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From ‘natel’ to ‘ça joue’: The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local

From “schmolitz” to “panosse”, some words and phrases common in the French-speaking part of Switzerland are different from their equivalents used in France. Here is the vernacular you should master if you live in Suisse Romandie.

From 'natel' to 'ça joue': The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local
No, the chalet is not crazy. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Each of Switzerland’s main languages – German, French and Italian – are shared with a larger and more influential neighbour. 

These three languages – when added to the unique Romansh language – makes for a diverse linguistic spectrum. 

It might come as a relief to foreigners living in one of the French-speaking cantons that differences between the Swiss version of the language and the one spoken in France is much smaller than the difference between standard German and Schwyzerdütch.

Except for some specific words and expressions, people in France understand their counterparts in Romandie much easier than is the case between Germans and Swiss-Germans.

READ MORE: ‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss-German words to learn?

The Local recently asked its readers what are the most important Swiss-French words to know.

Which parts of Switzerland speak French?

Geneva, Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel speak only French, while Valais and Fribourg speak predominantly French but also German. 

Bern, the seat of the de facto capital, is also bilingual, but with more German than French speakers. 

From the answers we received, several respondents mentioned the numbers. 

As anyone who has tried to learn French will tell you, the numbering system is particularly difficult – especially when you get in the double figures. 

The Swiss French numbering system is different to that of original French, with Swiss French using the words septante (seventy), huitante (eighty) and nonante (ninety). 

The Romands decided to simplify these words from their original French versions: soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt-dix, which literally translate to ‘sixty-ten’, ‘four twenties’ and ‘four twenties-ten’. 

However, regional differences are also at play here: Geneva uses the French version of these numbers, possibly because of its close proximity to France.

Some readers also mentioned the expression “ça joue”. Literally translated it means “it plays”, but in the Suisse Romande it means “yes, it’s alright”.

Other words and expressions mentioned in the reader survey were: “carnotzet” (a small bar), “bonap” (Bon appétit – enjoy your meal), “si jamais”, (if ever), vélo (bicycle), “ouais” (slangy oui – yes), and “tout de bon” (all the best).

READ MORE: Have your say: What are the most important Swiss French words to know?

Suisse-Romande versus France

Aside from the numbers mentioned above, some words and phrases used in this part of Switzerland are uniquely “Romand” and if you use them in France, chances are you will be met with a quizzical look.

Natel: Mobile phone (“téléphone mobile”)

French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Panosse: A wet broom (“serpillière in France)

Y a pas le feu au lac: Literally, this means “there’s no fire in the lake”. But what it actually means “there is no rush, no urgency.

Faire schmolitz : Wine drinking ritual in which two people decide to befriend each other by passing from the formal “vous” form to the more casual “tu”.

Schmoltz! Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Etre déçu en bien: Be pleasantly surprised (être agréablement surpris in France)

Ça va, le chalet?: Are you crazy ? (ça va pas la tête ?)

Tchô bonne: Have a good day /evening (bonne journée /soirée)

Lolette: a pacifier for babies (tétine in France)

Quart d’heure vaudois: This means a slight delay, not only in Vaud but in other Romand cantons as well (être en retard” in France). Please note that a similar expression doesn’t exist in the German-speaking cantons, and for a good reason: Swiss-Germans are rarely late.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Tenir les pouces: Just like in Anglo countries, crossing fingers brings good luck in Suisse Romande. But in France, you’d have to “croiser les doigts”.

Tenir les pouces: universal sign of good luck. Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Lost in translation?

If you are not totally familiar with the intricacies of the French language, keep in mind that these expressions have a different meaning in French than in English. Or, they may not mean what you think they might:

Préservatifs: No, these are not artificial food additives (“conservateurs”), but condoms. The latter is commonly found in food, the former usually isn’t.

Hors-ligne: This is often seen on buses in the Suisse Romandie. This doesn’t mean the bus is transporting horses; it does mean it is not in service.

Voilà, there you have it: some typical expressions you are bound to hear in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Tchô bonne! 

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‘Plan in advance’: How easy is it to get permanent residency in Switzerland?

Getting a residence permit C can be a great way to secure your rights in Switzerland. The Local spoke to readers to find out their experiences of applying for it.

'Plan in advance': How easy is it to get permanent residency in Switzerland?

For foreigners trying to build a life in Switzerland, securing permanent residency is often their long-term aim – or a step towards citizenship. 

