Why do servers in Zurich prefer to speak English?

Why do servers in Zurich prefer to speak English?

More and more bars and restaurants in Zurich are offering an “English-only” service, even when staff are able to speak one of the national languages of Switzerland. This curious phenomenon, though truly cosmopolitan, is not going down well with some locals.

Servers switch to English in Zurich to avoid language confusion

Have you ever walked into a restaurant in Zurich, mustering up the courage to make your best attempt at speaking German, only to get briskly smacked down with the words “Hello, how can I help?” when you start to speak?

English-only services have been on the rise in Zurich for a number of years, as more internationals have moved into the city to work at international companies, and many struggle to reach fluency in any of the nation’s four official languages.

Serving people anywhere in Switzerland can be complex, as your location will determine whether a server will wish to speak in German, French, Italian or even Romansh. Naturally then, one of the most effective ways to tackle this issue seems to be by only speaking in English.

Not all Swiss people are impressed

Not everyone in Switzerland is happy about the rise of the English language in the service industry. Editor for Zurich Life in the Tages-Anzeiger, Claudia Schmid, took a bash at the trend in a recent article titled “I'm tired of being served in English in Zurich restaurants.”

Schmid explained that, while it was charming at first and a good opportunity to speak some English, she eventually found it tiring, especially in one particular case where she (as a native French speaker) tried to speak in French to a French-speaking server but the server insisted on continuing in broken English.

This indeed is a tricky issue. Many Swiss people are, of course, going to wish to be spoken to in their own language - understandably! But navigating Switzerland’s complex web of national languages, while balancing the need to help tourists and expats feel comfortable both as servers and as customers, is logistically difficult - a concern shared by locals in many of Europe’s biggest and most international cities, including Amsterdam, Brussels and Luxembourg City.

Emily Proctor


Emily Proctor

Emily grew up in the UK before moving abroad to study International Relations and Chinese. She then obtained a Master's degree in International Security and gained an interest in journalism....

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