How to Make Friends in Switzerland, Part One

By Chantal Panozzo

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I’ve written about this topic before on One Big Yodel, but it seems to be a popular one, so I’m going to write two follow-up posts, this one, and another piece that will run on Swisstory blog about how I’ve managed to make a few Swiss friends in the three years I’ve lived in Switzerland.

In comparison to making Swiss friends, making friends with other expats is relatively easy. “You speak English? Me to. Let’s be friends.”  That’s about all it takes when you’re so far from home. Ages, backgrounds, interests seem to matter little at the beginning when the main thing is that you’ve found someone with whom you can actually communicate in your own language.

But then there are those Swiss. Dang, they are hard to meet. Reserved and private, many Swiss tell me they are happy with their small group of close friends that they’ve known since childhood and aren’t interested in making more. The trick is to find the people that are more open.

I didn’t think my neighbor was one of them. She was 73 years old to my 28 when I met her and didn’t speak any English. And while her first words of greeting were something along the lines of “you’re doing the laundry wrong,” what I didn’t realize at the time was that this was her Swiss way of saying a friendly hello.

To make proper friends with a Swiss neighbor, you usually have to go to them first. Knock on their door and introduce yourself, perhaps bring them some chocolates or something from your home country. Even if your German/French/Italian isn’t that good yet, you may be surprised at their happiness at your efforts.

If they make an effort to criticize everything from your gardening to your laundry like my neighbor did, take that as a strange kind of compliment. At least they’re paying attention. And most Swiss like to correct you. Give them that joy and you may make a friend.

Despite our age and language differences, my neighbor and I started hanging out. We’d set the German/English dictionary on the table and have raclette together. She’d take me to flower fields in her car so we could make our own bouquets. A year after all of this, she reintroduced herself to me with her first name. It was worth the year of calling her Frau V and being strangely formal while melting cheese together.

Are you friends with your Swiss neighbors? How did you make your Swiss friends? Or what do you find most frustrating about making Swiss friends?

Up next, How to Make Friends in Switzerland, Part 2, over on Swisstory blog.

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