As an expat, moving to a new country can be overwhelming…I think we’ve established that a lot of times here. From planning the move, to actually moving and then settling in a new city – there’s a lot that one goes through during the entire process! But sooner or later, things start to fall in place, you set a routine for yourself and start getting a hang of your new life. This is when that feeling of missing family and friends back home often takes over.
As expats in a new country, we often tend to neglect putting an effort in socializing and finding new people – because let’s be honest, we do have a lot on our plates.
But, this is an aspect that every expat should build on. It is always a good to have someone that you can rely especially during those tough days and certainly during the joyous moments with. It’s always rewarding to share, read on as I break down the social scene in Switzerland as well as share my top tips to integrate from my own personal experiences.
Does social life in Switzerland suck?
Well, when you move here, of course you’d experience a culture shock…it happens with everyone and this definitely has an effect on your social life. But why does Switzerland have the impression of being a not-so-social and welcoming place? Is this true?
Well, the Swiss are known to be reserved, they tend to remain super organized and strictly adhere to a set of unwritten social rules for daily life. This “Swissness” can seem a bit baffling, cold and unwelcoming to extroverted foreigners from various other societies. But, you need to understand that it can while a while it may take a while for the Swiss to warm up to new people (not just expats) but in the long run, they are the ones who you can rely on, and I say this from my heart. It took me a while to understand and discover this trait, but some of my best friends today are Swiss; they still slip into their typical dialects amidst conversations but the friendships you form are anything but superficial.
The best way forward – well firstly give it time and for starters indulge yourself in to “Swiss things” ; For example, Swiss people love hobby clubs, hiking, Swiss traditional festivals and celebrations (duh)! Find what resonates to you and your culture, and then dive in.
Apart from that, here are a few unwritten rules that the Swiss abide by, these would help you out in social settings and could be a great starting point for social life in Switzerland.
Swiss courtesies and Unwritten Social rules:
- Respect other people’s time. Be on time (or even 5 minutes early) for appointments or cancel in time. – This was never a problem for me as I have been quite punctual in general and never really understood the terms “Indian standard time” or “fashionably late”! But what I could never wrap my head around was plans that were made months in advance, plans that were stored on calendars and that all friendly encounters are treated as professionally as a work appointment. I seriously LOVE this now!
- Don’t litter. Really, it’s a big faux pas here. (Except for when it is cigarettes, I mean whats up with that!)
- Always greet everyone. Even if there are 10 fellow hikers on the narrow path, give each one some eye contact and a brief hello.
- Bring a small gift such as flowers, chocolate or a gift for the children when invited for a meal. (We do this in India as well ;))
- Call before dropping in for a visit. I mean…this is VERY obvious.
- Sunday is rest day. Do not even mention making plans with someone on a Sunday and if you are planning a party at your house, then avoid being noisy.
- If you’re planning a party, neighbors appreciate being informed or even invited.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s also talk about what all you can actually do to kick start your social life in Switzerland as an expat.
Switzerland is not lacking in options for socializing and turning your leisure time into quality time. As an expat, one could feel clueless – where do I start? Finding people with similar interests, building relationships with like minded people and also have fun while doing it – in a new country, it can get daunting. When I first moved here in Switzerland, although I went back to the university for my masters and could befriend colleagues, I did not leave any stone un turned – here’s how I built a life outside of those normal boundaries.
How to build your Social Life as an Expat in Switzerland?
1. Make the first move
When it comes to initiating social conversations – with your neighbors, with colleagues or at your child’s school, you need to make the first move. It could be as simple as a greeting and a short introduction. An introduction over a glass of wine and snacks (referred to as an apero) usually does the job -as a new tenant in your apartment building this is kind of an expected norm. By the way, don’t be put off by the classic Swiss stoic demeanor at work, just ask them to join you for lunch, a beer or coffee.
More often than not – they will say yes, because Swiss are generally friendlier than they may first appear.
2. Join a club
Joining a club is the norm here in Switzerland and more than half of Swiss adults are active members in a club. From sports, music to games – there is no shortage of options to get to know people with similar interests. If you’re moving for your masters or higher education, a lot of universities also offer a range of choices of clubs, such as, for example, the Academic Sports Association of Zurich (ASVZ) at the ETH. In a club, you get to interact with people naturally since the ice is already broken via different activities.
