Even though being one of the smallest countries in the world, Switzerland happens to be one of the most international places where people from different countries and cultures come together. The biggest foreign population in Switzerland comes from Germany. Despite being direct neighbors, there are some major cultural differences between the two states that everyone notices – whether being Swiss or German. The first thing that stands out is the language. Even though German is the main spoken languages in both countries, there are some difficulties in communication. Because German is not the same as German! Swiss people speak Swiss German and German people speak High German. While the Swiss learn High German at school, and because there is no official grammar for Swiss German and every canton has its own dialect, the Germans are usually lost with Swiss German. And here, every Swiss is sympathetic. Some of them even admit it sounds disturbing and don’t expect Non-Swiss to speak it. But again, speaking and understanding are two different pairs of shoes. If you are German and understand Swiss German you are very welcome to stay – that’s the general consent. Still a lot of Swiss people switch to High German when speaking to a German. That’s just how the Swiss are, they adapt because they don’t want to be rude. And this doesn’t make life easier for Germans living in Switzerland. The other way around, Germans might say a Swiss speaking High German sound like a chainsaw on rotten wood. And that’s absolutely true in certain cases. That’s exactly the point: you cannot generalize it. Try to see the individual case and more over the individual person – whether you are Swiss or German.
The small details
Continuing with the language problem, there are certain words that have completely different meanings in Germany and in Switzerland. However these peculiarities are hard to explain in English. But let’s give it a try. A paprika for example is as well a “Paprika” in High German while the Swiss call it “Peperoni”. But “Peperoni” in High German means chili. These Helvetisms can drive you crazy! Not only the vegetables cause problems but also the accentuation of some words. Tunnel, telephone or asphalt are pronounced completely differently in the two German languages. It’s the details that make all the differences. Some Swiss expressions are so cute you want to hug them. But understanding them is another story. Here you’ll find a funny list with adorable expressions you cannot translate in any other language, but the images and videos might help to understand it.
Is it a “Peperoni” or a “Paprika”?
Welcoming – the first impression
The way people greet each other depends a lot on their culture. Some shake hands, others are rubbing their noses and most of them are kissing each other on the cheeks. Again, the detail makes the difference. While the Swiss give three kisses the Germans only give two. And speaking from experience this can cause a lot of awkward situations. When a Swiss tries to give you three kisses and you stop after two the Swiss might think you are rude while the German could understand it as a dirty pass. But hey, this is something very easy to learn and can already earn you a lot of respect from the confederates. As soon as the Swiss gets the impression that the German is willing to learn and to adapt everything is fine.
Formal handshake or hearty kisses? The greeting differens from culture to culture.
Straightforward through the wall
All these things may be annoying or tiring but we can make light of it. However what really disturbs most Swiss people is the straightforwardness of the Teutons. They don’t ask, they tell. They don’t order they command. This manner can come along as a little harsh for the restrained Swiss. Swiss people are very careful, maybe even a little reserved when it comes to communicating. They love nothing more than subjunctives – could, would and should are their best friends. If a Swiss asks for a coffee he might say “I would like to have a coffee please”. The German on the other hand orders his coffee with “I get a coffee!”. The Swiss citizen says please and thank you for everything – even if they order the bill. Who does that? But that’s just how Swiss people are, nice and polite. And that’s why their biggest problem is if somebody is not like them.
Harmony in the workplace
A place where the two cultures harmonize perfectly is VISIONAPARTMENTS. The leading serviced apartment provider is an international company and has employees from all over the world – mostly Swiss and Germans. “We feel very comfortable working here and our co-workers accept us. Of course there are some situations where cultural differences occur but you have to get over it”, say Christian Polster and Katarina Hübler, both German-born and working at VISIONAPARTMENTS in Switzerland. André Raeber, Group Head of Operations & Development at VISIONAPARTMENTS claims that “it makes no difference whether I am working with a Swiss or a German, what counts is the performance”.
Smalltalk or a helping hand? Employees at VISIONAPARTMENTS support each other, no matter where they are from.
How to be Swiss
Last but not least, should you need any advice on how to behave in the land of cows and cheese there are guides to help you – ironically mostly written by Germans: “Grüezi Gummihälse: Warum uns die Deutschen manchmal auf die Nerven gehen”, “Gebrauchsanweisung für die Schweiz” or “Der feine Unterschied – Ein Handbuch für Deutsche in der Schweiz”.