Officially named the ‘Swiss Confederation,’ Switzerland is a landlocked, mountainous Central European country bordered by France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein. It is dominated by the Alps, with Zermatt the distinctively pointed Matterhorn mountain (4778m) being the most well-known landmark. The population of 8 million people are concentrated in and around the capital Bern, as well as the large cities of Geneva and Zurich. Switzerland operates a multi-party federal democratic republic government with a collective ‘head’ of state known as the Federal Council. Switzerland has for centuries been a neutral state, which means it cannot take part in armed conflict, unless it is attacked. Although it lies at the heart of Europe, Switzerland is not a member of the EU and Swiss-EU relations are based on a series of bilateral agreements, such as participation in the passport-free Schengen Area. It is also one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with investors and businesses using its banks as a safe haven from global financial crises.
Swiss culture can be hard to define and is largely dependent on its 26 separate ‘cantons’ (regions) and four official languages. Each canton enjoys permanent constitutional status and has a high degree of independence and powers over tax, public holidays and governance, with each having its own specific cultural norms. The diversity of Switzerland’s culture is further influenced by which side of the geographical linguistic border you happen to be on, French or German (a division known locally as ‘Röstigraben’ or ‘rösti ditch’ after the Swiss German potato dish). However, despite the rich individual cantonal culture, most people identify themselves as Swiss and are fiercely proud of their nation as a whole.
Understandably, considering the geography of the country, the Swiss are a nation of skiers and mountaineers. The most popular ski resorts are Vaud, Valais and Zermatt, the latter dominated by the Matterhorn mountain. Shooting, ice hockey and football are also hugely popular, as is Hornussen – a type of alpine baseball – which is a home-grown Swiss sport originating in the 16th century. Teams hit a ‘nouss’ (a type of puck) with a giant stick resembling a golf club called a ‘shingle’, as far as possible into the opposing team’s field. Away from the slopes and when the snow clears in the Spring, the mountains reveal a lush green landscape, often empty of the usual skiing crowd. A wide range of food, drink and joviality with German, French and Italian flavours are in constant supply in Switzerland for those who enjoy more down to earth fun.
Food and Drink
Swiss cuisine unsurprisingly comprises a blend of French, German and Italian influences. Cheese forms the base of many Swiss dishes and the country produces and exports over 100 varieties, including the ever-popular Gruyère. Traditional Swiss dishes include fondue, rustic bread dipped in cheese melted over an open flame and Papet Vadois a mash of leeks and potatoes found in the French-speaking western cantons. Polenta and braised beef, mainly found in the Italian-speaking canton Ticino, is made with cornmeal and slow cooked meat. Breakfast is usually bread and marmalade or birchermüesli, which is also eaten at lunchtime.
Being surrounded by France, Italy and Germany means that good wine is in abundance in Switzerland. However, you can find a number of excellent Swiss wines, particularly the white Fendant which is produced from the Chasselas grape variety in the Valais canton. Swiss beers such as the German-influenced Helles and the dark beer Dunkles are also immensely popular.
Switzerland has four official languages, French (spoken by 23% of the population), German (64%), Italian (8%) and Romansh (less than 1%). French is spoken almost exclusively in the west of the country, German in the east and Italian in the Ticino canton and the south of the Graubünden region. Romansch, a Latin-romance language is spoken only in Graubünden by a small minority of people. There is a popular misconception that a country with four languages means that its people are quadrilingual. In fact, most Swiss people speak the language of their own region and generally learn the other languages at school (however the cities of Bern, Fribourg, Biel and Valais are officially bilingual). English is widely spoken in Switzerland and used as lingual ‘bridge’ between the four official languages.
Accents and Dialects
With four official languages in one country, if you are fluent in one you may feel confident about your chances of understanding something! However, expats will find that the Swiss versions of each language may not be what they are used to. Many Swiss people admit to having trouble understanding people from other regions in Switzerland. For instance, Swiss German (known as schweizerdeutsch), is actually made up of a series of dialects which German people themselves have trouble understanding. However, most German-speaking Swiss also speak Hochdeutsch (‘High German’). On the other hand, Swiss French (Français de suisse) and Swiss Italian (Svizzero italiano) bear an overall resemblance to the standard French and Italian. Romansh speakers, of which there are around 50,000 to 70,000, are generally able to speak German, French or Italian (or all three).
