7 strangest things about living in Switzerland, according to German expats

7 strangest things about living in Switzerland, according to German expats

Being so close to the border, you might expect German citizens and the Swiss to get on like a house on fire - they share the same language… right? Now, a series of interviews by 20 Minuten have revealed what the largest expat group in Switzerland think about the locals and life in the country in general.

Weirdest things about living in Switzerland, according to Germans

Speaking to the newspaper, the President of the Association of Germans in Switzerland, Christian Pohl, said that German expats are often quite surprised by how different the alpine nation is compared to just across the border. Once they have signed their work and rental contracts and received their residence permit, many expect life in Switzerland to be just like the federal republic, albeit more rural. 

While 20 Minuten has already revealed what the expat community at large thinks of the Swiss, Pohl and a number of other German influencers in Switzerland have put together their list of seven things they find most strange about the country. Here are their thoughts:

1. People in Switzerland don't pull out the kitchen when they move

Speaking to the newspaper, Christian Martens, President of the Swiss German Club, said one of his first cases of culture shock was after he rented an apartment in Switzerland, only to find that the previous tenant had not taken all the kitchen appliances and washing machine with them. Apparently, having to instal your own appliances in your new apartment is the norm across the federal republic. 

2. Having to pay a premium for bin bags

Another big difference, according to Martens, is how rubbish is disposed of in Switzerland, with each council (Gemeinde) having its own bin bags that you have to pay a premium for - don't try and use an unmarked black bag for your rubbish, or else you will find last night's takeaway boxes chucked out on the kerb.

According to the newspaper, only a handful of German federal states have imposed bag fees on residents. What's more, many Germans also baulk at how little recycling is collected at home in Switzerland, as most residents have to drive or travel to a recycling centre to get rid of their bottles, cans and bigger objects.

3. Swiss politeness

"In Switzerland, things are a lot more polite than in Germany," noted Martens. He explained that German expats have to be more careful in social settings. For example, instead of saying “Ich bekomme das Schnitzel” (I'll get / I want the schnitzel) as they would in Germany, they tell the waiter: “Ich hätte gerne das Schnitzel” (I would like the Schnitzel).

4. Saying goodbye takes an age in Switzerland

Once you’ve made it through dinner, making sure to not drink or eat until everyone is served and a round-robin of cheers is made (clink before you drink), Pohl noted that actually saying goodbye to a gathering in a Swiss city or canton is a very lengthy affair - sometimes even longer than the event itself.

"I still find it difficult to say goodbye personally, including the small talk with every guest after a family celebration," he noted. "I don't know that from Germany. [There] it's acceptable to just raise your hand and say goodbye."

5. Telephone conversations are much longer

According to Pohl, many German expats are astounded by how long the Swiss spend talking on their mobile phones. "When making a call, it's better to [partake in] small talk: As a German, you're much shorter," he noted, arguing that like in face-to-face meetings, saying goodbye to a friend or loved one on the phone in Switzerland takes a very long time.

6. High German versus Swiss German

It’s a story many expats know all too well: you have just completed a German language course and want to try out your new and improved High German in the real world. Unfortunately, after trying to pick up what is said in Swiss German on a bus or train, you often feel like you’ve accidentally learnt the wrong language.

So too for German expats. According to 20 Minuten, many new arrivals struggle to handle Swiss German words and phrases, let alone the hundreds of different dialects (Dialekte) that are spoken across the country.

7. Swiss working hours are extremely high

Finally, despite working hours in Switzerland falling in the past few decades, Martens said that people in the alpine nation are at the office far more than staff back up north. “Compared to Germany, the weekly working hours in Switzerland are still very high,” he concluded.

What are some of the weirdest things about life in Switzerland?

Can you remember the first time you experienced culture shock in Switzerland or think any aspect of Swiss life is odd or weird? Let us know in the comments below!

Thumb image credit: / yingko

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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