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‘It’s just their way’: Why don’t the Swiss like to queue?

For an orderly country, Switzerland is full of people who have seemingly never mastered the art of patiently waiting in line. Geneva-based Helena Bachmann considers why and how to deal with this behaviour.

'It's just their way': Why don't the Swiss like to queue?
If they are waiting patiently in lime, they are not Swiss. Photo: Pixabay

An international resident in Switzerland recently witnessed a scene at a train station, involving a group of Italian tourists jumping the queue to get on the train before all the other passengers, even though the group had arrived last.

Witnessing this moment, other commuters expressed their discontent, saying that this type of impolite behaviour is “typically Italian…they have no manners”.

Beyond the well-known propensity of some Swiss people to routinely blame foreigners for everything that is out of whack in their country, there is a clear irony here: the Swiss themselves are notorious queue jumpers.

‘It’s just their way’

But the irony doesn’t stop here.

In all other spheres of life, the Swiss are meticulously organised and like to micromanage everything that surrounds them, with every patch of greenery cut and trimmed, and every cow counted and named.

But their penchant for law and order doesn’t carry over to situations where waiting in lines is necessary.

For instance, if you have ever waited to get on a ski lift at a resort, you probably saw how the usually orderly people morph into unruly masses.

Such a situation caught public attention in 2020, when skiers in the Belalp-Bahnen region of Valais jostled to get to the front of the queue rather than wait patiently in line.

Even the former US ambassador to Switzerland, Suzi LeVine, complained in 2015 about the “inefficiency” and “chaos” at Swiss ski lifts. 

READ ALSO : US diplomat sparks flap over Swiss ski ‘chaos’

Lots of people stand at the station in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in January 2023.

Lots of people stand at the station in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in January 2023 But will any of them queue? Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

The reasons for this kind of non-compliance with the ‘first come, first served’ principle are often debated on social media and on various online forums.

“Why oh why can’t the Swiss learn the polite art of queuing?, one user of The Local’s forum asked. “We use the ferries on a very regular basis, we get in line but a ton of folk just pile up in front of us? And they are so blatant with it too.”

Others have suggested what could be a plausible explanation for this common (mis)behaviour: one person said that the problem could be that the Swiss, who are accustomed to a certain order of things, “are awful at handling ‘unusual’ situations” like chaos.

“They aren’t being rude on purpose; it’s just their way.”

How do you deal with this behaviour?

There have been no concrete suggestions for how to deal with this habit other than appeals for common courtesy.

It appears that the Swiss themselves see nothing wrong with the mayhem at public transport stations or other situations that surely would benefit from people standing in line in an orderly fashion. 

In terms of crowds at ski lifts, certain resorts, and tourists alike, have been calling for ski lift operators to adapt a system common on the ski slopes in the United States and Canada, which consists of forming two lines, which then merge into each other.

READ ALSO: Will an American-style queuing system end chaos at Swiss ski lifts?

Currently in Switzerland there is only one queue for the ski lifts, often resulting in pushing or bumping against other skiers.

Waiting in a funnel-shaped line in front of the turnstile, as is common on Swiss slopes, is “a chaotic queuing system,” one resort manager said.

Other options for dealing with this behaviour include being passive aggressive – like rolling your eyes at violators.

Meanwhile, some people become equally aggressive, elbowing their way up front to give these line breakers a taste of their own behaviour – although that would result in more aggro, which could mean the whole experience gets even more stressful so we wouldn’t recommend that.

But some businesses in Switzerland have already taken proactive measures to rein in this kind of practice.

Many banks, post offices, and some shops now have a system in place where each entering customer gets a ticket with a number from a machine and everyone must wait patiently until their turn comes up. 

It’s certainly one way to get the normally order-loving Swiss into line.

What’s your experience of queueing in Switzerland? Let us know by leaving a comment or emailing [email protected]

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For members


‘Party after 10pm’: The 10 things that really annoy the Swiss

The Swiss are organised, live by the clock, and tend to micromanage everything around them – so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t take much to irritate them.

'Party after 10pm': The 10 things that really annoy the Swiss

Not respecting the proper train etiquette

If there is one thing the Swiss love, it is the practice of proper etiquette – be it in a social or business setting.

This means that every Swiss person tends to follow an unwritten set of rules when out and about, such as when catching a train on their commute to work.

While foreigners will swiftly (be forced to) embrace the silence that makes up social etiquette rule number one when travelling on Swiss trains, it may prove a little more difficult to refrain from eating certain (smelly) snacks on a packed train.

However, should you give into temptation and whip out a whole McDonald’s meal, know that your fellow Swiss travellers will not be impressed and may even have a word with you.

While eating hearty, hot foods on a train can result in complaints, you are more than welcome to eat cold foods and snacks whenever hunger strikes.

In any case, eating on Swiss trains is not forbidden, but if you fancy a real meal, you may want to consider boarding a SBB restaurant on one of their InterCity trains instead.

While on a Swiss train, it is also worth remembering that you will be expected to ask your fellow passenger(s) whether the seat next to them (yes, the one they are obviously not occupying) is ‘really’ free. You will then be graciously granted permission to sit.

