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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 98 Transcript

May 15, 2024

How to Respect Local Customs and Etiquette on Your Swiss Vacation

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Intro  

Are you dreaming of visiting Switzerland? Planning a trip to Switzerland is very exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. How do you choose which of the many scenic cities, towns and villages to visit? Which mountain top excursions should you take, and what’s the best way to get around Switzerland? And of course, how much of the country can you realistically see within your timeframe? If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, this is the podcast for you. This is the Holidays to Switzerland travel podcast, and in each episode, your host Carolyn Schönafinger chats with Swiss Travel experts to answer your most commonly asked questions, provide practical tips and take you on a virtual visit to the most popular destinations. And of course, some hidden gems to help you plan your dream trip to Switzerland. And you’ll hear plenty of conversations about Swiss cheese and chocolate too. Are you ready to plan your trip to Switzerland? Well, let’s get started.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Hello, and welcome to Episode 98. One of the great things about international travel is the opportunity to experience the cultural differences of the countries that we visit. Situations and actions that we consider to be the norm are often vastly different in another country. So, it’s important to be aware of some of the cultural differences to expect before you arrive in a foreign land. In today’s episode, my guest Kathrin Spindler, has plenty of helpful tips to share with us. Kathrin was born and raised in Switzerland, and has lived in New York and London. So, she’s the perfect person to ask about the most important things to know before you visit Switzerland. She has tips about greeting the locals, the correct etiquette when traveling on public transport, and some great advice about dining out in Switzerland, including the hot topic of tipping. I know you’re going to find Kathrin’s tips, very helpful. So, let me introduce her. Hello, Kathrin, thank you very much for coming on to the podcast.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Hi, Carolyn. Thanks for having me.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

My pleasure. Now, I’m really keen to hear all these great tips that you’ve got to share with us today. But before we get into those, would you like to introduce yourself to everyone?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, sure. So, I grew up in Switzerland for my first 23 years. I went to the University of Teacher Training there, the one in Bern. So I grew up very close to Bern in a little town, just like you imagine it with the cows and the meadows. It was definitely like that. And then aside from teaching, I was also really into dance. So I first moved to Geneva, and later to New York to pursue dance for a while. Okay, and then eventually I settled in London, which is where I am now. And so I have some experience going to different countries and also having to adapt to cultures, even just Bern and Geneva is quite different. Yes, sometimes, there was some culture shock, but I think that’s also very interesting and so now I’m living in London, but working for a Swiss company called Rigby doing Content Management. Also about Switzerland, about living in Switzerland and I also do writing and German Language Teaching.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Very good, quite a mixed bag and you’ve got that experience yourself, as you say of different cultures. So, I know you’re going to share with us today some cultural things that it’s really useful for visitors to know before they come to Switzerland. So, looking forward to that, and I’m sure after living in London for a while when you go back to Switzerland to visit family and friends, you really notice these cultural differences.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, definitely. And so my partner he’s also English and him coming to Switzerland has also been quite interesting. In that he’s noticed certain things that maybe I never paid attention to. Yeah, I’m sure.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, so I know. And I’m sure you would agree that when visiting another country, it’s quite important to respect the local customs. And as a tourist, you want to try and blend in with the locals as much as possible. You don’t want to, if you can help it make any faux pas that really point you out as a tourist. It can be quite as obvious as when you’re walking around looking at a map and people that oh, there goes a tourist. So if you want to blend in, there are a few things that are important to know and because traveling by train is such a big part of visiting Switzerland. Perhaps you could start by telling us what you think the Swiss would like tourists to know before they start using the public transport system. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes of course. I think that’s very important especially because in some other countries public transport isn’t so big, as in Switzerland. So some people might not have that experience, so it’s all starts really before you even get on the train or bus, because in most places you should get your ticket before boarding. So I remember going to New York and there you can buy the ticket actually inside the train, and that was very strange to me because in Switzerland, very often, or most of the time, you can’t do that. So the easiest way, if you maybe don’t have internet on your phone in Switzerland, or anything, is just to go to a ticket machine at the station, and you can switch it to English. So, you shouldn’t have any problem using the ticket machine. And I think nowadays, you can also download apps though, to buy a ticket if you prefer. So there’s obviously the SBB, Swiss trains Mobile one, and there’s also one called Fare Tick, where it then you press start and stop, and then gives you the cheapest fare. So multiple ways of doing it. But definitely plan ahead and just get a ticket before you board the train.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yep, and a lot of visitors to Switzerland also buy a Swiss Travel Pass, which is a ticket that covers all the public transport within the country. So that’s another way that they can avoid having to queue up when they get there to buy tickets, buy that Swiss travel pass in advance if that’s the way they’re going to travel around.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, that’s a good way then to just avoid the whole. So if you already have a pass, that’s probably easiest. Yes, that’s right. And then so next you get on the train, and most Swiss trains shouldn’t be that full. But if you’re going at rush hour or on a very popular line, like Bern to Zurich is usually quite crowded. And in Switzerland, it’s very polite to ask whether a seat is taken. So, you don’t just plunk yourself next to someone, but you first just maybe look at them and say is this seat free? Or if you want to go for the local languages in Germany you might say, ist dieser platz frei? And in French, you might say c’est libre. So just, it’s just a very polite thing to do.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, that’s great to know.