Switzerland has an overall temperate climate which varies hugely according to region. The Alps act as the country’s ‘climate barrier’ with southern Switzerland seeing more Mediterranean weather than the glacial areas of northern Switzerland. Temperatures in winter can drop to around -10°C in more elevated areas and around -0°C in Zurich. Average summer temperatures range from 19°C to 28°C in areas closer to Italy.
Safety and Security
Switzerland is a safe country with relatively low crime rates in comparison with some European countries. However, theft and pickpocketing are a problem in larger cities, particularly in Geneva and Zurich, so it is a good idea to remain vigilant about personal belongings. Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and the Swiss are very serious about their right to own weapons. Nonetheless, the country sees very little gun-related crime and ownership is tightly regulated.
Responsibility for education in Switzerland lies primarily with each of the 26 cantons (regions), however the structure and quality of Swiss education is roughly the same in all regions. The two overarching rules are that pupils must complete nine years of compulsory education and that it is provided free of charge. Most Swiss children complete two years of kindergarten before beginning primary school around age 6. After primary and junior school, around 20% of children continue on to standard secondary school (Gymnasium) ending in the ‘matura’ qualification which grants access to university. The rest of Swiss school children either go to a technical or theoretical school. Schools are divided according to the language spoken in each area, French, German, Italian or Romansh.
The school year begins between mid-August and mid-September in the whole of Switzerland. School children have around twelve weeks of holiday per school year and the dates are set by each canton. The typical school day begins at 9am and ends at around 4pm. Children typically return home for lunch, which many working parents may find inconvenient. However, parents have the option to pay for lunchtime supervision at school.
The university academic year is divided into the winter semester, (October to February) and the summer semester (March to June/July).
Switzerland is internationally-recognised as a centre of excellence in higher education, with two of its universities, ETH Zurich and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, ranked in the top 15 of the QS World University Rankings (2015). There are 12 general universities across The Confederation along with institutions dedicated to applied sciences, teacher training and research. Low tuition fees and multiple- national languages, along with a global reputation for academic brilliance, means Swiss universities attract huge numbers of international applications, with 25% of students being non-Swiss.
Swiss universities are generously supported by the government, which invests heavily in higher education institutions and academic research. Students pay a relatively low annual tuition fee of around CHF1,266 – CHF 2,200 (£847 – £1,472) and the same level of fees apply to all international students, including those from non-EU countries. Understandably, the combination
of world-leading universities and comparably low fees makes the country highly attractive to international students and competition for places is fierce. The Swiss Government offers a range of scholarships to help foreign students – candidates should contact individual Swiss universities for more information.
Since 2001, Swiss universities have been rapidly adjusting their curricula to comply with the Bologna Declaration. This means that most Swiss degrees are now based on a two tier bachelor-master’s system. A bachelor’s degree currently takes around three to four years to complete and a master’s one to two years. Bachelor’s degrees are open to foreign students who are in possession of a secondary leaving certificate or diploma, although the decision of admission rests with the individual institution. Courses are generally taught in French, German or Italian, depending on where the university is in Switzerland. There are a number of courses taught in English, however this is more common at postgraduate level.
The global success and high standing of Swiss universities is partly thanks to the country’s heavy investment in research, particularly in science and technology. The Swiss Federal Government spends 2.2% of its GDP on research and development, almost double the EU average. Swiss research activities have been boosted in recent years by the presence of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, which has promoted collaboration between Swiss universities and leading scientific institutions worldwide.
Primary and Secondary education
Primary school (Primarschule, école primaire, scuola primaria) is compulsory for all Swiss children from age 6. In some cantons two years of kindergarten (pre-school) education is also compulsory prior to commencing primary school. Depending on the canton, primary school takes five years to complete before students continue to lower secondary school (juniors). On completion of lower secondary school at age 15/16, students can choose to leave school or enter upper secondary school (gymnasium), where they gain a Matura (diploma) necessary for university admission.
There are six types of upper secondary school:
* Maths and Science (Matematisches und Naturwissenschaftliches Gymnasium): for students with aptitude in mathematics or scientific subjects.
* Secondary school of Economics (Wirtschaftsgymnasium): for students wishing to study business or economics at university.
* Modern languages (Neusprachliches Gymnasium): for students who wish to study foreign languages.