Hosting a party past 10pm

One of the first things that strikes foreigners in Switzerland are the (sometimes very) long lists of rules governing life in apartment buildings in the country, which famously include the notorious (but very respected) ‘rest periods’ ‘rest periods’ (Ruhezeiten/ temps de repos).

Such quiet times are set by local authorities around Switzerland and differ slightly depending on where you live, however, most often than not the quiet time kicks off at 10pm. From that time onwards, you are expected to keep noise at a minimum – or there will be complaints.

The same goes for Sundays when you are expected to not engage in excessively noisy activities.

But what classifies as excessive noise?

While the Swiss Code of Obligations states (Article 257f Para. 2) that those renting apartments must show consideration for residents and neighbours, it doesn’t explain what exactly said consideration entails, relying instead 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.

If you’re still set on hosting a party on a Sunday or past 10pm, notify your neighbours first, and good luck – you’ll need it.

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

Dropping in without prior notice

The Swiss are very organised, timely, and love abiding by their (strict) rules.

Popular lore has it that this habit is not as entrenched in Italian and French-speaking regions as it is in the Swiss-German part.

But if you want to irk people, regardless of the geographical area, drop in announced. Don’t call or send messages telling them you’re coming — just show up at their doorstep.

And if you do tell them you’re coming…arrive late. Few things irritate Swiss people more than tardiness.

If you’re invited over for dinner and are on time, the only way to cause some upset is to arrive emptyhanded.

In Switzerland, most people choose to bring a bottle of wine or a seasonal bouquet of flowers as a small thank you gift.

If you’re looking to up the ante however and really rile up a Swiss person, ring them up at dinner time and engage them in a lengthy conversation.

In Switzerland, dinner time is sacred, and you are commonly expected to cease all spontaneous contact from 6pm onwards.

Making fun of their army

To tell a Swiss person their military is not a ‘real army’, is sure to rub them up the wrong way.

They regard army service not only as their patriotic and civic duty, but also as a rite of passage of sorts.

True, not every country’s military has army knives, cutlery, watches, travel gear and fragrances attached to their name, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t fight if they had to.

Greeting the wrong way

In a country with four national languages, you may be tempted to think that the Swiss practice a laidback ‘anything goes’ approach – when nothing could be further from the truth.

So, which is it? Grüezi, Bonjour, or maybe just a simple Hallo?

Over the course of your time in Switzerland you will encounter many people, be it co-workers, fellow students or just strangers on the street – so it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with figuring out just how to greet people properly. Yet, getting this right may just make you a friend or two.

As with many things in Switzerland, the way to greet people, too, depends on the canton you’re in. In casual situations, such as when riding lifts or meeting people out on hikes, usually a friendly Grüezi, Bonjour, or Buongiorno will get the job done. Greeting anyone that isn’t friend or family with a Hallo is not common in Switzerland and is often perceived as rude. So, as a rule of thumb, always stick with the formal way of greeting people you’re not close with.

In a business environment, always greet people with a firm (!) handshake in addition to addressing them formally – this is crucial until the other person initiates an informal approach.

When it comes to greeting friends, however, the rules are generally a lot more relaxed, depending on the closeness of the friendship. While many Swiss friends are content with a quick Hoi, Salut, or Ciao, some will favour a more physical approach, such as a hug.

Good friends also greet each other with three kisses (left, right, left) – but be careful when greeting a French person, they start with the right!

Not respecting wildlife

We know by now how much the Swiss appreciate their quiet times, but did you know their wildlife does too?

It is therefore recommended to be mindful of wildlife when out on hikes or busy enjoying a barbeque in a forest.

It’s generally advised to refrain from blasting loud music, shouting, or conversing in a loud manner so as not to disturb the animals and other hikers who may have ventured into the forest seeking peace and solitude.

Dogs walkers must also be aware of the local wildlife breeding season when some cantons have specified the months your dog must be walked with a leash, while again others forbid walking your pooch off a leash in and near forests altogether.

Remember, the Swiss love their hikes, and you will encounter your fair share of hikers while out exploring nature’s wonders, so be sure to follow the rules – the Swiss aren’t too shy to reprimand you.

Underestimating 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.

In the case of an accident, the last thing you will want is to be branded a ‘typical foreigner’, so 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: Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn’t do in Switzerland

Asking inappropriate questions

It is no secret that the Swiss have an innate sense of privacy and breaching the wrong subject may (rightfully) make for a rocky encounter.

The Swiss have a range of topics – such as one’s salary – that make for an awkward discussion even among the closest of friends.

Generally, discussions around divisive topics, such as finances, politics, and religion, are best avoided.

Taking a long time to order at the bakery

If you happen to be a morning person who enjoys a yummy pastry in the morning – as many Swiss do – 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.

Making assumptions

Many people, especially foreigners new to Switzerland, believe that only the very rich live in wealthy Switzerland.

Foreigners can therefore be quick to assume that every Swiss person works as a banker, broker, or trader – or worse, is mega rich.

But this is actually not the case and could ruffle a few feathers.

In fact, the super-wealthy – those with assets worth more than 1 million  – account for only 15 percent of the adult population.

The largest group is middle-class, Switzerland also has people living under the poverty threshold.

In 2021, Caritas estimated that 745,000 people (134,000 children) were affected by poverty in Switzerland, while around 1.244.000 people living in Switzerland were considered to be at risk of poverty.