Kathrin Spinnler  

And then if you want to know more about the train etiquette, there’s usually on the train. There is sort of a plaque with some guidelines and there should be pictures and descriptions and maybe most often, they are also in English, so you can read them. Many of them are obvious ones, like don’t disrespect the train staff. And don’t play loud music on your phone when there are other passengers around. Particularly interesting one is the one about feet on seats. If the conductor comes by and you have your shoes up on the opposite seat while sitting on the train, you will get told off. But if the seat is free, you can put your feet up only in your socks. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

So you have to take your shoes off or put down a newspaper and then you can put your feet up, but just don’t put shoes on seats ever, they really don’t like that. And yeah don’t take up too much room and crowded carriages that one is also probably the same in every country. What’s also interesting about eating and drinking, all the intercity trains you’re allowed to eat or drink because the trip might take an hour or longer. They even have little bins usually in the compartment, you can throw away your rubbish, and there’s also often a restaurant. So the other day I was traveling on a train in Switzerland, and we went to this restaurant carriage and it’s really like a proper restaurant sit down with a nice lamp on your table. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

And then you can have nice food, you can even have alcohol. So, unlike in some other countries, alcohol is allowed on the train. Just again, be respectful, don’t disturb any other passengers. And then maybe a final thing is about littering. So, if you leave empty wrappers or bottles on your seat, that is actually considered littering. Do use a little compartment that there is where you can throw away it’s like a little bin, you can throw away your rubbish. If that is full, just take it with you to the next station and there should be big recycling bins at every larger station so you can leave your rubbish there.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, great. I notice how you mentioned there about the signs or the plaques inside the carriages, which gives you some indication of some of the rules. I know, on some of the trains there are actually designated quiet carriages. And they’re sort of usually shown with a finger up in front of the lips to indicate that is a quiet carriage. So what does that sort of mean? Is that like no talking whatsoever?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Those are mainly I would think for people who are trying to work on the train, you might see lots of people with their laptops trying to do some work. Maybe they’re on their way to the office or something because for example, a lot of people live in Bern because it’s cheaper, but they actually work in Zurich. So they have basically like 55 minutes on the train each way. So they’re going to try and use that time. If you’re talking very quietly that might be okay, depending on how busy it is. Probably if you have other people in your compartment, trying to work on their computer. It’s probably makes sense just to not speak, but you can talk very quietly, just no shouting. Again, no playing loud music on your phone, use your headphones, all those things. If you have children, maybe it’s not a good idea to sit in that carriage. But in many trains, there’s actually a specific

Kathrin Spinnler  

children’s carriage, where you have a playground on the train. So you’ve got slides and little fun games, and the tables have games on them. And so that could be a fun way to travel with kids. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah. Keep them entertained, and mum and dad can look at the beautiful scenery going past. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

That’s right, yeah. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

What about packing? Well, my planning and getting ready to depart for our trip to Switzerland. What are the most important things to know about what to bring? 

