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This section gives specific advice and guidance on Switzerland's Society and cultural norms, including religion, status of the family alongside business and social etiquette, customs and protocols with Meeting & Greeting alongside appropriate communication styles in each country to enable an employee to move, live and work abroad.
Switzerland is a multilingual, multicultural country built on diversity. The regions that joined the Switzerland Confederation did not join on the basis of shared identities, instead they joined with the assumption that becoming part of the Confederation would protect their independence and rights.
Family is central to the social structure in Switzerland and value is placed on family privacy. Traditionally Switzerland has been a country which people marry later in life by European standards and it also has higher numbers of people staying single. Families place priority on having time together especially in engaging in active pursuits. They make the most of their beautiful environment and spend much time outdoors together, these activities may include hiking, skiing and cycling.
Swiss style has become more relaxed recently and individuals now dress in a style that most people would describe as “smart casual”, although appearance matters they are not ostentatious people who like to show off branded clothing or expensive jewellery. However, on the basis that appearance matters, it is unlikely that you would find people attired in ripped jeans, for example or shabby jumpers.
The usual handshake with direct eye contact and a smile should suffice between strangers. Once a relationship develops, air-kissing on both cheeks, is often added as well as a pat on the back between men. Depending on the region or canton in Switzerland, you may kiss twice or three times, and if you’re unsure one suggests three times to be certain.
We recommend that you address your Swiss counterparts by their courtesy or professional titles until invited to do otherwise, though in general the Swiss are not overly concerned by titles. However, it is recommended from the outset, depending on which region or canton you are in, in French speaking Switzerland, use Monsieur (male) or Madame (female); in German speaking Switzerland, use Herr (male), or Frau (female) and in Italian speaking use Signore (male) or Signora (female). Always avoid using Fraulein, Mademoiselle, and Signorina unless addressing young female teenangers / children. Through time, it has become increasing rare to use these terms to address adult woman.
If visiting Switzerland, then gifts from your country are appreciated – such as a bottle of fine wine or regional artefacts. If you are invited to the home of your Swiss counterpart, then chocolate or flowers are advisable. After attending a Swiss home, it is good etiquette to send your host a hand written thank you note and flowers.
If you are invited to the home of your Swiss counterpart for dinner, then ensure to aim to arrive on time or slightly before, as punctuality is valued in Swiss society. If you are invited to a meal, bring a gift such as wine or chocolates. Always remain standing until invited to sit down, and you may be shown to a particular seat, as the host had a seating plan in place. Meals are typically started with “bon appetit” or “guten appetit”. Wait for everybody to be served and for your host/hostess to start before eating your meal. Table manners are Continental – the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Toasts are very common and ensure you chink your glass with all the other guests and make eye contact as you do so. Never place your elbows on the table. Cheese is common place during a Swiss meal. If you are served circular cheese, then cut it from the centre into slices. Always place your cutlery parallel on your plate upon completion. We recommend that you eat everything on your plate as any waste is frowned upon in Switzerland.
Business etiquette is typically fairly conservative in Switzerland. As such, try to retain formality in your business dealings or transactions with your Swiss counterparts until you feel comfortable doing otherwise. Always use for example titles, when you don’t know the person unless you are invited to do otherwise, always show relevant deference to those more senior than to you and do not attempt to become overly familiar too soon in your dealings. Depending on the culture within the respective business, formality may be extended or less visible.
The Swiss are fairly direct when communicating, they typically do not engage with “reading between the lines”, innuendo and non-verbal communication. As such, do ensure you are respectfully explicit in your speech and negotiations and do not expect second guessing what you are alluding too. The Swiss place great value on time. Punctuality is expected and your counterparts will expect you to adhere to any project milestones or schedules. Failure to do so will likely communicate poor discipline, time management or inefficiency which will impact the opinions that your counterparts have of you.
Finally, French and German speaking Swiss people place great priority on facts, figures and analysis when reaching decisions. The materials used to support the problem-solving process are processed and analysed against well established procedures which can sometimes slow things down as the Swiss are likely to make decisions spontaneously. Italian speakers however, are more likely to allow room for instinctive decisions, yet a good level of analysis and consideration will still be evident. It is important therefore that you take this into account if you are trying to influence your Swiss colleagues. Always make sure you have done your research, presented in a way that allows them to review an analyse it and also in a way that enables them to determine the logic of your suggestions.