* Classical languages (Altsprachliches Gymnasium): for literature and classics students.
* Music and Arts secondary school (Musisches Gymnasium) – for those interested in studying arts and music.
* Vocational School (Berufslehre) – for students wishing to enter a technical, manual or vocational profession.
Although pre-school education is not compulsory in all cantons, nearly all Swiss children attend kindergarten (école enfantine/jardin d’enfant/ Scuola dell’infanzia) at age 4, before starting primary school at age 6. In some cantons, such as in Zurich or Geneva, kindergarten hours are usually in the morning then pre-school children return home for lunch. Pre-school children follow a play-centred programme involving arts, crafts and music, with more formal training in basic maths, writing and reading in the final kindergarten year (at age 5). Pre-schools are entirely funded by the state (or each canton) and parents pay nominal contributions towards trips and activities. However, there is a large number of private pre-schools, usually where English is the main language, and parents pay for their children to attend.
Switzerland is famous for its high cost of living and three of its cities – Zurich, Bern and Geneva – feature in the top ten most expensive cities in the world (Mercer). Indeed, Geneva’s cost of living now outranks those of London, New York and Paris. Living expenses can be lower outside of the major cities in rural areas, however they remain high in comparison to other European countries. While living in Switzerland can be pricey, it is worth bearing in mind the average monthly salary in Swiss cities is around CHF 5,599.17 (£3750) after tax – almost twice the European average.
Owning a property is not the norm in Switzerland and over 60% of people rent their homes. Urban population growth has led to a lack of affordable homes and although property prices have slowed in recent years, they remain high when compared with other European countries. Renting is usually the most affordable option for expats, yet there is fierce competition for desirable properties, particularly in Zurich and Geneva. According to the Swiss Statistics Office, average rents can be as much as CHF 2500 (£1674) per month for a two-room apartment in Zurich. Expats should also bear in mind that Swiss rental properties are generally rented unfurnished, (without light fittings, curtains and carpets) which can ramp up the costs involved in setting up home in Switzerland. The best way to find a property to rent is through an estate agent such as Homegate or by searching through local newspaper classifieds.
Most Swiss landlords ask for a rental deposit (Kaution/Caution) of around three month’s rent in advance. Any damage to the property will be deducted from the deposit when a tenant moves out. Rent (miete/loyer), is generally paid to the landlord every month and does not include extra costs such as utilities, refuse disposal and street cleaning costs. Rental contracts can be anything from one year or more and tenants must give a minimum of three months’ notice before vacating the property.
Depending on the canton, most Swiss homeowners pay a municipal tax of around 0.05% to 3.0% which is levied on the value of their property. Property tax rates vary from region to region.
The Swiss energy market is privatised and there are wide range of companies offering combined water, electricity and gas deals. However, household gas usage is uncommon in Switzerland due to high prices. Utilities are usually the responsibility of the tenant and are paid on top of the rent. Companies send bills every two to four months and tenants pay an estimated charge which is re-calculated every six to twelve months, according to meter readings. There is also a wide range of telephone and internet providers in Switzerland, with Swisscom being among the largest. Most providers offer combined phone and broadband packages.
The average cost of basic utilities (electricity, gas, water, refuse) for an 85m² apartment is CHF193 (£129) per month and around CHF55 (£36) for a phone and broadband package.
All residents who receive radio or television services in Switzerland are required to pay a license fee, regardless of how they watch or listen to programmes (terrestrial, cable, satellite, via the phone line, mobile phone or via the internet). The fee is collected on behalf of the Federal Government by the Billag company and is around CHF 451 (£301) per year.
Healthcare and medical costs
The Swiss healthcare system is one of the best in the world and residents enjoy non-existent waiting lists and universal access to a vast network of premium medical facilities. Unlike other European countries, the Swiss healthcare system is not tax-based but is paid for by the individual through monthly contributions into private health insurance schemes. The healthcare system is administered by each individual canton. Basic health insurance (Soziale Krankenversicherung / Assurance maladie / Assicurazione-Mallatie) is compulsory for all Swiss and non-Swiss residents and insurance companies are tightly regulated by Swiss Federal Law on Health Insurance. Adults must pay the first CHF 300 (£200) of any hospital treatment themselves (except for maternity services) on top of their premiums. Prescription medicines are also covered by the basic health insurance policy and costs of medicines are kept low in most circumstances.
