Swiss Cultural Stereotypes

Every country or profession is associated with stereotypes. Stereotypes are qualities assigned to groups of people related to their race, and so on. Let us look at some stereotypes about the Swiss:

Switzerland's feelings on your national stereotypes
Switzerland’s feelings on your national stereotypes

Obsessed with punctuality?

If there is a value that is shared by everyone in Switzerland, it is that of punctuality. Trains arrive on time, likewise the payment of bills, and people even turn up early. A German word best describes the epitome of Swiss punctuality: Uberpünktlichkeit, “over-punctuality”, when people come 15 minutes early to be sure they arrive on time. This is far from uncommon. This may have to do with the clock industry and with Protestantism, which, by the way, was brought about by the Huguenots (French Protestants seeking asylum in Switzerland from persecutions).

The Swiss are always on time
The Swiss are always on time

Cold and Serious?

It is quite possible to spend two hours in a Swiss train in front of somebody your age and he or she will not dare strike up a conversation. It’s not that your traveling companion wouldn’t enjoy talking with you, but the idea of starting a conversation with a stranger seems unnatural. Regional variations are high. Take Geneva with its 37% of full-time foreigners, not to speak of visitors, and understandably you will need more than to say you are a tourist to trigger an outburst of warmth from a local. But head for the mountains and people may well invite you to come over to drink their homemade cellar wine (many Swiss make their own wine).

The Swiss are cold and serious.
The Swiss are cold and serious.

Individualists?

“Everybody takes care of his own business and the cows will be well guarded,” is a Swiss saying. People do not like to get involved in others’ problems and things are usually kept within the family. A common saying is On lave son linge sale en famille. (One washes his dirty laundry in the family.) People will assume that if you are in trouble, it must be because you have done something wrong and until you prove the contrary, they will not interfere. Not that their hearts are made of stone, but remember that this is a people who had nothing but mountains and poverty going for them a hundred years ago, so they just don’t blindly except everything to come from the state or from others. Aide-toi et le ciel t’aidera seems to be the motto (Heaven helps those who help themselves). Another proverb says that Chacun chez soi, chacun pour soi (Each in his home – each for his own.)

The Swiss are an individualist lot.
The Swiss are an individualist lot.

Obsessed with cleanliness?

Before the days of modern Singapore, Switzerland was hailed as the paragon of clean countries. The Swiss like things clean and they do everything they can to keep spotless streets, restaurants and offices. People who want to put a TV antenna on their roof must ask the local council for authorization because it could make the neighborhood look bad. A French phrase sums up how the Swiss prefer things: Propre en ordre (clean – in order).

The Swiss like things clean.
The Swiss like things clean.

A little bit Tight on Rules?

An American expatriate explained that one night he was crossing a street in Zug with absolutely no traffic in sight when he was stopped by an imperious old lady who reminded him that when the traffic light is red, one should wait. When he complained that waiting for the green light when the city sleeps was useless, the lady answered, “I know, but Regeln sind Regeln, (rules are rules) and you can’t bypass them.” In some businesses, especially banking, and particularly in German-speaking Switzerland, people can be obsessive about rules.

The Swiss are very rules oriented
The Swiss are very rules oriented

Much to Private?

Many rich and famous people live in Switzerland and when they are recognized on the street, people just smile and look the other way. No Swiss in their right mind would dare bother somebody to whom they had not been introduced, however famous. Laws supporting discretion and the respect of privacy have long been in force, especially for lawyers, trustees and bankers. The banking secrecy laws are very strict and a banker who reveals information about a client to anybody but a Swiss judge with a search warrant will be fined and can be sent to prison.

The Swiss are extremely privacy minded
The Swiss are extremely privacy minded

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