But it can take a long time. Becoming eligible for a Swiss permanent residence permit (also known as the ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit) depends on where you’re from, and how integrated you are.  

People from an EU/EFTA member country are able to get Swiss permanent residence permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years.

Meanwhile, those from non-EU or EFTA countries have to have been living in the Alpine country with a Permit B for 10 years before they can apply for the Permit C. 

There are some exceptions. Americans and Canadians, for instance, can also apply for a permanent residency after five years.

In some cases, non-EU nationals can be granted a Permit C in five years for family reasons. 

And it’s also possible for non-EU citizens to fast-track the process and snag a settlement permit in Switzerland after five years by meeting certain requirements such as language skills (depending on your canton) and being well integrated into society. 

READ ALSO: How to fast-track permanent residency in Switzerland 

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

A Swiss flag on a boat. Image: Pixabay

Language tests 

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found varied experiences across the board. 

Some respondents said the process was simple. 

Alex, 40, who’s from Hong Kong and holds an Irish passport, is based in Founex, Vaud.

“My Permit B expired so it was only natural to apply for a Permit C,” he said. “It was really easy. My commune at the time basically handled everything.”

Most readers agreed that the language requirements, which vary depending on the canton, were the trickiest part of the process.  

Jessica, based in Morges, said: “As an American, I had to pass the B1 speaking/listening and A2 reading/writing in French.

“I found it (the process) pretty easy, but was very nervous for the language test,” said the 48-year-old. 

Edwina Champ, 64, who’s from England and now lives in Schindellegi, said she feels “more likely to be accepted” after getting permanent residency in Switzerland. 

She said the language requirements were “tricky but expected”. She needed A2 written and spoken German.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency 

Another reader, Andrew, 32, from the UK and living in Luzern, said his B permit needed to be renewed after five years and he realised he qualified for the C permit. 

“I had to take the A2 German exam which wasn’t particularly challenging,” said Andrew. “Otherwise it was mostly just collecting the correct documents from around Switzerland and the UK.”

However, he said that it could be difficult to figure out the requirements “if you don’t understand the regulations or don’t plan in advance”.

‘Travel is so much easier’

Yvonne from the USA and who lives in Basel-Land said the process was “was surprisingly easy and simple”.

“I needed to submit by email the following: employment contract, copies of passport and B permit, non pursuit for debt, and language certificate. I received the C permit by mail within a week.”

Yvonne – like several readers – talked of the “security” benefits of finally getting the permit.

“Having the C permit allowed me to make plans such as pursuing other jobs (in and outside of Switzerland because you can pause your C permit for up to four years), buy a primary (and/or secondary home) with the assurances that I could rent it if employment or other reasons moves my family to a different city/canton, and provides an overall sense of security as we live in stable country during very uncertain times globally,” she said.

Eloise, 26, from New Zealand and living in Montreux, said: “It is incredible. I am able to join more groups, it makes travel across the border much easier. My job is more fluid now too.”

A swiss passport

Some said getting a residence permit was a step towards getting Swiss citizenship. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

‘I had to stay in Switzerland for 10 years’

Some readers waited a decade for their residence permit. 

Parisa, 38, who lives in Basel and is from Iran, applied for permanent residence to avoid having to renew a permit every year. Parisa received the document around a month ago.

“I have been living and working in Switzerland since 2011,” Parisa said. “As an Iranian I have to live and work here for 10 years to be eligible for C permit.

“I submitted A2 German and French language certificates, my PhD degree from Switzerland, my scientific CV and my Swiss driving license.”

Aralk Ervafel, 50, who’s from the UK and lives in Basel, said: “I had to stay in the country for 10 years and then I received it automatically with no fuss. My employer sorted everything out and it just arrived.”

‘Process is not transparent’

Not all respondents to our survey had a smooth process with some telling us us they were still waiting for the permit.

Marta, 33, who’s Polish and living in Thalwil said her application was rejected after five years, and expects the process to take 10 years. 

HL See, who’s 32, and from Malaysia, wants a C permit to feel at home in Zurich with her Swiss husband. 

But she’s found the “non-transparent bureaucracy process” frustrating so far.

“I am on the fast track application,” she said. “It has been 10 weeks now, I’ve heard nothing.

“We don’t know how long and where exactly the process is after we submitted the documents.”

HL said once she has the permit she will feel “more at home here”.