For members


Five things that are changing in Switzerland — and five that never will

It is true that old habits and traditions die hard in Switzerland — and if they do, it is only through a referendum. But some things many people thought were ‘unshakeable’ are now changing.

Five things that are changing in Switzerland — and five that never will
Some things change, others remain the same. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Many Swiss, especially the older generations, are not fond of changes.

They like things just the way they are — or at least the way they used to be — and will resist any effort to amend or modify the status quo.

Luckily for those people, things in Switzerland change at a snail’s pace:

Why are things so slow to change in Switzerland?

Nevertheless, cross-winds of change have been sweeping Switzerland for a while, in some aspects more than in others, putting the long-held values and beliefs into question.

They are:


Officially, Switzerland is still a neutral nation, as it has been continually since 1815.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a major paradigm shift in how ‘neutral’ (or not) Switzerland wants to be in the current geo-political situation.

Since February 2022, the country took some unprecedented measures, which incited comments from certain quarters that Switzerland is shedding its neutrality, at least partly.

For instance, the government departed from its policy of non-intervention in foreign affairs by adopting all EU sanctions on Russia.

But there is more: ever since the war erupted, Switzerland has been trying to get closer to NATO.
Earlier this month, Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd travelled to Brussels to discuss with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg the “strengthening” of the relationship between Switzerland and the alliance.

This move too has been seen by many as a violation of the neutrality clause.

Why is Switzerland trying to get closer to NATO? 


For years, Swiss banks have had a certain reputation — perhaps not exactly for ‘cleanliness’ but certainly for reliability.

That is no longer the case.

With the fall of Credit Suisse, many in Switzerland and elsewhere have come to realise that the nation’s banks are not the ‘safe haven’ they were once thought to be.
Civil unrest

In the past, the mere thought of Swiss population taking to the streets to express their dissatisfaction was, well, unthinkable.

Industrial action is still relatively rare in Switzerland, but public protests are not as uncommon as before.

This change in mentality had first manifested itself during the pandemic, when thousands marched across the country against government measures aimed at reducing the spread of the disease, and claiming that the Covid certificate requirement was discriminatory and violated personal freedom.

Switzerland, is this you? Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Such anti-government actions were unheard of in recent decades.

Also, while Swiss workers have not undertaken any economy-immobilising strikes as their counterparts in neighbouring countries have in recent weeks, they have threatened to do so if their demands are not met.
SWISS pilots threaten an October strike action 


Not too long ago, Swiss trains always ran on time, and even a 10-minute delay was a big deal.

In such cases, the Swiss did what they usually do when things go wrong in Switzerland: they blamed Italian, French, and German trains for the delays.

According to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), the German rail company Deutsche Bahn has the worst track record — no pun intended — because those tardy Germans mess up SBB’s intricate transport system.  

This may indeed be part of the problem, but not the whole picture. As it turns out, other factors are derailing train travel, the chronic shortage of train conductors in Switzerland foremost among them.

Be it as may, Swiss trains run behind schedule more often than before.

Why Swiss trains are less punctual — and what is being done about it

To be fair, however, on an European scale, Swiss trains still perform well. 

Chocolate and cheese

Who would have ever imagined a day would come when Swiss chocolate and cheese would no longer be ‘Swiss’? But that has happened.
The Toblerone chocolate that has been created and produced in Bern since 1908, will now be partly manufactured in Slovakia, losing, in the process, its ‘made in Switzerland’ label along with the Matterhorn logo.
And Gruyère cheese has lost its innate ‘Swissness’ as well.

The quintessential Swiss cheese which is produced in canton Fribourg, has been stripped of its ‘Swissness’ by a US appeals court, which recently ruled that gruyere is common label for cheese and cannot be reserved just for the kind made in Switzerland.

It used be 100 percent Swiss. Photo by ELIOT BLONDET / AFP

On the bright side, however, nobody has yet stripped the army knife, or Roger Federer, of their Swissness.
Cuckoo clocks and Toblerone: The ‘Swiss’ products that are not actually Swiss

Now, what about five things that will never change?
Ok, ‘never’ is a very long time, but let’s just say these things will remain intact — at least for the forseeable future.
Neutrality (again)
Yes, we mentioned it under the things that change, but in fact, this fits under both categories.

While the war in Ukraine has prompted Switzerland to seek closer ties with NATO, it is highly unlikely that the government will shed its neutrality altogether.
This would require a law change which, even if  passed in the parliament, would have to be approved by voters in the referendum.

That is even less likely as, according to surveys, 89 percent of Swiss support the principle of neutrality.

Direct democracy

The Swiss are very attached to their centuries-old system of direct democracy, which gives them, rather than elected officials, the power to to shape local and national policies.
While there are many controversies and contentious topics in Switzerland, nobody so far has as much as suggested that the Swiss should give up their right to vote on issues that affect their lives.
That, in itself, would require a referendum.

EXPLAINED: Who is in charge of running Switzerland? 
Attention to detail

Nobody and nothing has changed the fact that the Swiss are extremely well organised, meticulous, and detail oriented.

That is one characteristic that is not likely to change, regardless of world events or other global shifts.

This will remain, whether in the realm of rules and regulations, or the way the general infrastructure is set up.

Everything in Switzerland must be ‘just-so’. Image by Ron Porter from Pixabay

Attitude to immigrants

Here the Swiss are divided into three camps: one consists of people who believe diversity is a good thing and Switzerland benefits from this multicultural component.

The second group, while more reticent about foreigners, still recognises that they are needed for the Swiss economy to function and prosper.

The third group is against immigration and wants to revoke any laws that allow foreigners, including those from the EU, to live and work in Switzerland.
These divisions have been deeply entrenched in Switzerland and will likely remain thus in the future.

