For members


10 sure-fire ways to offend a Swiss person

As you probably know by now, Switzerland has a myriad of rules — both written and unwritten. It goes without saying that you don’t want to break any of them, and risk insulting (whether intentionally or not) a Swiss.

A Swiss flag
Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Of the two, the written rules are much easier to follow, simply because they are, well, written. You can familiarise yourself with them and make sure you comply.

The unwritten rules are the ones you should worry about. You learn them from experience (sometimes a bitter one), but it is important to master them because the last thing you want is to commit a faux-pas and insult a Swiss person in the process.

This article will give you an idea of what we mean:

READ ALSO: Eight unwritten rules that explain how Switzerland works 

So here are 10 insults that will not win you any friends and, furthermore, demonstrate something the Swiss absolutely hate: that you are NOT INTEGRATED! (That is about the worst mistake, beyond committing a crime, that a foreigner can make).

Criticise Switzerland

The Swiss are proud of their country — and rightly so. Therefore, one of the absolute worst things people can do is to insult Switzerland. 

Having a measured discussion about various topics is one thing, but being rude about the country will not win you any friends. 

Compare the Swiss to their neighbours

The Swiss are known for feeling a bit superior to just about everyone else, so if you tell someone that anything French / German / Italian / Austrian is better, that’s an insult right there.

At the same time, scores of Swiss living in border regions regularly go shopping in neighouring countries because the food is cheaper there. There is an obvious paradox here, but it is better not to mention it.

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

There is, however, one exception.

If you absolutely must compare Switzerland to another country without insulting anyone here, choose Sweden.

Not only do some foreigners think the two countries are one and the same (they aren’t), but also one survey indicated that, given a choice, the Swiss would rather have Sweden as their neighbour than any other EU country.

READ ALSO: Swiss pick Swedes as ideal neighbours 

True, the survey in question was carried out in 2014, but there is no indication the Swiss feel any different today.

So while the Swiss generally look down at all foreigners, mentioning Sweden in this context would probably not be quite as offensive.

Of all foreign countries, the Swiss like Sweden most. Image by Unif from Pixabay

And by the way, the Swiss also have no beef with their other neighbour, Liechtenstein.

Maybe it is because the principality is even tinier than Switzerland, or perhaps because people there speak Swiss German and use franc as their currency (so it is basically like a mini version of Switzerland), but the fact is that they won’t be insulted if you mention Liechtenstein in their presence.

Attempting to get overly-friendly too soon

You must know by now that it is not easy to make friends with the Swiss people, especially the older generation,

Anecdotal and observational evidence suggests that it takes about five years and 250 steps to make a Swiss friend. Trying to get friendly with a Swiss quicker than that is a strike against you.

Above all, don’t be too chatty, reveal too much information about yourself, or — even worse — ask too many personal questions about them.

They will likely perceive this as a violation of their privacy.

Don’t try to get too chummy with the Swiss. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Relying on social assistance

Quite a few Swiss are of the opinion that some foreigners come to the country expressly to live off welfare. 

They don’t mind as much when Swiss people depend on social aid, but when a foreign national is involved, that gets some people’s goat (or a cow, as the case may be).

That’s because not supporting oneself financially is seen as a sign of laziness — a very offensive quality to the Swiss.

Making fun of Switzerland’s language(s)

One foreigner we know told a Swiss-German friend (now an ex-friend) that his language sounds like “bastardised Dutch”.

To make matters worse, this was said by an immigrant from Germany.

Needless to say, such a comment is offensive to a Swiss German (who looks down on his German counterparts anyway).

On the other hand, if you learn to speak this language, even imperfectly, you might just make a friend or two — but you will have to wait five years.

Making noise on Sunday

If you work the whole week, it is understandable that you want to do some chores on Sunday.

But not in Switzerland.

Sundays are considered rest days so your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by a sound of a lawn mower, hedge cutter, or nail being hammered into a wall.

Being loud in your apartment, or outside it, is offensive on any day of the week, but on Sunday it is worst of all.

READ ALSO: Six things you shouldn’t do on a Sunday in Switzerland

Using common laundry facilities inappropriately

People who live in apartment buildings often have to share laundry facilities, with each tenant being assigned a day and a time when they use the machines.

You must strictly adhere to the schedule, otherwise you will get a not-so-friendly note from the building manager or your neighbours, reprimanding you for not sticking to the timetable.

And laundry room etiquette also dictates that I should thoroughly lean the washer and dryer after you use them, not leaving any residues in either.

Not throwing out / disposing of your trash correctly

It probably comes as no surprise to you, given how well organised the Swiss are, that they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

READ ALSO: What are Switzerland’s rules for waste disposal and recycling?

Not following those rules will not only anger your neighbours, but you may even be slapped with a fine.

That’s because municipal ‘trash inspectors’ occasionally examine the contents of incorrectly bagged or deposited garbage bags in their communities (yes, that is a thing in Switzerland).

READ ALSO: Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage

This is a definite insult in Switzerland. Image by Hans from Pixabay
Not observing the zipper principle

No, not that zipper.

From 2021, the zipper principle is mandatory wherever two lanes merge into one on the motorway or any road, for that matter.

