Readers tips: How to make friends in Switzerland

We asked our readers for advice on meeting new people in Switzerland. This is what you said.

Readers tips: How to make friends in Switzerland
File photo: Depositphotos

Making friends in any new country is difficult enough. In Switzerland, where people are generally pretty reserved and extremely respectful of other people’s privacy and time, it can be ever harder – especially if social life tends to be a bit more spontaneous where you come from.

Recently we asked readers for advice on how to break the ice and make friends in Switzerland. Here are some of your tips.

1) Learn the language

It might sound like a no-brainer, but the best way to a person’s heart is often through their ears. Even though lots of people in Switzerland speak a decent level of English (and are pretty nifty with foreign languages in general), there is nothing like the sort of communication that comes to speaking to someone in their own language.

As The Local reader Ritchie told us on Facebook: “Start small but be persistent, stick to your broken, poorly-pronounced, badly-translated speech and it’ll pay off,” he added.

In terms of learning the language, there are all sorts of classes on offer. One reader, Carolyn, who did graduate studies in Switzerland pointed out her university had offered tandem language classes and she had met people that way: a great way of killing two birds with one stone.

Read also: 18 interesting facts about Switzerland’s fourth language, Romansh

“The benefits [of tandem classes] are huge,” Myriam Moraz, who manages the University of Lausanne’s tandem scheme told The Local last year.

“Along with practising oral skills, students learn a lot about the way of life in Switzerland. What they learn is much more effective than in a classroom, and it is a great way to make Swiss friends.” 

Of course, if you are learning Swiss German, there are a whole set of other issues. Here are some tips on learning the dialect from those who have.

2) …or learn another language

Language classes are a popular hobby in Switzerland, and if you want to meet Swiss people, doing a class in a popular foreign language (Spanish, for example) or another of the national languages (like Italian) is a great idea. 

Studying alongside Swiss people is also great because everyone is busy making mistakes and trying to make themselves understood – something that is not always the case in the rush of everyday Swiss life.

3) Join clubs!

Switzerland is the land of chocolate, cheese, cows…and clubs. Official figures show nearly six out of then people aged over 18 are members of a club, with four out of ten actively involved on a regular basis. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of readers suggested joining a club was a great way to meet people here.

Read also: The Local’s A–Z guide to essential Swiss culture

As reader Debbie told us on Facebook: “You like shooting there are shooting clubs, Tennis there are Tennis clubs, Hiking there are hiking clubs, you get the picture.”

Local town halls are a great place to start. There are also websites like this one which has an interactive map letting you select the canton you are interested in. You will be amazed by the variety on over.

4) Volunteer

Volunteering was another option suggested by a couple of readers,

As one of our readers, Hayat, told us: “The best way to make lots of wonderful friends in my opinion is to do volunteer in your area or different places!”

There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering in Switzerland. Try your local town hall for starters: Zurich, for example, has all sorts of options for English speakers ranging from tandem language classes to helping out elderly neighbours with things like shopping.

Read also: Nine things that are sure to surprise you about moving to Switzerland

In Basel, there is BaselConnect, which aims to promote collaboration between expats and locals, and in Geneva, there is Serve The City Geneva which links people wishing to volunteer with existing organizations.

Then there are nationwide organizations like Swiss Volunteers, which is always looking for people to assist with sports events, for example, or the charity Caritas, which offers volunteering possibilities ranging from running language classes for migrants to helping mountain farming families in need.

5) Have a positive attitude

Many of our readers stressed the importance of having an open mind and being open to new experiences.

“Say ‘yes’ to everything and put yourself outside of your comfort zone. You never know what gems you will meet!” was the advice of Local reader Jennifer.

Read also: 14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland

Meanwhile, another reader, Shelby, stressed the importance of just getting out there, organizing activities and having a smile ready for people.

“Some people took a couple years before they opened up (my old neighbours who were very shy) but eventually everyone did and we became friends,” Shelby told us on Facebook.

“I think some can be a bit closed to making friends as they think you will be gone shortly so why bother, but in general people are happy to meet new people. You just need a bit of patience and energy,” she added.

6) Plan, plan…and plan

One of our readers, Megan, stressed the importance of learning about and respecting Swiss customs, including the fact that you, as a newcomer in a group or an apartment building, are the one who is supposed to make the initial introduction.

Respecting customs is also crucial when it comes to arranging to see people socially – as anyone who has tried repeatedly to catch up with a Swiss acquaintance only to be told ‘no’ on multiple occasions will appreciate.

“Dropping by and expecting to come in or calling up to spontaneously hang out also doesn’t work for a lot of Swiss people as it is customary to schedule things well in advance,” says Megan.

