Relocating To Switzerland - Part I: Swiss Specifics


Swiss Specifics Blog


Six months later, in June , it was already so far and there I was, in Switzerland.The series "Relocating to Switzerland" focuses on important experiences and information that I had to research myself back in 2016 and this information should help future emigrants to gain a better orientation in the bureaucratic jungle.

Switzerland: one country, many cultures

Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. The cultures and traditions depend heavily on their respective languages, but also on the region, especially in the latter case, federalism is an essential reason for different developments of the respective regions. So, it is not uncommon, that even the Swiss do not understand each other with their different dialects.

According to statistical calculations from 2013, 15.4% of all foreigners in Switzerland are Italians, closely followed by Germans with 15.1%. The reason for this is obvious: Both are national languages and thus a less difficult step for immigrants from Italy and Germany to relocate.

Although Switzerland is a comparatively small country, the headquarters of many renowned companies are located in Switzerland.

In some sectors, up to 90% of all goods and services are exported. The best-known export products are probably watches, chocolates and cheese, but the chemical-pharmaceutical industry is of the utmost importance. Together with the electrical and engineering industries, they account for more than half of total exports.

Schweiz Sprachen E


Typically Swiss

As already mentioned, Switzerland consists of many small different cultures. A real "typical Switzerland" can hardly exist, is it? According to "Blick am Abend" (a Swiss commuter magazine) some typical Swiss things ...

  • Fierce swearing when a train is one minute delayed
  • Thinking Fondue is a well-balanced meal
  • Keeping composure in face of chocolate and snow
  • Not talking about money
  • Nobody is amazed about things being written in several languages
  • Thinking Zurich is a metropolis
  • Being easily able to have an overview of the complicated political system (Föderalismusprinzip, Konkordanzsystem, facultative Referenden…)
  • Being upset when „having to“ vote
  • Perceiving car drives of more than 30 minutes as a disgrace
  • Perceiving standard German as a foreign language

Another ranking was made by the readers of the commuter magazine "20 Minuten", which sums up the 40 most Swiss things. Now, before reading, take your time and think of what you think are the most "typical Swiss" things and then compare them with the list below. Here are the highlights:

  • 38. Loudly blowing one’s nose
  • 31. Fleece and outdoor jackets
  • 29. Being focused on money
  • 28. Having the highest rate of speed traps in the world
  • 27. Nagging, moaning, complaining
  • 25. Voting against six weeks of holiday
  • 21. Betty Bossi
  • 17. Greeting strangers
  • 16. Being insured against everything
  • 15. Three kisses for salutation
  • 14. Having four languages
  • 13. Banks
  • 08. Direct democracy
  • 07. Neutrality
  • 06. Matterhorn
  • 05. Being a Migros-or Coop-child
  • 04. Chocolate(Schoggi)
  • 01. Fondue


Have you found your “typical Swiss” stereotypes?


Employer in Switzerland: (Organizational) Culture

An important cultural researcher, who focusses on culture of specific countries, is Geert Hofstede. He distinguishes between six dimensions that determine a culture: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term orientation, and indulgence (Hofstede et al., 2010). Hofstede elaborated with a meta-study these six dimensions for each country (click here to find out more).

Hofstede english

If we explore the Swiss culture through the lens of the 6-D Model©, we can get a good overview of the deep drivers of Swiss culture relative to other world cultures. It is important to note that the French and German parts of Switzerland can have widely different scores, as can the Italian canton.


Power Distance

This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

At 34, Switzerland sits in the lower rankings. A society that believes that inequalities amongst people should be minimized. This means that the following characterizes the German Swiss style: Being independent, hierarchy for convenience only, equal rights, accessibility of superiors, existence of coaching leaders as well as a management that facilitates and empowers. Power is decentralized and managers count on the experience of their team members. Employees expect to be consulted. Control is disliked and attitude towards managers are informal and on first name basis. Communication is direct and participative.

On this dimension, there is a vast difference with the French speaking part of Switzerland, which scores higher (very similar to France), which means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat. Challenges to the leadership are not well-received.



The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

Both German and French speaking Switzerland score relatively high on this dimension, giving Switzerland a score of 68, and it is therefore considered an Individualist society. This means there is a high preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. In Individualist societies offence causes guilt and a loss of self-esteem, the employer/employee relationship is a contract based on mutual advantage, hiring and promotion decisions are supposed to be based on merit only, management is the management of individuals.



A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success– a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organizational life.

Switzerland scores 70 in this dimension, with both rankings for German speaking Switzerland and the French speaking of the country indicating a Masculine society – highly success oriented and driven, albeit that in the German speaking part the impact is much more noticeable. In Masculine countries, people “live in order to work”, managers are expected to be decisive, and the emphasis is on equity, competition and performance. Conflicts are resolved by fighting them out.


Uncertainty Avoidance

The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance.

Switzerland scores 58, perhaps reflecting the difference between the French and German parts. French speaking Switzerland has a strong preference for avoiding uncertainty while German speaking Switzerland scores lower. Countries exhibiting high Uncertainty Avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. In these cultures, there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work). Time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation. Decisions are taken after careful analysis of all available information.


Long Term Orientation

This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies, which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.

With a high score of 74, Swiss culture is definitely pragmatic. In societies with a pragmatic orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest. thriftiness and perseverance in achieving results.



One challenge that confronts humanity, now and in the past, is the degree to which small children are socialized. Without socialization we do not become “human”. This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained.

Switzerland scores high in this dimension, its score of 66 indicates that the culture is one of Indulgence. People in societies classified by a high score in Indulgence generally exhibit a willingness to realize their impulses and desires with regard to enjoying life and having fun. They possess a positive attitude and have a tendency towards optimism. In addition, they place a higher degree of importance on leisure time, act as they please and spend money as they wish.


Switzerland: Global player, multicultural with flat hierarchies and full enjoyment of life

To sum up, even though Switzerland is a small country, with its international companies and organizations, it is for sure a global player. Perhaps they are so multicultural, because the Swiss learn to be surrounded by different languages ​​and cultures at a very early age and can adapt to other cultures much faster. The Swiss are multicultural, multilingual and yet deeply rooted in their homeland.

For employees, Switzerland is not only interesting because of their salaries, but above all because of the flat hierarchies in which the supervisors trust their employees and demand their expertise.

The Swiss are hard-working and work 42.5 hours a week, which is rather exceptional but enjoy their free time to the fullest - true to the motto: Work hard play hard!


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