Kathrin Spinnler  

So, in Switzerland, you can find everything. Basically, there are big shops. So don’t worry too much about packing. If you forget something like a toothbrush or anything like that, it should be very easy to get it to access it in Switzerland. Important maybe to check the average weather beforehand, depending on when you’re going and pack accordingly, because in the winter, you do get quite a bit of snow, especially in the higher regions. And so make sure to bring appropriate clothing. But don’t worry too much. If you’ll be traveling around to different locations, it’s better to bring less because it can be a real hassle to bring two or three big suitcases onto each train and lug it around. So, probably less is more. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, definitely. I have to agree with that. Now, food is obviously an essential part of any vacation and at mealtime that’s often when visitors mostly interact with the locals. So what are the key etiquette rules that we should know about when dining out it’s cafes and restaurants?

Kathrin Spinnler  

I mean, the big one is always tipping, isn’t it that’s very culturally dependent. So, in Switzerland, waiting staff get quite good wages, so they get a nice living wage. And so tipping isn’t absolutely necessary, nobody will be offended or put out if you don’t tip, especially if it may be just having a drink or not having a big meal. But you can tip and it is always appreciated, people like it. So 10% is usually a good amount. It’s definitely enough, nobody will be offended if you just tip 10%. What I wouldn’t do is tip a very small amount. So don’t just leave like a 10 P or a 50 cent piece. You usually a Franc is a nice amount, unless one exception would be if you’re paying in cash and just rounding up. So if something costs like 4.80, and you just give five, that would be okay. Because it’s just about the rounding, it’s not that you’re giving a small tip on purpose. Sure. Is that your experience as well? 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, I would say agree that yes, it’s definitely not expected but it is appreciated. If you round it up on those small items, or at a meal a decent meal at a restaurant if you add 10%. That’s very much appreciated, but not expected.

Kathrin Spinnler  

That’s right. Yeah, exactly. Another thing maybe is, especially if you’re coming from America, or another country where people don’t charge for tap water. That could be a bit of a culture shock, if suddenly, you’d order some still water and then you pay like five or more Francs for it. So, many venues actually charge for still water. So they might bring you a bottle. Also, if you like to have ice in your drinks, you have to mention that more than another country. So it’s really to get it but it’s less common. So if this is something that’s important to you to say please with ice. And also most venues don’t offer free refills. So don’t just go up to, for example, in some restaurants, you have the drinks on top but don’t go up and take more. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Last first double check with the waitstaff if you’re not sure. And sometimes people also wonder about is it acceptable to drink from your own water bottle when you’re at a cafe or a restaurant? And so typically the answer if you want to be on the safe side, it would be no. Most cafes and restaurants obviously, they live off selling you things. Some even have a notice at the door that you have to order food and drink and you’re not allowed to just sit there and have your own things. But there might be some exceptions, like places in the mountains, remote places. Sometimes they don’t even have staff. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

So about a year ago, I was hiking in Switzerland and I came to so it’s almost like a mountain kind of restaurant, but they didn’t have any staff. Nobody was there and all the drinks were just submerged in a fountain. And you could just reach into this cold fountain water and pick out your cool drink. So it acted like a refrigerator, so very unique. But they’re obviously it’s optional they had a little piggy bank. So if you took something out, you just put some money in the piggy bank. But you could also just sit there and have your own drink if you already brought something. So definitely if you’re going out somewhere for a longer walk or a hike, definitely bring your own water because you never know what kind of venue you’re going to encounter. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, sure and in my experience, too. If you’re going for a hike and particularly to one of say, the popular mountains that a lot of tourists visit. Often what we do is we’ll hike and then we’ll stop at one of the restaurants for lunch or have a nice lunch. And because we’re buying a meal and probably a coffee or something, they’re quite happy for us to just drink from our own water bottle because we’re already purchasing something quite substantial from them.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes, and if you’re already buying a coffee that I’m sure it’s okay to drink your own water, but in sort of sit down restaurants, not in the mountains, probably it wouldn’t be okay. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

