Etiquette and Blunders

Topics covered

  • Linguistic ‘false friends’ between German and English
  • Red tape and rules in Switzerland
  • Social etiquette
  • Transport etiquette
  • Customs related to children

Who We're Speaking With

In this episode, Daniel Shalom and Diccon Bewes speak about putting your foot in it, and getting things wrong.

Diccon grew up in Britain but moved to Switzerland in 2005. His first book, Swiss Watching, became an international bestseller and he is now writing his ninth Swiss title. He lives in Bern with his partner (and a cupboard full of chocolate).

About the Episode

When you move to a new country, learning the etiquette is one of the most important — and challenging — tasks.

Here are some common blunders expats might make when they first move to Switzerland.

  • False friends: These are expressions that sound similar in German and English but mean something completely different. Here’s a little taste of common ones:
    • Smoking: In English, it’s a verb. In German, it means a formal dinner jacket with a bow tie.
    • Handy: In English, it means ‘useful.’ In German, it’s the word for mobile phone.
    • Become: In English, it means ‘to grow to be something.’ In German, ‘bekommen’ means ‘to receive.’
  • Red tape: Make sure you stick to the local rules and regulations. Register at your council, learn about how to dispose of your rubbish properly, and find out when you can do what. Some things that create noise, like throwing bottles in the bottle bank, are not allowed at certain times and on Sundays.
  • Greeting etiquette: When you meet new people, it’s customary to shake their hands, look them in the eyes, and introduce yourself. Otherwise, you risk appearing rude. When drinking alcohol, wait for the host to say Cheers (Prost, santé), and then clink glasses with everyone, look them in the eyes, and say Cheers and their names. Before you start eating, wish the other people around you a good appetite (Guten Appetit, bon appétit).
  • Public transport etiquette: Queuing is not so important in Switzerland. When it comes to getting on and off public transport, the motto is ‘first come, first serve.’ However, it’s important to be polite inside the train. If you want to sit down next to someone, ask whether the seat is free, even if it clearly is.


Next steps

If you got something out of the podcast then please leave a review on your favourite platform. Thank you for listening.

Check out current job opportunities in Switzerland

Send us a spontaneous application

Sign up for our newsletter and receive our Living in Switzerland Welcome ebook guide.