8 Cultural Differences between US and Switzerland
Are you planning on relocating to Switzerland and are looking for facts about the beautiful country? We’ve got you covered.
If you are relocating to Europe from the United States, it’s probably because you have visited many times and fell in love with the Swiss way of life. Switzerland is very different culturally from the USA. While you probably noticed a lot on your visits, there are still some things that need to be considered before moving.
What’s on this page?
01 | Switzerland is a Democracy, not a Republic
02 | Local Traditions and Cultures
03 | Public Transportation
04 | Swiss Sports
05 | Living, Not Shopping
06 | Tchi che sa Rumantsch, sa dapli
07 | The Money
08 | Enjoy Your Meals
1. Switzerland is a Democracy, not a Republic
The USA is a republic, not a democracy. Switzerland is probably the world’s only true democracy. In the USA, like most republics, the populace votes for representatives who serve for a preset, limited time. In Switzerland, the entire eligible voting population can have a voice in most legislation.
This is not only a difference in the technical process by which laws are passed but a true cultural difference that drips down to all facets of life. The Swiss are empowered; they are independent. Their national hero, William Tell, symbolizes the quest for individual freedoms. Even their flag reflects equality; no other country has a flag divided into four equal regions.
One would be forgiven for thinking that this situation would lead to anarchy and ridiculous legislation. The contrary is true, and the country has relatively low taxes, a business-friendly culture, and more rules and regulations than you would expect.
2. Local Traditions and Cultures
Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons. These cantons have significantly more autonomy than states do in the USA. Different cantons will have varying festivals. The different languages and climates have led to the retention of myriad age-old traditions. Have you ever been to a sleigh parade? What about Tschäggättä, a strange combination of pagan festivals and the Catholic Carnival.
Do you love fishing? The differences between canton cultures are also felt in sports. You don’t need a license to ski, but you do need a license to fish. These licenses will be required for fishing in rivers in urban areas but not in rural areas or lakes. Once you move to the country, ask about the regulations, but don’t be surprised by anything you hear.
3. Public Transportation
Public transportation in Switzerland is excellent. Expect to be able to get anywhere in Switzerland fairly easily on public transportation. Not only for getting to the office and back, but public transportation can also be used to go on vacation, for your sports outings, or just for sightseeing. Some of the most dramatic views in the country can only be seen on some of the country’s world-renowned scenic rail routes.
If you go to areas with skiing, expect to be able to ski down a mountain, get on a public bus with your equipment, and be taken back to wherever you need to go. Never be surprised to see a bus or train full of bicycles if you are going to any biking destination. You can even buy a ticket for your bike if you don’t want to send it as luggage.
Public transportation includes mountain railways and boats. Not bad for a land-locked country!
4. Swiss Sports
Sports are big in Switzerland, and with 60% of the country in the Alps mountain range, it should be no surprise that winter sports lead the way as there is a long winter sports season. In Zermatt and Saas-Fee, you can even ski and snowboard all year long. Expect to find toboggan runs and cross country skiing trails throughout the country. If you are relocating to Switzerland, we recommend bringing all of your winter sports equipment with you.
The Swiss love the outdoors, so if you’re going to be Swiss, you will probably want to join in the sports. Winter walking done in snowshoes will bring you to locations otherwise inaccessible. Have you ever seen snow tires on a bike? If you love biking, give it a try. Don’t forget ice skating, with rinks throughout the country and widely available frozen lakes. There are even some horse races on the frozen lakes, which also are used for curling and ice hockey.
In the summer, you can expect hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and the local sport of Hornussen, an ancient sport often compared to baseball or golf. Though there is no baseball in Switzerland, there is some golf, with about 70 golf courses. Of course, Roger Federer did not grow up in a vacuum, and the Swiss tennis culture is alive and well.
Though the Swiss prefer participation sports to professional sports, they still love Super League football. There are some other professional sports like hockey and basketball, but they are less popular.
5. Living, Not Shopping
Does it ever feel like everything in the United States is about shopping? There isn’t a single event that goes by that is marked by a sale. It is a reason to go to the shops, even in the day and age of online shopping and very quick deliveries, it is challenging to find a parking spot at the shopping mall.
While the laws of supply and demand have led to a situation where you can get the best quality merchandise in the USA at more affordable prices than anywhere else in the world. This is why so many of our clients send their entire households when they move to places like Switzerland. We have had Swiss tourists send everything from furniture to automobiles that they bought as tourists in the USA back to their homes.
Don’t expect the same culture of buying and then more buying in Switzerland. The country is known for specialty shops, particularly for Swiss watches and jewelry.
Even the country’s largest shopping mall in Zurich pales in comparison to a typical American mall. Most shops in the country work normal working hours, like 10-6 or something similar, and it is not uncommon for a store to close for an hour at lunchtime. Do not expect much to be open on Sundays. If you will be making a big meal on Sunday, make sure to buy everything you need before the weekend.
6. Tchi che sa Rumantsch, sa dapli
That means if you can speak in Rumantsch, you will know more. Rumantsch is spoken in the canton of Grisons, home to the world-famous St. Moritz. The language is similar to Italian but is not a dialect, it is a different language spoken only in southern Switzerland.
How many languages do you speak? Everyone in Switzerland will speak at least two, most of them can speak three or four. English is not always one of them. The official languages of Switzerland are French, German, Italian, and Rumantsch, this means that any of these languages can be used for official documents and legally binding contracts, taught in schools, or used to address the Federal Assembly. If you go to a French-speaking region, don’t be surprised if the conversation is peppered with a few words from other languages, something you wouldn’t expect to hear in France.
7. The Money
The currency used in Switzerland for transactions is the Swiss Franc. This currency is also used by Liechtenstein, a small neighbor. The rest of Switzerland’s neighbors use the Euro, the shared currency of many European Union members. You can use Euros in many shops, but if you live in the country, you will be using Swiss Francs.
8. Enjoy Your Meals
The Swiss people really enjoy their meals compared to American people as everything is super rushed in the states. We often eat lunch at the office desk for a few minutes or take a hot dog on the way to the grocery shop. In Switzerland, everything takes time. From the food preparation to the eating itself. You will understand how to enjoy your meals and have fun slowly.