This means that each car traveling in the free lane must leave room for one vehicle to merge from a blocked lane.

This rule is intended to prevent vehicles from merging into the free lane in a decidedly un-Swiss chaotic and haphazard manner, disrupting the flow of traffic and possibly causing accidents.

So the message here is: zip it up!

Peeing standing up at night

OK so this one does involve that zipper. The question over whether Switzerland allows people (more likely to be men) to pee standing after 10pm has been circulating for years.

The Local researched this and you can read our full article below). But it’s safe to say that peeing standing up could be considered a noise-based nuisance to other apartment building residents. 

That’s because between the hours between 10 pm and 7 am are designated as national quiet time, meaning that no loud noises are allowed anywhere in the country.

However, nobody can outright forbid peeing during the night.

In general, though, Swiss law requires tenants to be considerate of other residents in the building. 

So it’s best to do whatever you can to stay quiet at night. Although we’re guessing peeing would be a lot better than, say, playing techno music loudly at 2 am. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

The Swiss Federal Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has ruled on some highly contentious issues over the years.

From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

Before we get to actual cases, it is important to understand how Switzerland’s justice system is set up.

There are different court levels.

When people file their cases with the legal system, their first contact are district courts, which group together judiciary authorities by local areas.

Many Swiss towns are too small to have their own courts, so a district court is just that — a court that covers several neighbouring communities.

If, say, you become involved in a civil lawsuit, a divorce case, or any kind of litigation or dispute, the case will be first be heard at the district court.

Most often, its rulings are final.

However, if you are not happy with the verdict of your district court, you can appeal it within 30 days, at which point your case will go to the higher judicial level, that is, the cantonal court.

Each canton has its own high court — Switzerland’s second most important judicial entity hierarchically.

Besides criminal cases, cantonal high courts hear civil claims, and there are also courts on cantonal level for administrative cases.

The next is the Federal court, the highest judicial authority in Switzerland.

Headquartered in Lausanne, it is the final instance on all appeals against decisions of the highest cantonal courts, as well as the three other federal courts, which deal with criminal, administrative and patent cases, respectively.

This chart shows how the judicial system is organised in Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland’s courts

This means that by the time a case (that is to say, the appeal) comes before federal judges, it has already been ruled on by lower courts.

This is what happened in these three recent controversial cases as well.

The condom

You might think that taxpayer-funded federal court should not spend its valuable time (and public money) on a case involving a condom, but it has done so nevertheless.

As Swiss media reported, on September 14th, the highest court ruled on a case that has been heard in the lower courts in Zurich since 2017.

It involved a young man (19 at the time), who took off his condom during sex with an 18-year-old woman, without, however, informing her or asking for her consent to do so.

This practice is called ‘“stealthing’ in English.

The woman filed a complaint in a district court of Bülach (Zurich) and, after a series of rulings and appeals through higher courts (see above), ended up before the federal tribunal.

The case took so long because it had many twists and turns.

Stealthing is not punishable by Swiss law, which is why both the district and cantonal court acquitted the young man

The Federal Court  also acquitted him, but reassessed the case from the perspective of sexual harassment. That ruling had stuck, and the young man must now pay a 2,500-franc fine, in addition to 7,200 francs in court costs.

Forced vaccine

In the most recent case, which The Local reported last week, the Federal Court sided with the man who wanted his ex-wife to be forced to vaccinate their two children against measles.

The mother, an anti-vaxxer, had refused to do so, and the long-winded battle between the parents, which made its way through the lower courts, eventually landed in the federal tribunal.

As it had done in several previous similar cases when parents didn’t see eye to eye about vaccinating their children, the court followed the  public health guidelines, which are clearly in favour of childhood immunisations.

Therefore, judges sided with the father, giving the mother an order to immunise her children against measles.

Parents can be made to vaccinate their children court ruled. Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Assisted suicide

In another recent case, from June, the court acquitted a Swiss doctor, Erika Preisig, who was charged with homicide for helping a mentally ill patient die in a Basel assisted suicide clinic. 

Previously, predominantly people suffering from physical ailments could benefit from voluntary suicide, which is legal but well-regulated in Switzerland.
However, Preisig was charged because she had violated the previous Federal Court ruling, from 2006, which required a psychiatric evaluation on the patient before helping them die.

In June, the court overturned its old decision, finding that although Preisig had not obtained a psychiatric report, she had studied the medical records, had intensive discussions with the patient, questioned relatives, and obtained a second opinion. The mentally ill person was understood to have made a well-considered decision and was capable of judgement. 

The Federal Court had therefore confirmed that Preisig could assume, even without a psychiatric expert opinion, that the patient had a permanent wish to die, as she suffered from an incurable, permanent, severe mental impairment.

READ ALSO: What to know about Switzerland’s latest court judgement on assisted suicide


While obtaining Swiss citizenship is a long and complicated process, and rejections at communal level are often made arbitrarily, the Federal Court had sided with applicants on several occasions.
For instance, in 2018, the court ordered the commune of Trimmis in canton Graubünden to grant Swiss citizenship to an Iranian refugee who had lived in the community for 30 years. 

It reversed a ruling made previously by the lower court, which sided with local authorities who denied the man the right to become Swiss.