That’s right. Yeah.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Well just read the place you’re going to. It just depends a lot on where you’re at and how touristy it is, and all that.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, for sure. Now, you mentioned coffee there. So can you tell us about coffee in Switzerland?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes, a coffee. That’s an interesting one because, again, my partner was very surprised when every single meal that he has with my family. Always at the end of the meal, you don’t finish your food and get up, you sit, and then everyone gets served a coffee. And then you sit for another like 20 minutes and everybody has a coffee and chit chats. And that’s a very big thing. And a lot of Swiss families, I think this sort of coffee after meal. And in the German speaking part of Switzerland, it tends to be with more milk. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

So they like a lot of milk in their coffee often, whereas the French speakers often drink it black. So if you like it, like probably the best way to go is to order an espresso that is strong black coffee, and it’s preferred to Chino in some of the French speaking areas. And a common coffee in the German speaking areas is Casa de Creme, and that’s coffee with either foamed milk or cream. There are also some other options if you prefer something else, like you can have a cup of Chino, which is an espresso with foamed milk, and it’s often served in a white cup. So you know even more milk and a lot of macchiato. So that’s got even more warm milk than a cappuccino and it’s typically served in a tall, transparent glass. Those are your basic options. But yeah, French speaking black coffee and then German speaking with more milk.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, I know in Italy, that it’s not the done thing to order a cappuccino after 11 In the morning, it’s typically a morning drink. Is that the case in Switzerland? Or if you want to order a cappuccino in the afternoon, they’re going to look at you like you’re a bit strange, or is that quite acceptable?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Not in my experience, I think, especially as I said in the German speaking part, everybody loves their coffee with milk. So I wouldn’t say necessarily, but I can’t speak for the French speaking areas. Maybe there it’s more of a thing. But I would say in German speaking areas, just order what you like best and people won’t really mind.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, excellent. So what about when we’re out and about sightseeing and shopping or even going for a hike? How should we greet the Swiss locals? 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Oh, yes greeting is another very important thing, this is drilled into me from about age two, because I lived in a semi rural area, outside of Bern. And so if you live in a town, or if you visit a town, greeting people on the street is really important. And especially the older generation, they really value it, make eye contact and just say hello, whatever the local greeting is, so maybe Bonjour in the French area and Grüezi in the German speaking part. So if you’re in rural areas, or if you’re hiking somewhere, just look at, sort of glance at the person, if they do make eye contact, nod your head and say something like that. Also, same thing goes in shops, just greet the cashier, look at them and they always have name tags. So you might even be able to greet them by name, if you want to be sort of extra polite.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

So tell us about tags, because I know it’s a little different. It’s a bit more formal than it is or certainly what I’m used to in Australia.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah. So typically, in Switzerland, all the adults that don’t know each other, address each other by their last name. So you have to say Mr. and Miss or Mrs. So Herr or Frau, and then the last name. So on the cashiers badge, it might say M Miller, and Miller would be the person’s last name. And so you have to say hello, Mr. Millar instead of Hello, Marcus or something. And that’s different to for example, here in England, where all the cashiers and everybody has first name badges. So yeah, unless someone says that you can call them by their first name, just stay very polite, say Mr. And Mrs. and their last name. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, that’s a very useful tip to know.

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, it’s very different, isn’t it? The culture is still quite a bit more formal, although the younger generations don’t always stick to it. But yeah, some people really still put a lot of value on this formality and this, you call it Seetzen which means calling people by their last name and using the polite pronouns and all that.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay and certainly as a tourist, if you’re following that, whatever protocol, I guess it’s certainly very respectful and will be much appreciated by the person that you’re speaking to.

Kathrin Spinnler  

I think so I think it’ll make a difference because it might be considered a bit rude if you just go up to someone and use their first name, even though you don’t know them at all, that could be considered a bit unfriendly. Yeah.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

So what about when you’re actually introduced to a person? What’s the way to respond there?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah. So a handshake is typically what you do when you first meet someone. And handshake, again, is a very big thing in the culture. So when I was in school and up until COVID really, every day at school, each child would shake the teacher’s hand and look in their eyes. And then again in the afternoon when leaving, they would again shake their teacher’s hand. So you’d have this long queue of children just shaking their teachers hand. And so handshakes are definitely every time you meet someone or you say goodbye. That’s a good way to go. You can also do air kisses in my area. So in Bern, it would be typically three on the cheek. Some other areas that might be two? Either of those are fine, but yeah, just start with a handshake is probably best.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay and I think probably the air kisses is more when you’re a bit more familiar with someone when perhaps you’ve met them a few times, rather than just meeting them once or twice?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, definitely not the first time, but it depends on the relationship and how well you get on with them. But yes, friends might do the air kisses. Sure.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah. Okay, and what else should we know about greeting people?

