English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated, even if you are answered in English. It is always polite to ask if you speak English before starting a conversation.
Make an effort to learn at least the words “hello”, “goodbye”, “please” and “thank you” in the language of the region you will be travelling to. “I would like…” is also a phrase that will help you.
In German, French and Italian there are formal and informal forms of the word “you”, which changes the conjugation of the verb “you” and sometimes the sentence. For example, the informal expression don’t worry about it in English is don’t worry and the formal one ne pas t’en faire? don’t worry about it? The formal salutation is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, is considered a superior, someone who has a higher rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. Informal is used with close friends, relatives and peers. Generally, you should not use informal language with someone you do not know well who is your superior or with an older person. Use informality with close friends and young people. Peers can be a grey area and it is advisable to use formal language first until you are asked to use informal language.
Friends kiss each other three times on the cheek – left, right, left – and this is a common custom when you are introduced to someone in French and German-speaking countries. If, on the other hand, it is a business meeting, you only need to shake hands. Don’t be shy – if you refuse the advance, it can come across as embarrassing and rude. After all, you don’t have to put your lips in contact with your skin, as a fake “airy” kiss would do.
Litter is considered particularly anti-social. Some cantons have fines for littering (about 40 to 80 Swiss francs), and there are plans to make littering illegal in general, including higher fines. Make sure you put your recyclable waste in the properly labelled bin, as some have special bins for paper and PET plastic. Some communal bins even have restrictions on the hours of use to avoid excessive noise!
Be on time. This means that you should not be more than one minute late, if you are! It’s not surprising that in a country known for watchmaking, the Swiss are obsessed with time.
Be careful not to inadvertently invade the privacy of people in Switzerland. The Swiss Civil Code and the Federal Data Protection Act stipulate that it is forbidden to record a person without their express consent. This also applies to photos and video recordings as soon as a person is recognisable. You can be sentenced to up to three years in prison if you take photos and other recordings of a person without their express consent and, in particular, publish them. So be careful about what you photograph and respect the public’s and celebrities’ claims to privacy.