40 things you should not do in Switzerland

There are things you should not do in Switzerland. Knowing these before you travel will save you time, nerves and possibly even money. This list lists mistakes and mishaps that you can easily avoid in Switzerland

It's so easy to make a cultural mistake. Danger lurks everywhere

At the train station, in the supermarket, in the mountains..

Wherever you go, nowhere is safe from it

If you've ever been to Japan and left your finches at the wrong angle in front of the door while visiting the toilet, or in Australia thought the distance "just around the corner " was less than a two-hour drive, you know what I'm talking about.

Even in Switzerland, there are some mistakes just waiting to be made.

Some of them are only moderately accepted socially, strain your budget unnecessarily, cost you an inordinate amount of time and nerves, or they simply want to get you alive.

The following list should help you to recognize one or the other ambush early and to make your adventure in Switzerland as pleasant as possible.

What you should not do in Switzerland:

1. Be on the train between 7:00 - 8:00 or 17:00 - 18:00

During rush hours, certain train routes in Switzerland are hopelessly congested. A classic here is undoubtedly Zurich-Bern or Geneva-Lausanne. If you want to save yourself a lot of stress and safely find a place for you and your luggage, you should avoid these times for a trip by train between major Swiss cities if possible.

On the road by train (Photo: Swiss Travel System)On the road by train (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
Departure board (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Departure board (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

2. Talking loudly on the train (or bus)

Let's stay on public transport for the moment. If you're concerned about not upsetting local tempers, postpone your phone calls until after your arrival whenever possible. Loud phone calls in public are not very popular in Switzerland.

3. Talking loudly in a restaurant

Unfortunately, the same is true for restaurants. In general, people in Switzerland try to keep the noise level somewhat subdued. It depends somewhat on the establishment, of course. Read the room and decide how many decibels you can tolerate for yourself and those around you. The evil eye will inevitably follow if you overdo it.

4. Thinking the train (or bus) is late or waiting for you

The punctuality of public transport in Switzerland is generally at a very high level. Depending on which transport company you look at, it fluctuates around the 90% mark. That means, if you gamble on catching the train (or bus) by hoping for a delay, you will succeed only in 10% of all cases. Therefore, arrive on time at the station or wait for the next connection

5. Explore the mountains with bad shoes

Accidents in the mountains happen again and again. Sometimes they are mild, sometimes fatal. On average, 130 people lose their lives in the Swiss mountains every year. The number of seriously and lightly injured is many times higher. With good footwear, you can significantly reduce the risk of a serious accident

6. Underestimating the weather in the mountains

Unfortunately, good shoes do not protect you from quick weather changes. Thunderstorms often come up unexpectedly within a very short time, visibility can suddenly tend towards 0% and temperature drops cannot be ruled out, especially at higher altitudes. Good preparation in all respects can save you many anxious moments.

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7. Assume that every Swiss speaks fluent German, French and Italian

Although every Swiss learned at least one national foreign language in school, this does not mean that it is also mastered flawlessly. Some basic knowledge is there, but we are far from all being impeccably trilingual. Unfortunately 🙂

8. Go to the checkout in the supermarket without weighing the vegetables or fruits

In Swiss supermarkets, you usually have to weigh vegetables and fruits yourself. To do this, simply remember the corresponding number, put the vegetable or fruit on the scale, enter the number and stick the label. In an emergency, if you forget, there is usually a scale near the checkout so you can do it yourself.

9. Go shopping on Saturday

On Saturday, it feels like the whole of Switzerland has to do their weekly shopping, because there is a risk of starving on Sunday (see next point). Therefore, I advise you, if you prefer to have some peace and more space for yourself between the shelves, not necessarily to make a big purchase on Saturday.

10. Go shopping on Sunday

Sunday is a day of rest. Except for the train stations, the stores are closed all day.

11. Spend a lot of money on water

Switzerland is blessed with high quality and widely available tap water. It's worth carrying a water bottle and filling it up at one of the thousands of public fountains.

As long as there is no sign anywhere saying "no drinking water ", you can drink the water without hesitation. Theoretically, you could even fill up the bottle in the bathroom. It's not necessarily suitable for everyday use, but in Switzerland we actually flush with drinking water

12. Travel by public transport without installing the SBB app

If you travel by public transport often, I recommend installing this extremely helpful app. Whether you are looking for the next train connection from the airport to Bern, the departure time of the passenger ship from Thun to Interlaken or the bus from Solothurn to Langendorf, the SBB App will tell you. It also provides information on ticket prices, station facilities and the availability of saver tickets

13. Assume that the whole of Switzerland is covered in snow in winter

If you come to Switzerland looking forward to meters of snow, you may be bitterly disappointed. Climate change does not stop at us and snowfall is no longer as certain as it was 10-20 years ago.

If you are in lower altitudes in winter and would like to spend a few hours or days in the snow, you are most likely to find it in higher places. So if you don't see snow when you land in Zurich in January, don't give up hope

14. Thinking you can see all of switzerland in three days

Granted, Switzerland is small. Very small. In terms of area, it can be accommodated a whole 8.5 times in Germany, 67 times in Argentina and a whopping 414 times in Russia. But if you think that a few days are enough to explore the whole of Switzerland, you are very much mistaken.