Feeling of superiority
When it comes to their perception of themselves, the Swiss believe they are far superior to their neighbours and other countries as well.

They claim their economy and general infrastructure are stronger, they are more efficient, have more political stability, and — nobody can argue with this — speak more languages than anyone else.

This kind of attitude is likely to prevail.

Why do the Swiss think they are superior to everyone else?

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For members


Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn’t do in Switzerland

In Switzerland, there are many unwritten rules that the Swiss follow in their daily lives. Knowing these 10 can help save you time, money, and stress, writes Swiss national Sandra Sparrowhawk.

Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn't do in Switzerland

Assume that every Swiss is a multi-lingual

While Switzerland has four official languages – German (Swiss German), French, Italian and Romansh – the Swiss are not required to be proficient in all four, and are far more likely to be conversational in one additional national language as well as English.

Take it from me, as a native of German-speaking Aargau, French was the mandatory ‘foreign’ language I was taught in secondary school and if you were to approach me in Italian, I’d have to say non parlo molto bene l’italiano.

And what little Italian I do know, I learned in Italy – not Ticino. Scusa.

READ MORE: Swiss Italian vs standard Italian: What are the key differences?

Underestimate nature

One of the first things my foreign friends told me upon landing in Switzerland was that they cannot wait to go hiking in the Swiss Alps.

But while Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails, every year, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking, and some even die.

So, my advice to you if you do want to explore Swiss nature is to stick to hiking trails at all times, make sure you wear appropriate clothing (specifically shoes), pack enough water, and download the Meteo Swiss App to stay informed on severe weather forecasts and other natural hazards.

READ MORE: How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

Shop on a Saturday

For many Swiss people, Saturday is hailed as the perfect weekday to stock up on all your food supplies to avoid running out of food on a Sunday, despite the store Avec being a perfectly reasonable (and open) plan B.

But while shopping on Saturdays spares you from having to hit the shelves right after work, Swiss food stores are notoriously packed with shoppers on the weekend – one of the few times a week you should really prioritise winding down.

In general, when out shopping in Switzerland, be sure to greet shopkeepers when entering a store and paying for goods. However, don’t expect fellow shoppers to queue up. The Swiss, while polite, do not have a queuing culture and will absolutely step in front of you if you let them.

Take a long time to order at the bakery

If you happen to be a morning person who enjoys a yummy pastry in the morning, remember that hitting the bakery in Switzerland will require you to make up your mind about your order fast – and ideally before you get there.

Unlike in some European countries, the Swiss like to get on with their day’s work and prolonged chats paired with indecisiveness are generally not encouraged. That said, always feel free to ask for recommendations.

Sit in a (train) seat without asking

You may look at the empty seat before you and ask: “But there’s no one sat here?”

And yet, even if a passenger is occupying a four-seater on a train all by themselves, in Switzerland, it is common courtesy to ask if the seemingly empty seat(s) is still available before you get comfortable – and not just because their friend(s) may be using the toilet.

If you are invited to take a seat, remember to keep quiet on Swiss trains so as not to disturb other travellers.

Attend a dinner without bringing a small gift

If you have been invited to a party or home-cooked dinner by a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, the etiquette is to bring a small gift as a thank you. In Switzerland, most people choose to bring a bottle of wine or a seasonal bouquet of flowers. In a business setting, it is not necessary to bring or exchange a gift.

And while on the topic of dinner, never ring a Swiss person at dinnertime as we consider that time sacred, especially in today’s busy world. You’re welcome.

READ MORE: The dos and don’ts of Swiss social etiquette

Spend a small fortune on water

Switzerland is repeatedly recognised as a country with the best quality tap water in the world, according to the United Nations. In fact, eighty percent of the water comes from natural springs and groundwater, the rest is taken from the lakes.

The same (usually) goes for fountain water.

Except for the winter months when the water is prone to freezing, drinking fountains can be found practically everywhere in Switzerland.

The quality of water in the fountains is inspected by each municipality to ensure that it is clean and safe to drink.

If this is not the case, a label with the note “no drinking water” must be visibly attached.

In the summer, I would recommend carrying a reusable drinking bottle wherever you go. This will not only keep you hydrated, but also save you money.

Hold a feast on a Sunday

While you are perfectly allowed to activate your weekend mode on Saturdays (though extreme noise is never welcome, because this is Switzerland), come Sunday the Swiss expect everyone – with the exception of newborns – to switch to silent-mode for the entire day. But what exactly counts as a disturbance of one’s peace? Luckily, that’s a bit of a grey zone and largely relies on a person’s common sense to decide just what is an appropriate level of noise.

On a wider scale, unwanted noise can include anything from playing instruments, slamming doors during arguments, using a drill for home improvements, or emulating Heidi Klum in some fancy high heels.

Small tip: If you’re set on hosting a party on a Sunday, notify your neighbours first, and good luck – you’ll need it.

Don’t push in

While the Swiss may not have a queuing culture when waiting on a train, they do consider it good form to pay attention to your surroundings and give way to whomever arrived first – be it when entering a lift or when trying to snag the last available parking space.

Expect public transport to wait for you

The Swiss public transport system is known for its reliable punctuality and the latter is actually a big part of local culture.

With that being said, if you happen to arrive at the platform ‘just a tad late’ for your train and make a run for it hoping the train operator will spot you and show you mercy, know that in Switzerland this will not be the case.

Since Switzerland’s rail network is very busy, even a small delay in a waiting train can cause a chain reaction and lead to many more delays.

The same (usually) goes for buses, though they are known to occasionally turn a blind eye if traffic and schedules allow.