3. Explore all possibilities Online and take them Offline
I’m sure if you’re on our website right now, reading this article, then you know about the numerous ways to connect with people online. Joining an online group on Facebook/Insta dedicated to your area can be a handy place to seek out and share anecdotes with people locally. There are myriad such groups in Switzerland. These groups also organize a lot of networking events and meet ups to build a community. You can also use these groups to connect with other compatriots.
If you’re an Indian expat in Switzerland like me, you can look at groups on Facebook which connect Indians living in Switzerland and more…based on your preferences. The Indo-Swiss Sports Club organizes sports events and BBQs. Some of my favorite Facebook groups are – Women Rock Switzerland, Indian women in Switzerland, International mothers in Switzerlands, Outdoors in Switzerland, Basel Expats, The Grumpy Expat and MORE!
Another very cool website/app you can explore is called meetup.com, which helps you connect and meet-up with like minded people. My first attempt to making friends was through “meetup” and I still have friends from my first meet up picnic at a park!
Coffee with a Purpose | My Swiss Story
One such initiative by My Swiss Story is called Coffee with a Purpose. You know how much I love bringing people together, so this had to be done. The objective is VERY simple here – Every month a small group of women will come together over a cup of coffee and practice meaningful networking 😊
You can also keep an eye on sites which talk about expat living and join local WhatsApp groups that your regularly post local event updates and organize walks, picnics, hikes and coffee dates.
4. Go on Hikes
The Swiss love their hikes, trust me…and I totally get why. If you’ve seen my Insta, you know how after 6 years of living in Switzerland, I have become quite the regular hiker now. 😉
With such beautiful mountains and landscapes, it is no surprise that hiking is the most popular pastime in Switzerland. From mountaineering to casual strolls, there are a lot of options. Like always, you can find a lot of hiking groups on the internet. If you’re confident enough, then you can also find a hike you would like to do and organize your own group. Wanderungen.ch or Schweizmobil have English-language sites that help you plan a hiking route.
5. Try Volunteering
Volunteering allows you to support good causes while meeting members of your local community.
There are volunteering associations across the country, such as Swiss Volunteers, while Caritas offers varied opportunities, like running a language course for migrants and helping alpine farmers with the harvest. Meanwhile, you can also join city-specific organizations to help any cause.
If you’d like a detailed article on Volunteering in Switzerland for Expats, then do let me know in the comments below.
6. Talk, listen, learn
I’ve always written about how important it is to learn the local language if you’re living here in Switzerland…I am now B1 certified and learning a language is a constant journey that can go a long way not just for your career or the permit, but also to enjoy a good social life! A great way to build a social circle is to join group language learning classes, this allows you to meet people who are also riding in the same boat! Apart from this there are many language conversation cafes as well as university’s tandem program.
The scheme connects people trying to learn a language with a native in that language – so you might offer your English in exchange for your Swiss tandem partner’s French, German or Italian. Some of the universities offering the tandem scheme include the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and the University of Basel.
7. Seize every opportunity to go out
In the beginning, it is very important to give every invite/networking opportunity a shot. Don’t shy away or over-think your way out of it. Whether it’s catching up with colleagues after work over drinks or signing up for an after-work activity, do try your best to indulge in all social activities to build your network and connections.
8. Lastly, make sure to build and nurture relationships
Yes, you met up, connected and shared experiences…now what? Well, do not forget to nurture these connections and networks in the long run. Stay in touch with whoever matches your wavelength and find new and interesting ways to connect again – these could include fun things to do over the weekend and more.
Well, I hope these tips gave you an insight into the social life in Switzerland for expats. It might look like it’s very difficult to fit in…but it’s not, you need to put yourself out there and you’ll be surprised by the results. The other thing about being an expat – well the other expats UNDERSTAND exactly what it’s like and in that sense being a part of the community is wonderful!
Are you looking to meet like minded women across Switzerland? Are you someone who’s trying to build their new business in Switzerland? Do you want to navigate your new life with ease? Then I’d suggest you bookmark – My Swiss Story (well right away)!
Read more such articles in our Expat living section.