Collection abc – S is for Stereotypical Swiss in Switzerland

Here is the “S” installment of my abc collection. This week’s words are a bit different than the usual because they all belong to one idea. I usually choose three words and write something regarding each of them trying to relate them to Switzerland or the Swiss or my life in Switzerland. They start with “s”, so “S” is for stereotypical Swiss in Switzerland.

is for stereotypical Swiss in Switzerland

Do not live up to your stereotypes.
~ Sherman Alexie

A stereotype is an idea that people have about what someone or something is like. It may or may not be true. This is my not-so-serious and for the most part endearing list of Swiss stereotypes. Looking at the list I see that a lot of them are just being nice and courteous more than anything else. If you ask me, some of them might be worthy of living up to.

Getting there and being on Time

In a bus, tram or train before sitting in an empty seat a Swiss will always ask if it is taken, even if it is obviously not occupied.

If another compartment in a train is empty or a table at a restaurant is empty, take that first before seating yourself with a complete stranger.

A Swiss is right on time, their main credo being, rather early than late. Never keep the others waiting be it at a meeting, date or casual get-together.

At a Store

After trying clothes on in a store, a Swiss will put them back on their hangers or neatly fold them before putting them back where they got them or buying them .

Greeting People

A Swiss will greet strangers while hiking. Like I’ve mentioned before it is the ideal way to practice saying “Gruessech”. In small towns, but not in big towns or cities, you greet everyone you pass on the street, too.

The Swiss greet their friends by kissing them three times. Left, right, left. Smack, smack, smack. If you don’t know them well enough to kiss when you meet, quite often you kiss when you leave.

At a Dinner Party

Politeness dictates etiquette at a Swiss at a dinner party. A Swiss at a dinner party will, no matter how hungry he is, only start eating after the hostess has started.

At or near the end of the meal he will offer the last piece of food to everyone at the table before taking it for himself. Or, it is possible that no one will take the last bit and there will be a “courtesy leftover”.

Some friends of ours were invited to dinner but there was literally not enough food for four. Actually there was almost not enough food for two. In such a situation you would expect everything to be eaten up completely, but no, there were leftovers! No one trusted themselves to take the last bit of food. Everyone at the table assured the hostess that they had had enough. Our friends were so hungry they stopped on the way home to eat at a restaurant!

Financial Stuff

A Swiss will typically pay his bills on time. It looks like the older the Swiss is, the higher the chances are they will pay it quickly.

One of Ben’s older relatives got a bill from the tax office. How could this be? A bill that a deceased relative hadn’t paid many, many years before. Because Ben’s relative was the only heir the tax office was sending her the bill to be paid within 10 days. Wow. The thing with the tax office is, if you pay a bill you officially accept that it is correct. And with that, there is no way you could ever get your money back.

Ben said he would take care of the problem for his relative. He wrote one of his legendary, sarcastic letters. Starting off, he thanked them for their thorough search of unpaid taxes. He then stated that if they looked hard enough they might find something his great-great-great grandfather forgot to pay. But the statute of limitations would have expired for that as it had for the newest bill they sent. He suggested that they send an apology letter to his relative stating that the bill was invalid.

Amazingly the letter came along with some lame excuse why it happened in the first place. But it does make you wonder why a bill like that was even sent. It looks like they were preying on older individuals who would get flustered and just pay the bill. Ben’s relative was ready to do just that because, obviously, if you get a bill then it has to be paid. But clearly they weren’t counting on my husband.

Lining up

Although Swiss are not big on standing in lines they will wait until all passengers have gotten off a bus or train before boarding. They usually divide to the left and right of the door to not get in the way of disembarking passengers. There is never pushing to get on either. What’s that called? Controlled chaos.

Although Swiss are not big on forming lines they do have a sense of who is to be served next. They will wait patiently until it’s their turn. Don’t believe me? Just try to get served at a cheese counter or meat counter at a grocery store. The Swiss know exactly after whom they got there and will politely say, no, it’s not my turn to be served, it’s this person’s here.

It’s usually like that, but not always. Ben’s uncle told a story of what happened to him while waiting “in line” at a ski lift. A group of people were patiently waiting to get on the ski chair-lift. Oblivious to everyone else, one skier pushed his way to the front.  Ben’s uncle doesn’t miss a beat, turns around to the group waiting, points to the offending person and yells “Does anyone else want to butt in?”

Stereotypical out of Switzerland

One thing the Swiss have going for them is their language, Swiss German. It’s almost like a secret language once you cross the borders going out of Switzerland. No one understands it unless they have been in Switzerland for any amount of time. Ben and I switch languages back and forth depending on who we don’t want to understand what we are saying.

Once someone I worked with told me what happened to her while in America. She and her husband noticed quite quickly that no one understood Swiss German. It was their secret language. They took to talking in a normal loudness, making comments about the things they saw. No use whispering, no one understood anyway. Once, while in Chicago a man walked toward them wearing shorts and sandals with socks. She thought the man looked absolutely ridiculous and told her husband so. The man walked right up to her and said in perfect Swiss German that she might want to speak in softer tones when talking about other people. Some people understand and speak Swiss German and quite a lot of Swiss like to travel.


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