A Month of Socialising in Switzerland: Getting Started as a Newcomer

Building up a robust social network in Switzerland can be hard, especially if you arrive without knowing any locals. This is why we at Rigby AG have dedicated two podcast episodes to the topic. As part of our research, our content manager Kathrin attended several events to report back. Let’s have a closer look at her experiences.

The American International Club Zurich

The AICZ is a social club designed for American and international expats. It has been running since 1957, so it is an established organisation among Americans in Zurich. The club runs several events per month, the most regular being the TGIF drinks evening, which is held on the third Friday of every month. Other events include a 4th of July (American Independence Day) party, a 1st of August (Swiss National Day) brunch, and occasional guided tours or outings.

First of August Brunch

The First of August brunch was my first AICZ event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was held in a restaurant in a small rural town. The first thing I noticed upon arrival were the decor, food, and music, which were very Swiss, in keeping with the theme of the event. I was very impressed with the traditional food and drinks provided by the rustic restaurant.

Traditional Swiss brunch food at the Restaurant Schindeli, Unterlunkhofen (Image by AICZ)

The Executive Committee members who hosted the event were easily recognisable because they wore name tags. They welcomed me and helped me to settle in. I soon got talking to the couple sitting next to me as well as people further along the table. Several others were also new, so I didn’t feel like an outsider.

The attendees were mainly in their 40s or older, and some were retired. Many were long-term residents who are settled in Switzerland and/or married to a Swiss person. Although most came with friends or a partner, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage attending on my own, as I was included in conversations right away. What surprised me was that at least 40-50% of the attendees were Swiss or partly Swiss. It doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll only meet expats at an expat event.

Kathrin at the First of August Brunch. (Image by AICZ)
A Month of Socialising in Switzerland: Getting Started as a Newcomer

TGIF Drinks Event

TGIF is a great event to attend if you don’t know anyone yet because it’s very open-ended. It starts at 6:30 pm at the Rathaus Cafe in central Zurich, but you can arrive at any time. During the August event, it was very hot, so we sat on the terrace overlooking the Limmat.

Over 30 people joined. Identifying others was easy because we all wore name tags. The attendees included everyone from teenagers accompanying their parents to retirees. I spoke to people working in various industries such as finance, marketing and language. As the evening progressed, people often got up and moved around the table. This allowed us to meet a wide range of attendees. After a couple of hours of lively conversation, people started to move on, either to go home or to another event.

Zurich Together

Zurich Together is another big organization dedicated to bringing people together in and around the city. The Meetup and Facebook group was founded by Ben Crawshaw six years ago, and it has grown to well over 30,000 members. Events run almost daily. Some, like the Language Exchange, happen every week, while others, like the August 1 water war and BBQ, or the weekend excursions, are one-offs.

The Language Exchange

On Monday, August 14th, I attended the Zurich Together Language Exchange event at Platzspitz Park. When I arrived at 7 pm, the organisers were laying out various large flags on the floor. They welcomed me and asked me briefly about my background. I said I’d like to speak French and headed over to the relevant flag, where several people were already chatting in French.

Platzspitz, the park where the Language Exchange takes place on Monday evenings. (Image by Grün Stadt Zürich)

The French group was small, with only 10-15 people. The largest groups were speaking German and English. In total, around 80-100 people attended the event. The crowd was very diverse and came from a wide variety of backgrounds and industries. I spoke to people from India, Austria, Senegal, Spain, Indonesia, Italy, Switzerland, and Colombia. Zurich Together attracts a young crowd, with most people between 20 and 45.

For me, the Language Exchange was a success, and I would definitely go again. Speaking a foreign language is a great way of meeting new people because you immediately have something challenging to do together. This makes it easier to connect to others on a deeper level. I met very interesting people and got to know a lot about them in a relatively short time.

Conclusion and Advice for Newcomers

I had a great time at each of the three events I attended in August. Although the groups are quite different, I would highly recommend both. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start socialising in Switzerland:

  • Many people go to expat clubs on their own. There are almost always other newcomers in attendance, so you won’t be the ‘odd one out.’ If you’re worried about attending an event for the first time, you can contact the hosts beforehand. They’ll look out for you and make sure you’re included.

  • It’s important to try out different events. I suggest attending two to three per week if you’re new and have few contacts in your city.

  • You can meet someone great the first time you go to an event, but there’s no guarantee. More likely, you’ll get to know people over time as you continue to attend. Recurring events like TGIF and the Language Exchange are great because you can meet new people but also build connections with regulars.

  • Although the groups presented here are located in Zurich, you can find similar ones in other Swiss cities. Use Meetup or Facebook to find out about organisations in your area.

Building up a brand-new social circle can seem daunting at first, but it’s possible with groups like the AICZ and Zurich Together. Sign up for our monthly Rigby AG newsletter to get more tips and stay up-to-date about what’s happening in Switzerland.

A Month of Socialising in Switzerland: Getting Started as a Newcomer