Thanks to its rich mix of cultures, Switzerland’s shopping has something for everyone – from Italian designer fashion to wonderful German markets and elegant Parisian-style arcades. Some of the finest watchmaking, jewellery and fashion boutiques in the world can be found in Zurich, Basel and Geneva – most with hefty price tags.
Switzerland has a number of large supermarkets, with the largest country-wide chains being Migros (also Switzerland’s largest retail chain) and Co-op. The cost of food and alcohol can be steep, particularly if you are eating out in Zurich or Geneva, where prices are considered astronomical compared to the rest of the world. However, it is possible to shop on a budget by using the German supermarket chains Aldi or Lidl, which can be found in most major cities.
Value Added Tax (Mehrwertsteuer, taxe sur la valeur ajoutée, tassa sul valore aggiunto) for most goods and services is currently set at 8% in Switzerland, with a reduced rate of around 2.5% for certain items.
* Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – CHF1,558.16 (£1,040.19)
* Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – CHF1,194.43 (£797.37)
* Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – CHF11,040.90 (£7,370.65)
* Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – CHF8,042.31 (£5,368.86)
* Loaf of bread – CHF2.45 (£1.64)
* Milk (1 litre) – CHF 1.48 (£0.99)
* Bottled water (1.5 litre) – CHF1.12 (£0.74)
* Draught beer (0.5 litre) – CHF1.81 (£1.21)
* Packet of cigarettes – CHF8.00 (£5.34)
* Petrol (1 litre) – CHF1.53 (£1.02)
* Cinema ticket – CHF18.00 (£12.02)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed December 2015)
Budgeting and Savings
Switzerland is a hugely expensive country and living on a budget can be difficult. The best way to save money is to live outside the principal cities of Zurich, Geneva and Bern and to use public transport where possible, as this is one of the few areas of Swiss life which remains relatively cheap. There are several price comparison sites available to help consumers cut costs. Comparis is the most well-known and is particularly useful for those needing to take out Swiss mandatory health insurance.
Switzerland prides itself on its well-maintained motorway network, with many roads offering dramatic Alpine views from the car window. The highly efficient and extensive Swiss rail network means that driving is the secondary choice of transport, leaving the roads congestion-free and something of a driver’s paradise.
Those who choose to drive must purchase a Swiss Vignette sticker to use the country’s motorways (Autobahnen/Autoroutes/Autostrade). The sticker, used in place of toll fees, can be purchased at any service station, post office or at customs offices at a cost of CHF 40 (£26.76). The vignette is placed on your windscreen and is valid for 14 months. Beware that being caught without one can incur a hefty fine. Speed limits on Swiss roads are 120km/h (75mph) on motorways and 50 km/h (30mph) in built up areas. Bear in mind that driving in Switzerland can be treacherous in winter conditions and in mountainous areas – so taking the train or bus is a good choice for the faint of heart!
Travelling by taxi costs significantly more than using public transport system in Switzerland. Fares are generally based on a flat fee plus a rate per kilometre, with waiting charges where applicable. You can pre-book by phone or find taxis at most major transport hubs.
Rail travel is generally the first choice of public transport in Switzerland, however there is also an extensive bus network which provide regional and rural services throughout the country. The most famous Swiss bus network is the iconic PostBus, so-named for its history of carrying both passengers and mail, which connects some of the more remote places in Switzerland. PostBuses – carrying 141million passengers each year – can be recognized by their trademark yellow colour and three-tone horn.
Coach travel is an economical and comfortable way to get around Switzerland although journey times can be much longer than train travel, particularly on rural and mountainous roads. Swiss coaches are a popular choice with backpackers and visitors travelling from neighbouring European countries and can be booked cheaply through Eurolines (http://www.eurolines.com/en/countries/switzerland/)
Switzerland has the densest and most efficient rail network in Europe. Trains are operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (and other privately-owned companies) and comprise rapid intercity routes and smaller suburban and commuter lines. The country is famous for its tourist rail networks such as the Glacier Express train which runs between St Moritz and Zermatt, taking in untouched mountain landscapes, deep gorges and beautiful valleys along its one-day route. One of the most economical ways to use all public transport in Switzerland is to purchase a Swiss Travel System Pass, which allows unlimited travel by rail, bus or boat (see above) for periods of one month to one year. Lausanne is currently the only city in Switzerland to have a metro system, which consists of two lines.