Kathrin Spinnler  

If you’re making a toast, it’s the same as in other countries, you toast with alcohol. And you can say prost for German and votre santé for French. And again, as with all these things, make eye contact when posting. So that’s very important. It doesn’t count if you don’t look the person in the eye. No, and you will get told off potentially. So I have been by family members as a younger girl. I was oh, no, you didn’t look me in the eye, we have to go again. So that’s definitely that’s the thing. You toast, you look the person in the eye, and then you have to not set your glass down. But take a sip, then it’s finished. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

So that’s the whole routine with that?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, so the eye contact thing, I think is a much bigger thing in Swiss culture than maybe in some other cultures. Yeah, it’s just considered polite looking directly at someone. And when you’re eating, it’s similar. You have to wish people a good appetite. So you might say in German, En Guete or Bon appetit in French. And then you can all start to eat, so everybody has to say, has to wish each other a good meal. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, excellent. Now what if you made an appointment or something and your let’s say you’ve told a hotel, or an Airbnb owner, that you’re going to be there at 3pm. But something happens and you get held up and you’re running late. What’s the most courteous way to let them know?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, you have to let them know. In other cultures, maybe if you’re 20 minutes or so late, it’s okay. Nobody minds, but in Switzerland, that would be considered a bit unfriendly. So try to text or call the person, just make sure they get the message that you’re going to be late. And whenever possible, make every effort to be on time, I think most listeners might already know that. The Swiss are known for their watches and punctuality and all that, though yeah. Try to be on time. If you can’t be on time, just alert the person. So they’re not waiting in vain, because they will probably be on time being Swiss, so that they know what’s going on, and they can make arrangements for it. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

And then once you’re there, once you’ve met the person, maybe we can just discuss a few good conversation topics. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yes. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

What are you talking about with a Swiss person? Lots of things really, so travel is always a very good one, because the average Swiss person will travel a lot. They might travel around Switzerland or go to other countries. So they’ll have a lot to contribute to a conversation about travel and you can exchange stories all that. Also leisure activities and sports are always good, safe topics, lots of outdoor leisure activities in Switzerland, of course. Most people will have experience hiking and cycling and doing those things. And obviously, food is always an interesting one and other interesting cultural differences. So, you can talk about anything related to the different foods you eat, or you know, the way things are done. They’ll probably be interested in that. It depends really on who you’re talking to, and what the purpose of the conversation is. Sometimes work is okay to talk about, sometimes current events, just see who you’re talking about. See how the conversation is going? How aligned your views are, maybe and then depending you can use these topics as well. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, and would you say in general that most of the Swiss would speak English? 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes, definitely. So the school system isn’t unified. So not everybody will speak the same level of English. The people in the Zurich area, and the surrounding cities will probably have better English. They’ll at least have a B1 level, I’ve some students from there and by the time they’re in 15, 16, they’ll have a B1 level. So there’ll be very confident speakers already because they started, I think third grade, whereas the ones closer to the French speaking site, they prioritize French, because they’re like neighbors, with the French speakers. And so they will only start learning it in like in fifth grade. And so they might be slightly less confident. But yeah, most definitely people sort of under 40, under 50, will for sure, speak English. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Excellent. Many of our listeners are going to spend time outdoors when they’re in Switzerland, and they might just, even if it might just be a gentle stroll or a longer hike or perhaps swimming in a lake. So aside from leaving the environment exactly as we found it, which is very important, are there any other guidelines that we should follow?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes, there probably are a few things that are important, this might be the same in some other countries but you have to be very careful about picking flowers, when you’re on a hike. A lot of sunflowers, mushrooms, plants are actually protected species and if you pick them, you could get a fine. Of course, the most popular one is the edelweiss, everybody knows the edelweiss pretty flower in the mountains and do not pick it because, you know, it’s quite rare. But there are loads of others. So there’s a government website where you can find a list with all the Latin names and everything and all the plants you’re not supposed to pick. And if you want to just prevent problems just don’t pick it, look at it, take a photo of it, all of that. But yeah, don’t take away the flowers from their environment and it’s the same with animals as well. So on that list, you’ll also find loads of protected animals. So many types of dragonflies are protected for example, and some insects, I think almost all of the amphibians, if you encounter one, which you probably will, best to just leave it alone. Have a look at it, take a photo of it but don’t take it with you or even touch it if you can help it.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

