Monday, November 30, 2009

Common “mistakes” made by expats in Switzerland

Every country has its culture and its quirks and when you start living in a new one, you realize just how different things are. Below are some “mistakes” I’ve made as an American living in Switzerland. Maybe you can relate.

Smiling. The Swiss will think you’re retarded. I have now trained myself not to smile in order to look somewhat normal. But sometimes I still can’t help it.

Showing enthusiasm when your boss says, “We’ve got a new project and we might need you to work overtime.” Don’t smile and say “great.” He will think you’re crazy. (And let’s be honest, no sane person would want to work overtime except an American.)

Not knowing that without your permit, you can do nothing. You can’t get a phone (except for a pre-pay cell), you can’t travel outside the country, and you can’t do much of anything else. Except wait.

Decorating your office space with photos and personal items. The Swiss prefer white walls in the office and keep their personal lives separate from work.

Not realizing that when a Swiss criticizes the way you do laundry or gardening, that this is just their way of being friendly and saying hello.

Standing in line. There is no such concept, despite misconceptions that everything in this country is organized to the 10th of a second. The only people who stand in line are expats.

Not getting that sandwich right at noon. There might not be any left at 12.30 p.m. And all a Swiss colleague will say to you is, “you should have been more on time.”

Opening the window on a Swiss train. It doesn’t matter how hot it is. Most Swiss hate drafts and will prefer to sweat.

Not introducing yourself to a Swiss first. Most Swiss people generally will not come to you.

Not being patient. Everything in Switzerland takes forever. Getting paid by the unemployment people. Making friends. Getting your permit.

Asking for butter. They just don’t use that stuff on bread here. And if you do manage to ask for some, you’ll be charged for it.

Ok, I’ve embarrassed myself enough. What “mistakes” have you made as an expat in Switzerland?

This post was written on behalf of, a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living in abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.


Steph said...

Wow, I'm really surprised by your butter comment. I'm a swiss living in the US, and I thought they just don't use it here. Butter always goes on bread first, before jelly or anything else. This has always been the case and I have not seen anyone except for foreigners disregard that rule in Switzerland. You may have to pay for it, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't go on there. That said, usually when I have a croissant on the go, I just eat it plain. But if I sit down to eat butter is most certainly the first thing to go on...

Chantal said...

Hi Chuck, I'm surprised that you're Swiss and a big butter eater. I can't find it at restaurants anywhere in Switzerland without asking especially for it, and one of my best Swiss friends never uses it. But thanks for pointing out that some Swiss people do.

M'dame Jo said...

I second Chuck and I'm also surprised by this comment. The Swiss are butter people. Most restaurants won't bring it for free on the table, but - as a Swiss who doesn't like butter - it is overwhelmingly everywhere. I think it's more a "nothing comes for free" swiss thing than a butter thing. At least on this side of the country, it is not rare to get butter on the restaurant tables.

I'm also a bit surprised on the window comments... Didn't you say once that swiss love to open windows and get fresh air in, at the cost of you freezing your butt in the office? I think we had a big "American love A/C - swiss love open windows" discussion at the time.

M'dame Jo said...

According to swiss people eat close to 6kg butter per year.

Three times as much as Americans it seems. We're right behind the French.

Susan said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I still smile. I refuse to become grim just to fit in :-)

(I don't care if those around me think it's peculiar.)

On the other hand, I am learning to elbow my way in a bit!

Chantal said...

Wow, I'm so surprised with the butter thing. I guess I just figured that if it wasn't on the tables people weren't eating it.

The draft thing, yes, we've had that discussion before. Opening windows on moving things like trains and buses seems to have a different standard that opening windows of offices to "air them out".

Hattie said...

I'll bet being a Muslim would be a big mistake for expats in Switzerland.

Chantal said...

That's another topic all together for another post. They say the new law's about fear, not racism. I say, isn't that the same thing?

M'dame Jo said...

We usually get a French/German separation on this type of votations, but this time the catholic swiss French cantons joined the swiss German cantons... Not fun.

Stephersplatz said...

I totally agree about decorating your office space.
When I worked in the states my desk was full of picture frames with pictures of friends and family and my cube walls were full of college banners, white sox posters, etc.
I came here with a few of these things on the first day and after taking a look around my office and seeing desks with nothing but work papers I immediately put them back in my bag.

I'm also glad I'm not the only one who has been criticized for how I do my laundry...I really just thought my neighbors hated me.

I also agree about not getting that sandwich right at noon. I go to lunch with my work team at 11:30 every day. I still think this is really early considering most of us get in at 8:30, but they start to get really nervous if it's 11:40 and we're still at our desks.

