautious about new friendships and the relationship could take many years. If you are punctual, professional and articulate you should do well. Expect some time to go by before final agreements are reached but the word of the Swiss, upon agreeing to the deal, will likely keep their word.

In social settings, when invited to a party or dinner, it’s acceptable to be 15 minutes late. Bring a gift to the host and hostess, like chocolates or flowers. Do not give red roses, white lilies, or chrysanthemums. As in many countries, sharp gifts, like knife sets or scissors, represent the severing of all ties. A nice bottle of wine is a much better choice. If someone offers a toast you will be expected to stand up, look the person in the eye, raise and click glasses with everyone that is within reach, then sip.

In some countries, leaving a portion of food on the plate is a compliment to the hostess. In Switzerland waste is not appreciated. Eat what you want but eat everything you take. Keep your wrists on the table but never your elbows. Do not place your hands in your lap during dinner. Place knife and fork parallel to one another, at an angle on the right side of the plate to show you are finished eating. If the fork and knife are crossed it means you are not finished eating.

For the most part the people of Switzerland are very law-abiding and will not likely mind calling you down in public for throwing litter or crossing the street against a red light. Other no-no’s in Switzerland are talking to someone with hands in pockets, sitting with one ankle on the other knee, slapping your associates on the back and pointing the index finger (use entire hand).

You may find it extremely expensive to hail a taxi in the major cities and traffic regulations are particularly strict. You’re expected to tip at most public facilities but don’t be surprised if your change is in Francs.

You’ll most likely enjoy your stay in Switzerland very much but to make sure they enjoy as equally follow the law, be considerate of the elderly and be demure in your public and business persona.

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