Thursday, July 11, 2013

10 ways to get the Swiss talking

Things like trying to meet people or talking to people you barely know are naturally awkward, but trust The Frau. You’ve never experienced a truly awkward gathering unless you've lived in Switzerland and been brave enough to work at a company that isn't multinational.

As most people know, the Swiss pretty much keep to themselves. As in they only talk to their family and their friends—specifically the friends they made in first grade. And this works for them. But it might not work especially well for you when you, the outsider, find yourself at a company happy hour feeling anything but happy.

The Frau has worked at several Swiss ad agencies over the last seven years. And if social events are bad at a Swiss ad agency, The Frau shudders to think of what they would be like at a Swiss bank. So what’s an expat to do? Below are ten strategies to get the Swiss talking to you, both in general life or at that dreaded “social” mixer. Note: Use at your own risk. You may just make a friend for life (or in some enemy).

The Swiss will talk to you. Just know the right topics.

Mention how many foreigners there are in Switzerland (specifically the number of Germans, when possible).


Discuss things that seem non-existent or insignificant (such as crime or trash).


Ask about that construction project the next street over (there is always a construction project the next street over and there is always someone who has memorized the construction schedule).


Ask about vacation plans. The Swiss always have vacation plans. It’s easy for them to know where they are going next since it's most likely the exact same place they just went. 


Put out your trash incorrectly (especially good if you want the whole community to talk. But not so good if you don’t want them to talk about you).


Recycle during the lunch hour. Guaranteed lecture. Have fun.


Sit back, relax, and eat something while several “En Guetes” come your way.


Walk a dog.


Carry an alphorn. Better yet, play one.


Anyone else have tips for trying to speak with people from a culture who rarely even speak amongst themselves?


Dominik said...

haha, very good post. I had to laugh. I'm always trying to avoid mixers like that because I know it's always going to be extremely awkward with Swiss people (and I'm Swiss, too, but probably (hopefully) a rather untypical one).

If you wanna get Swiss talking you can always toss battleground words such as SVP and/or Christoph Blocher. That usually ends up in a heated debate.

other topics Swiss LOVE to talk about is work (unfortunately) and money.

You can also just start talking about anything which isn't mainstream and the typical Swiss will stare at you with an open mouth with an expressoin of lack of understanding. (for instance if you are a grown man and tell them you like to watch cartoons, or if you say you prefer sweet drinks over a beer - this will literally destroy their entire life ideology).

Anonymous said...

I think, it really depends on where you work. I work as a software developer and am lent to a different company about every 2 years. So far, I have never experienced any such behaviour towards foreigners (including non developers).
A long time ago, I worked at the Swiss Post distribution center during vacations. There were many foreigners working at that place. But, it never looked to me that they were socially excluded or avoided.

But maybe this is just me...

swisssidejewelleryetc said...

Tee hee - this is funny...and true. Have been in many toe-curlingly stiff small-talk situations. Am now a little better at it and I think the holiday topic is a sure bet, for the reasons you state! I recently asked a friend from the village if she used Skype. She looked at me as if I had two heads and said she didn't need it, as she only spoke with people who live in the village!!??

Hattie said...

This is funny. Just yesterday I was discussing the Swiss with a German friend. It is so true that their friends are the people they went to elementary school with.

Giovanna said...

SPORT! they do talk a lot about sport, right? ;)

Cato the Norwegian said...

It is very sad to read that you are so alien to Switzerland and so negative to the Swiss. Looks like you focus very much on the negative aspects of the cultural differences, rather than embrace it and try to adapt with respect and humour.

Sandra said...

Ha! I can so relate to this post. But I am an American living in Sweden with my Australian husband.
Nonetheless, I think the Swedes suffer from a similar conversational shyness in terms of small talk. In fact, small talk in Swedish is kallprat or cold talk. Which probably best sums up their feelings about it.

Anonymous said...

Great tips! I will be sure to keep these in mind while I'm out and about.

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