Chantal said...

Gald you could relate to the office thing. I did the same thing--put the personal stuff right back into my bag.

CJE said...

I've lived in Switzerland for five years and this post differs so completely from my experience (apart from the queuing bit), I have to assume it's meant to be tongue in cheek.

Chantal said...

Tongue and cheek. Moi?

Yo said...

I really like this blog and such posts make me wonder if we live in the same country :). I guess all depends on what are you comparing with (in your case US, in mine - my home country Bulgaria and Germany where I lived earlier).
In my experience Swiss do smile quite a lot and actually no Swiss had ever dared to criticize me (not even my Swiss mother in law, mind you ).
I agree, though, that you need patience - for your papers, for example. But at least it works out at the end and you get what you want.
My biggest mistake - expecting customer service. A shop does not have these shoes your size? Though luck! No, they cant order them for you, are you insane? You, a recurring customer, just spent 150 CHF in Marionnaud and you expect at least a few samples while they hand you your purchase? No, no, no, not possible (I do wonder what shops do with all the samples they get? Is there secondary market or something?)
So, although I really like living here, the lack of customer service made me regular buyer on eBay.

Capitan Futuro said...

Hi, this is the second article I read on your blog, I agree with most of the things except that everything takes forever,and the butter thing.When I arrived they told me it would take a month for my permit and it took 2 weeks. That is fast. Also getting insurance has been a breeze. It seem things work here and the ones that I find need to be patient are the Swiss, they always want you to rush at the supermarket register.

Dilly said...

I've found your blog via Glocals, and it's wonderful! I've been browsing, and this post made me smile - especially the point about queuing. This was one of the first "cultural differences" I noticed, and it still bugs me (I'm British, natch), although I'm learning to go against my instincts and elbow in!

(A related one would be expecting people to let you get off the bus/train before pushing on...)

Tex Around the world said...

Howdy, Im an american but ive been in Australia for the past 4 years, but been in Geneva area about a month now, and no one seems to like to eat standing or walking, and "to go" doesn't seem to work here. I know everytime I walk down the street eating my croissant or pain au chocolate and my energy drink, people always seem to stare... and the complete lack of anything resembling customer service as well still gets at me...

Justin said...

During a morning meeting at work it was brought up that another American will be arriving to help with our project but first they have to finish their two week German course.

The Swiss guy beside me started chuckling and said "An American learning and speaking German?! Hah, no way."

I see it as just one more reason to keep working through my German textbook every night.

Unknown said...

I think I will suggest this one to our boss. "Decorating your office space with photos and personal items. The Swiss prefer white walls in the office and keep their personal lives separate from work." Sometimes a lot of home stuff placed on the desk makes the office look like a mess. I think we should also impose this to our other offices for rent in Singapore as well.

Unknown said...

Swiss Bank Accounts. Jan.. 2015.

Is your monies safe in these accounts ---- definitely NOT.
Would you get your money back if every body decided to withdraw all their accounts – NO WAY.
Economic Experts say that there would only enough money to repay 50% of their clients.
Are you going to be in the 50% --- that loose your money.-- Get it out NOW.

2012 -- - June. -- Published in Anglo INFO .Geneva.--- USA Trust Fund Investors were sent false and fraudulent documents by Pictet Bank.Switzerland. in order to collect large fees. ( Like MADOFF) ---Even after the SEC in the USA uncovered the fraud Pictet continued to charge fees and drain whatever was left in these accounts. Estimated that $90,000,000 million lost in this Pictet Ponzi scheme.

2012 - - - July. -- De – Spiegel. -- states – Pictet Bank uses a letterbox company in
Panama and a tax loophole involving investments in London to gain
German millionaires as clients.

2012 - - - August ---- German Opposition Leader accuses Swiss Banks of "organised crime."

All the fines that crooked Swiss banks have incurred in the last few years exceeds £75.Billion.
It is also calculated that the secrecy " agreements" with regards to tax evation by their clients will cost the banks another £450 Billion.( paid out of your monies.)

The banks are panicking --- the are quickly restructuring their banks ---- from partnerships --
to " LIMITED COMPANIES." ----- this will probably mean that in the future --- they could
pay you only 10% of your monies " if you are one of the lucky ones" ---- and it be legal.

Google ---- The Crimes of ---- Pictet & Cie Bank.

Unknown said...

Wow, I thought that Swiss people smile to each other. This and other things that you described make me think that Switzerland is not the best place for me :)
Singapore probably is where I belong.

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