Trams and light rail
The cities of Zurich, Basel, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne all have tram or light rail networks which offer a cheap and eco-friendly way to get around. The Swiss Travel System Pass can be used on tram and light rail transport.
Switzerland has three international airports, Zurich-Kloten, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse which serve destinations all over the world. Domestic air travel is fast (45-minute journey time between Geneva and Zurich) but expensive – most people prefer to travel by rail or road around Switzerland and to its neighbouring countries. Domestic flights can be booked through SWISS. The largest international airlines are Swiss International Airlines and the German carrier Lufthansa, which both use Zurich as their main hub.
Other ways to get around
Switzerland offers the most comprehensive public transport system in the world. Most visitors choose to take the train but the country also has a network of boats, ferries, lake steamers, funiculars and cable cars. If you are not in a rush, it is possible to reach Switzerland by lake paddle steamer along the Rhine from Germany, France and Italy, with all routes offering spectacular mountain views and luxury accommodation. Cycling is also a national passion and Switzerland is crisscrossed by nine national cycling routes totalling over 1,600 miles.
Swiss employees work some of the longest hours in Europe and many attempts to reduce the maximum number of hours have been repeatedly rejected by government. The law does state that most employees can work a maximum of 45 hours a week. In some specialised industries, this is raised to 50 hours a week. Many Swiss employers promote flexible working hours, most commonly seen in manufacturing industries. Workers are given staggered start times, usually from 7am. Overtime is usually paid at one-and-a-quarter times the usual wage or days off in lieu. However, managers are rarely compensated with extra pay and the expectation is that they are already handsomely paid for the work they do.
Workers aged over 20 are legally entitled to four weeks of paid holiday a year, while workers under 20 are eligible for five weeks. Some senior employees are granted a fifth week in their contracts but this is usually awarded depending on seniority at a firm.
Each of the 26 cantons (regions) which make up the Swiss Confederation decide what public holidays they observe except for 1st August which is a federal holiday. It is best to check which holidays are applicable in each canton.
Public holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1st January
Good Friday: 19th April
Easter Sunday: 21st April
Easter Monday: 22nd April
Ascension Day: 30th May
Whit Monday: 10th June
National Day: 1st August
Christmas Day: 25th December
Visas and eligibility
People coming from a European member state or with a right to stay in that member state do not need a visa to enter Switzerland. Although Switzerland is not part of the EU, a bilateral agreement signed in 2002 relaxed the laws for Europeans intending to work and stay in the country. If you need a visa you should apply for it in your home country because they cannot be issued in Switzerland. Foreigners living in Switzerland can apply for a residence permit and the type of permit you need will depends on your length of stay and whether you are a worker or student. More information can be found here. You must register for a residence permit within eight days of arriving in the country and before your first day of work.
As a confederation, the Swiss tax system is complicated, mainly because of the 26 cantons and 2,300 or so municipalities which have their own tax systems. In Switzerland the tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December. In most cantons it is necessary to file tax returns within three months after the end of the tax period. Taxes are comprised of confederation, canton and commune tax. Most cantons also take a church tax from one of the three national churches, Roman Catholic, Christian Catholic and Protestant. High earners living in Switzerland are obliged to fill in tax returns based on their worldwide earnings and assets. Most foreign employees have their income tax automatically deducted from their salary. To work out how much tax you will pay in Switzerland, you can find more information here.
The Swiss pension system is known as the ‘three pillars’, consisting of the Federal Old Age pension, Occupational pension scheme, and private pensions. The basic pension covers living expenses and is financed by employees’ monthly contributions of around 4%. People are usually entitled to collect this when they reach 65 for men and 64 for women. The second pillar is a funded pension plan financed by employees and employers. Private pensions schemes are optional. Visit the Swiss Government’s pension website to find out more.
There are five areas of social security in Switzerland designed to ensure individuals enjoy a reasonable standard of living. They include old age and invalidity insurance, protection against illness and accidents, maternity pay, unemployment insurance and family allowance. Benefits and insurance are generally paid by workers through monthly contributions automatically deducted from salaries. Each canton also contributes different amounts. Unemployment benefits are considered generous in Switzerland and are available to foreign workers with the amount received dependent on final salary and length of employment.