The diversity of this small country is immense and even if the distances between the various sights are comparatively tiny, the Riviera in the Ticino in no way resembles the stone formations of the Bernese Jura or the Rhine meanders around Schaffhausen. So take enough time so that you can discover all the diversity of Switzerland

15. Travel to Interlaken only

In short, Switzerland has more to offer than the Jungfraujoch and the Thunersee. Even though these places attract many visitors with their immense beauty, Switzerland has countless other attractions to offer that are less flooded with tourists.

16. Being unpunctual

What is true in public transport is generally true in Switzerland. Punctuality is very important and if you have an appointment, I advise you to keep it as much as possible. You can't expect anything else in a country famous for its watch industry. Can you?

17. Buy drinks at the station

If you get thirsty at the train station and don't have a water bottle with you, takeaway stands or kiosks are real price traps. They will charge you three times what you would normally pay. Since you can find a supermarket such as a Migrolino or Coop Pronto at every major train station, I recommend that you go there to buy a drink at the regular price

18. Eating too much before visiting a chocolate factory

In Switzerland, there are various chocolate factories that have set up a visitor's center and that you can check out in person on site. They don't skimp on tasting opportunities and if you show up with a full belly, you'll regret it by the chocolate fountain at the latest. The same applies to the Kambly factory in Trubschachen. So leave some room in your stomach when you go on a culinary discovery tour.

19. Pushing in front, no matter where

Even though we Swiss don't have such a well-mannered queuing culture as the British - evil tongues say we have no idea how to queue properly - pushing in front is still very much disliked. Be it at the checkout in the supermarket, at the train station after boarding the train or on the ski slope at the valley station. It's better to take a deep breath and, if in doubt, take a step back

20. Just sit down in the train without asking if the seat is still free

If you question this tradition for a minute, it admittedly makes little sense. But it's just something we grow up with. When we get on the train and sit down with another person, we always ask if the seat is still available. Even if the person got on at the same station as we did and is obviously sitting alone in the compartment. The "is here still free " belongs in Switzerland in the public transport like the Sphinx on the Jungfraujoch

21. Washing on sunday or doing the household chores

As already mentioned with the store opening hours: Sunday is a day of rest. This also applies to laundry and housekeeping. In rented apartments with a shared laundry room it is even forbidden to wash on Sunday. You should also refrain from vacuuming on the seventh day if you don't want to risk a neighbor dispute

22. Eating a St. Gallen bratwurst with mustard

As a native of eastern Switzerland, I always have to defend this point. In St. Gallen you eat a bratwurst WITHOUT mustard. In the rest of Switzerland this can be discussed but in Eastern Switzerland it is such a strong unwritten law that it can be considered as written. Our reasoning: A St. Gallen bratwurst is so good that you can't kill its taste with mustard.

23. Start a discussion whether the cheese at raclette belongs on the potatoes or next to them

It seems like a trivial detail, but Switzerland is divided on this point. So if you want to sit at a silent table and start a heated discussion out of nowhere, go ahead. But if a peaceful evening without nerve-wracking debates is what you're after, you'd better ask your Swiss pals if they grew up as a Migros kid or a Coop kid.

Raclette (Photo: Switzerland Tourism André Meier)Raclette (Photo: Switzerland Tourism André Meier)
Raclette (Photo: Switzerland Tourism André Meier)Raclette (Photo: Switzerland Tourism André Meier)

24. Entering a stranger's house without taking off your shoes

Whether your host cleans the apartment every day or hasn't had a vacuum cleaner in their hands for two months, in Switzerland you are generally expected to remove your shoes when entering the apartment or house. Unless your host explicitly mentions that you are allowed to keep your shoes on.

25. Waiting for help without asking anyone if you are lost

In many countries, standing confused at a crossroads and looking helplessly at the world is enough to be offered assistance. This may happen on rare occasions in Switzerland, but if you need help or directions, it's best to just ask.

26. Lugging around all your luggage during a city stopover

Because Switzerland is so small and compact, it can happen more often than not that you'll pass by a place of interest while traveling from A to B. Let's say you're traveling from Zurich to Geneva and want to spend a few hours in Bern but you balk because you're traveling with two suitcases and three backpacks.

Fortunately, SBB stations are all well equipped with lockers and you can store your luggage for a small fee while you explore.

27. Speeding

My friends from nearby countries are regularly shocked how expensive speeding on the road in Switzerland can be. The range varies greatly and depending on whether you are driving in town, out of town or on the highway, you pay more or less - but the values vary between 40 CHF and 250 CHF. So think carefully about how much of a hurry you are in.

28. Buy chocolate before Easter or Christmas

Chocolate is sold in large quantities throughout Switzerland at any time of year. But never is the selection as varied as before Easter and Christmas. However, prices are strongly based on demand. So if you can wait, it's definitely worth postponing your bulk purchase until after the holidays.

Supermarkets already try to get rid of all kinds of chocolatey delicacies at half the price or less shortly after.