Swiss people tend to plan a long way ahead. File photo: Depositphotos

The lesson here is to get out your diary and schedule things a long way in advance. Often it’s the only surefire way to ensure you will actually manage to meet up.

“Politeness and respect are key to getting to the gooey warm centre of the sometimes hard, reserved exterior of the Swiss.”

Read also: 20 telltale signs you have gone native in Switzerland


Five tips to help you make the most out of life in Switzerland

Whether you’re in Switzerland for a short time or you’ve committed to the country for the long haul, here are five tips to make your time in Switzerland count.

Five tips to help you make the most out of life in Switzerland

Head to your Gemeinde

The fastest way to feel at home away from home and make sure you don’t miss out on key events is to get to know your immediate surroundings. In Switzerland, your municipality is your best bet if you want to find out the who’s who and what’s what in your area.

Feel free to arm yourself with a notebook and ask your Gemeinde to provide you with a list of your municipality’s societies, associations, sports, and social clubs, as well as events you can join and partake. Some city administrations will be kind enough to include important information on neighbouring municipalities too.

Join a Verein

The Swiss are known to be reserved, quiet people who nurture early childhood friendships for life. While sweet, this can make finding friends in Switzerland a challenge for new arrivals – but it needn’t be so hard. One great way of befriending locals and feel more part of Swiss everyday life is to sign up to so-called Vereins (clubs) which are frequented by the Swiss on the regular. The good thing?

You can pick any one interest you have, be it an orchestra Verein, a Vespa Verein or even a Verein for new parents, and foster your language skills by discussing topics you have a keen interest in with like-minded people.

You can find a list of clubs here.

Use Swiss-backed apps to plan your day

Living in Switzerland means the great outdoors are always just a stone’s throw away, but despite the many – and carefully planned – hiking trails, it is prudent you stay safe even in a country renowned for its safety. One app the Swiss love to rely on for safety outdoors is SwissAlert. The app not only lets you know of any weather and natural disasters in your area, but it will also inform you of their consequences as well as other important changes (such as disruptions to public transport).

Those looking to make the most out of their everyday life should also download the Swiss Post App to check post office opening times, track a parcel’s whereabouts and check if there’s anything waiting for you in the mail. Other handy apps are the SBB app to keep on top of any train information, and which acts as a phone book, weather forecast, map, and TV guide all in one.

Explore local favourites

Whether you’ve asked your local municipality, a Swiss friend or simply googled a few local tips, start to get to know your new home by exploring the best your town has to offer to make you feel that bit more positive about your relocation.

In Basel, the Hotel Drei Könige is rumoured to serve the city’s finest breakfast while you can enjoy the best coffee and croissants combo at the young Kult bakery at Riehentorstrasse 18 and Elsässerstrasse 43. In the evenings, crowds gather by the Rhine for drinks, food, and a merry time.

Those living in Zurich are well advised to grab a coffee at Café Boy. The modern café is a local favourite for a reason: its produce and meat are regionally sourced and always fresh. In wintertime, locals also love to spend time at one of the city’s top three saunas: Stadtbad Zürich, City Hallenbad, or Seebad Enge.

If you fancy yourself a quick bite in Lausanne, locals swear by the food trucks stationed at Place de la Riponne. For those not in the mood for international dishes, the Café de l’Eveché near the city’s cathedral offers classic Swiss cuisine such as rösti and fondue.

Meanwhile, Geneva’s Eaux-Vives is arguably the best area to wind down after a long day’s work with ample food and drink options right by the lake. Another insider tip perfect for a Friday night date is the Café Marius which serves outstanding organic wine coupled with a great atmosphere.

Getting around

If you’re looking to save money, time, and make the most of your life in Switzerland, it is essential you get well acquainted with the SBB CFF FFS, Switzerland’s railway company. Lucky for you, Switzerland’s SBB is recognised as one of Europe’s chief train operators and connects around 2,600 stations and stops across the country – making getting around a breeze!

With SBB CFF FFS, you can pay for “Sparbillette” – or so-called Supersaver tickets – and benefit from an up to 70 percent discount on the standard ticket price. Travellers can choose from one-way tickets to day passes but will be limited to a few select routes and times. The trick is to book as early as possible to snag the best deal.

For frequent travellers, SBB’s GA Travelcard at an annual cost of 3,860 francs for adults is your most cost-effective option by a landslide. The travelcard allows you to travel on public transport throughout Switzerland for “free” and you can even get 5 francs off on short-term bike rentals at 20 SBB stations.

If you don’t want to hand over quite that much money, a great way of reducing your transport cost is to purchase SBB’s Half Fare Travelcard. The travelcard costs 120 francs per year and gives you an up to 50 percent discount on all travel by train, bus, boat, and most mountain railways.