In November 2014 Switzerland ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities which came into force in May the following year. The convention, along with other national laws, compels employers to improve access and rights for disabled workers. Many public buildings have also undergone alterations to improve accessibility. There are disabled parking bays available to those carrying a parking authorisation card which can be obtained through the disabled person’s canton of residence
Swiss business structure is strictly hierarchical, comprising top-down decision making and delegation of tasks. Lines between managers and workers are rarely crossed, however there is a general consensus that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Planning, order and risk aversion feature heavily, indeed the Swiss are the most heavily insured people in the world. Honesty and professionalism are paramount in business negotiations and decision-making is considered and detailed.
A long history of political stability and monetary security means Switzerland has one of the world’s most successful economies. The country is at the forefront of international trade and industry, with the food giant Nestlé and leading watchmakers Omega, Swatch, Longines, Breguet and Tissot among its global brands.
Managers have a low-key and pragmatic style in Switzerland, where respect is acquired by demonstrating an expert knowledge of your field rather than through personal relationships. Decisions tend to be made by first taking into account the views of the team and generally involve a great deal of planning and discussion. Swiss managers have a non-confrontational approach and it is rare to see employers lose their temper with subordinates.
Hierarchy is highly regarded in Switzerland so it is best to stick to titles and surnames (Herr/Frau, Monsieur/Madame, Signore/Signora) in large meetings until invited to use people’s first names. First impressions count for a lot in Switzerland and a respectful and formal demeanor is used among colleagues who have only recently met. The Swiss are reserved people so it is best to avoid asking personal questions or being over-friendly.
Swiss business relationships vary between cantons. For example, German-speaking Swiss like to get straight down to business and dispense with niceties, whereas French and Italian-speaking Swiss allow for more small talk and preamble to business negotiations. In all cases, business is regarded with the utmost seriousness and humour is rarely used, even to break the ice. This aspect of business culture can sometimes make the Swiss seem a little ‘stand-offish,’ however, once you establish a good rapport, the Swiss are honest, knowledgeable and fiercely loyal. Generally, the communication style is direct and honest. Using too much business jargon is often considered unnecessary, while a frank approach is preferred.
Business attire in Switzerland has become more relaxed in recent years, with some companies introducing ‘dress down Fridays.’ However, in formal business meetings it is better to err on the side of caution and dress smartly. The Swiss prefer a sober look, so men should choose dark, good quality suits and ties. Women generally wear trouser suits or smart knee-length skirts with a shirt or blouse.
The handshake is the standard greeting in Swiss business settings. French-speaking and Italian-speaking Swiss often kiss or embrace but this generally occurs between co-workers who know each other. Kissing in a business setting is rarely seen among German-speaking Swiss, who prefer to welcome each other with a firm handshake.
It is probably unsurprising that for a country which enjoys a peerless reputation for watch and clock making, time is a national obsession in Switzerland. It is often said that the Swiss are the most punctual people on the planet, so you should arrive at a meeting at the exact minute of the appointed time. Being too early could leave your counterpart unprepared and being late would be considered very rude. The Swiss feel at ease when everything is in order and being punctual is ingrained in the national consciousness.
Formal business meetings in Switzerland are highly structured and follow a pre-determined agenda. Diversion from the agenda or not completing the discussion of all items would be unusual in a Swiss meeting. Participants are expected to arrive on time and be armed with the correct information and documents. All attendees are given a chance to speak, particularly if the discussion point relates directly to their own specialist field. Business meetings are strictly professional, with little small talk or socialising. While the Swiss are generally non-confrontational, robust and detailed debate is commonplace in business meetings.
The Swiss are a private, reserved people so it is best to avoid asking questions about someone’s marital status, religion or other personal issues. Generally, the Swiss are conservative in their opinions and despite their diverse regions, are fiercely loyal to their own country, so it is wise to avoid even light banter in initial exchanges. One particular topic to avoid in Swiss company is the country’s policy of mandatory military service. A referendum held in 2013 failed to abolish conscription with 73% of the electorate voting to keep the policy. However, this remains a sensitive subject and alluding to it in Swiss circles can lead to bitter arguments.
With four different languages in one country, communication in business can be an issue. However, larger Swiss companies are now starting to operate using English as a ‘bridging’ business language. Most Swiss speak a good level of English, but it is polite to use one of the main regional languages (French, German, Italian, Romansh) if you are able to.