29. Thinking that German and Swiss German are the same thing

If you're wondering what on earth German is spoken in this country, let me enlighten you. Swiss German is not, strictly speaking, a language, but a collection of Alemannic dialects. How many exactly that is, not even the Linguistics Center Zurich dares to determine, because the boundaries between the individual dialects are very blurred. Sometimes 10 km is already enough for another dialect to be spoken.

It is clear that someone who speaks fluent High German can be quite frustrated on his first visit to Switzerland because he does not understand anything. Because although we German-speaking Swiss all understand High German and it is our official written language, it is only used in a subordinate way in everyday use

30. Leave garbage

I probably don't have to tell you this, but it's still a concern for me. Especially in nature, but also in cities, on the train or in public places, there is no reason to leave your trash lying around. In most cases, you don't even have to look hard to find a trash can

31. Going out without checking the weather forecast

You plan a trip, look out the window and think, "Great, the sun is shining!" Don't let that fool you. The weather in Switzerland is rarely consistent and if you want to be sure that you won't have any nasty surprises at your destination, take a quick look at the weather report beforehand.

The same is true the other way around. If it's raining or cloudy where you are, it's still possible that the weather will be much better not far away

32. Traveling on public transport without a season ticket or passport

Traveling by public transport in Switzerland is an expensive endeavor. A ticket from Zurich to Bern will cost you a whole 51 CHF without any discount. So, if you are planning several trips by train, it is worth looking at the various passports, subscriptions, saver tickets or other tourist offers.

33. Thinking that in Switzerland there is only cheese and chocolate to eat

Admittedly, Swiss chocolate and cheese is the talk of the world. Literally. And without wanting to seem arrogant, I have to say that we really have these two candidates down pat. Nonetheless, we don't spend all day eating chocolate and cheese. And neither should you. Unless you've made it your goal to try all 450+ cheeses during your stay

Otherwise, there are other Swiss specialties that are well worth trying. Be it a crispy Rösti with fried egg and sausage, a delicious Zürcher Geschnetzeltes with Spätzli, a healthy Birchermüesli or a spicy Capuns from the Grisons.

St. Gallen Bratwurst (Photo: MySwitzerland)St. Gallen Bratwurst (Photo: MySwitzerland)
Capuns (Photo: MySwitzerland)Capuns (Photo: MySwitzerland)

34. Paying with a currency other than Swiss francs

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and therefore does not use the Euro as a means of payment. Our currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF) and is accepted throughout the country.

Although you can theoretically pay with Euro in most places, I recommend you to use the Swiss Franc. The exchange rate to the Euro offered in supermarkets or ticket machines is often very unfavorable.

35. The first time on the slopes without a ski instructor

It looks so simple. Put on your boots, get in your skis and hit the slopes. But as a snowboarder who recently ventured onto skis for the first time in 20 years, I have to tell you that it definitely looks easier than it is.

The legs have a tendency to want to go in a completely different direction than the head, and if you've never been on the slopes in your life, I recommend you make use of a ski instructor for the first few lessons. After that you will know the most important tips and tricks and you can build on them on your own. The same applies, by the way, if you decide to go snowboarding

36. Sledding without helmet

Every year, around 10,000 accidents happen in Switzerland while sledding. It is not uncommon for concussions to occur, which, as is well known, can have dangerous consequences. The Swiss Council for Accident Prevention therefore recommends wearing a helmet when sledding

37. Swiss ask how much they earn

In certain cultures, money is a topic that is openly brought up and discussed. Everyone knows how much their friends earn and own. In Switzerland, however, the topic is rather taboo. There is a saying that goes, "You don't talk about money, you have it." You can think what you want about that, but if you want to start a casual conversation with a Swiss, just in case, don't begin by asking, "So, how much do you make?"

38. Ask the Swiss how they voted last weekend

Another question you're better off avoiding... In Switzerland, people usually vote four times a year. Be it on popular initiatives, changes in the law or the election of members of the government. Often there are heated debates, even among family and friends, about what to vote for. If you are not particularly close to someone, I would advise you not to ask them about their vote

39. Leaving Switzerland without having tried "Böötle

It has almost become a new popular sport in recent years: the "Böötle". The principle is simple. You wait for a beautiful, sunny summer day, grab an inflatable water vehicle such as a unicorn, a rubber boat, a flamingo or an air mattress, go into a river and let yourself drift down with the mass

The most famous place to do this is certainly the Aare River between Thun and Bern, but in the summer you'll find unicorn lazybones with beer in hand all over Switzerland. So if you want to "go with the flow", give it a try when you get the chance.

40. Forgetting to say hello while hiking

In Switzerland, it's common to say hello to each other while hiking. Or Bonjour, Grüezi, Buongiorno or Bun dì. Depending on what part of Switzerland you happen to be in. So if you're on one of the more than 60,000 km of hiking trails, you'll make your oncoming traffic happy if you say hello in a friendly way. Especially when things get a little tighter and you have to make room for each other. Simply staring at the ground and silently wandering by doesn't go down too well with the Swiss population.

These are our 40 things you shouldn't do in Switzerland. We hope we've been able to prepare you well for your trip and save you from one or two embarrassing traps.

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