Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Making Friends in Switzerland


It's hard to make friends with the locals. But you are not alone--the Swiss themselves find it hard to make friends with other Swiss. One Swiss friend of mine told me that during his first week of work at a new company this summer, not one person asked him if he would like to go to lunch. Wow. And my friend is an outgoing, friendly guy. So if you're an expat wondering what you're doing wrong, don't feel bad. To make friends in Switzerland, you need time.

After all, I am now great friends with my Swiss neighbor. But even she didn't tell me her first name for over an entire year. Instead I continued to call her Frau V, even while I ate raclette in her apartment.

One of my good German friends has also made many efforts to make Swiss friends--and with little success. So you should also know that it's not just the language barrier that's the problem. Many Swiss are content to have three or four good friends and that's it. They don't feel a need to have more and often aren't interested in finding new acquaintances. Of course, there are exceptions to this and I've been fortunate to find a few.

Anyhow, the strange Swiss Friend Phenomenon all makes it very hard for expats, especially those interested in making friends outside of international clubs. I've been here over three years and I can count on one hand the number of Swiss friends that I have. Luckily, when you do make a Swiss friend, they are some of the most loyal friends that you can find. So it's worth the wait. But as most expats living in Switzerland can tell you, the wait isn't easy.

How about you? What are your experiences making friends in Switzerland?

14 comments:

mrsmac said...

The friends I've made here are like family. But yea, I'm not friends with any Swiss people. All of them are ex-pats. Germans, English, Australians, Kiwis, Americans, no Swiss.

Jessica said...

Yeah - I agree - you have to go out of your way if you want to make new friends here. Do not expect the Swiss to come to you... but they are nice people once you crack the shell. It is nothing personal... ;)

Chantal said...

No, it's definitely nothing personal, it's just the culture.

Wide Eyed Gypsy said...

One good way could be to start taking part in random outdoor activities through websites. Its what a lot of people I know have done. Eventually you kinda build a steady group of people you see often.

M'dame Jo said...

Well, I'm Swiss, so I guess I'm used to the swiss ways. Plus I'm not sure my friends are that typical of what you're reporting. So, what I wanted to say from my swiss point of view: Swiss people don't have the reputation to be easy to meet and it takes time to become friends, etc., it's something that most foreigners feel, so it must be true ;)

But I wonder if it's not also that it's harder to make friends with locals elsewhere too... When I was in California, no doubt, people talk more easily unlike swiss people who think who want to rob them if you try chatting in the train. And I enjoyed actually talking to people in shops, public transportations, bars, etc.. Same at work, I always had someone dropping by my cube for lunch, etc. And I've chatted with cool people I met in bars or parties who nicely offered to show me around or invite me to the next party or such.

Except that: It never happened.

I ended up making friends with the European expats from work mostly - who actually called when they said they would.

One exception aside - but it was more a kind of dating thing, another whole realm of cultural differences.

I don't know, is it possible that there actually huge differences in social codes/expectations etc. that just makes it hard to meet, either ways?

Chantal said...

Yes, that's an excellent point and thanks for adding the Swiss perspective. I'm sure the whole cultural differences thing makes it that much harder because we don't approach making friends in the exact same way. It's easy to just get comfortable with the people who are just like you--expats because you can relate to each other.

MP said...

I was just going to chime in, in a similar vein. From what I've experienced here and there is that the 'locals' are more than willing to chat you up in bars/coffee shops/social situations, but when it comes to actually making friends/meeting one on one, it's much more difficult.

Perhaps there's a bit of expectation on both the expat and the local. The expat generally wants some sort of entree into the local ''society', but at the same time doesn't want to impose. The local probably has no desire to play 'tour guide', but at the same time feels the need to show off their homeland. I think that's why it takes awhile for expats and locals to become friends. The expats need to feel comfortable in their surroundings and the locals need to see that the expats can function on their own. Gives them both a more even playing field.

Geez...that was long winded. I guess my BA in Anthropology wasn't so useless afterall! ;) Excellent discussion!

Chantal said...

Well, at least one of my Swiss friends loves to be a tour guide...but maybe he is unique in this way. But I find that he loves to show me the "real" Switzerland and who am I to complain? I love it.

Hattie said...

I've never lived in a place where it was so hard to make friends with local people, but the international community was very welcoming. My Swiss friends were mostly spouses of non-Swiss.
I think friends are best made through work and community organizations.

Chantal said...

Yes, I agree. The international community in Switzerland is a great place to find friends.

Lighthouse Lizzy said...

I am Swiss, too, and I completely agree with M'dame Joe. In addition I think there is also a language barrier. Swiss people are known for their language knowledge. That puts Swiss under some kind of pressure, they want to be perfect when using a foreign language. And if they are not perfect in a certain language, they don't talk. I am a very good example myself: I have no problem talking to people from America, Great Britain, South Africa or whatever English speaking country. But if there is a French speaking person talking to me, I am not that open. Although I know French, it is not as good as my English and I have this barrier using it. - I am wondering, do you think it's hard to make Swiss friends because of a culture thing or is it, because you don't speak German (if you don't speak German)?

Chantal said...

The German thing is also difficult. I've found very few people patient enough to let me speak in German without switching to English. Also, because I am not that good at German, I find it hard to be myself or say things how I want to say them and this is also a problem.

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