 Okay, and what about livestock? Because often I know when I’m out on a hike though the hiking trail might even go through a farmer’s meadow. And there might be cows grazing, what’s the rules around touching the animals there? 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes, that’s right. So you’ll probably if you go up high enough, in the mountains, you’ll see the cows, grazing, sometimes goats, sometimes other animals. But yeah, if they’re on the trails, if they’re near the trails, they’re probably safe to walk past. So don’t worry too much. Don’t get too scared, as long as you don’t get too close. So I wouldn’t advise trying to stroke the cows on the trail  because they are very large animals, and a lot of them still have horns, don’t lean in close to their heads and try to take a selfie because that might be unsafe. If they twist their heads, you might get head butted or something. So they are wild animals, they’re not domesticated to the point that they’re meant to be stroked, or in but you can walk past safely, they won’t try to attack you, just snap a picture from a distance. And yeah, don’t shout at them or anything, don’t provoke them. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

And the same goes for farmer’s fields, a lot of the fields might just have grass on them. But that doesn’t mean they’re meant for you to just walk through because the grass is probably going to be used to feed animals and so you shouldn’t stomp it down. Or even stop and have a picnic in the middle of a meadow. Fields are meant for crops and livestock and not for walking. So stick to the paths. If there are any paths, if there are no paths, stick to walking around the edges of the field. So, most Swiss fields aren’t massive, they’re quite small. So you should find the end of the field or where it borders the next field and then just walk through that bit of it. In terms of having a picnic, most hiking trails will have benches or designated picnic areas. And if not, again stopping at the edge of a field is okay, but don’t like put yourself in the middle of it. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

And what about swimming in the rivers? Is it safe to swim in the rivers?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Oh, it’s a lovely thing to do. Yes, lots of the cities have a river running through it like Bern and Basel. And you can actually swim in the river in the middle of the town. So that’s quite special thing to do in Switzerland. So in Bern, it’s the river called the Aare and you can float down it and up ahead, you can look at the government building. And it’s really very special, very lovely thing to do in the summer. But only do it if you’re a relatively good swimmer. Because the rivers do have currents and getting in and getting out can be a bit tricky because if the current is quite fast, you could get hurt on the rocks if you don’t dive out quick enough. But if you can swim quite well, you don’t have to be a pro. If you can swim reasonably well. It’s a lovely thing to do. I’m not an amazing swimmer. But I regularly go in the Aare in Bern. And yeah, it’s super fun. So do give it a try. If you’re good swimmer. Often you can also swim in the lakes and that could be a bit more of a gentle experience because they don’t really have currents.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, that sounds like a good option. How cold is the water in the River Aare even in the summer? I bet it’s still pretty chilly.

Kathrin Spinnler  

It can get over 20 degrees some days. Yeah, so actually, I think the warmest is probably just a little bit over 20. But that might not happen very often. So, standard might be 18. So it’s quite cold but it’s lovely. And I remember sort of one of the last days of summer last year, when I was visiting. The river was quite warm, and the air was about 35 degrees. And there were about really thousands of people there and everybody walking down, up and floating down. And so it gets very popular. So a lot of people who like it more quiet. They go early in the mornings before the crowd arrives, or during the day when everybody’s at work. But yeah, no, definitely bit cold but wonderful thing to do.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, what about if we’re setting off for a hike? What should we know about the hiking trails? Are there different signs indicating different levels of hiking trail?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes. So hiking trails are amazing in Switzerland because there’s like over 60,000 kilometers of hiking trails, you can basically hike full time for 10 years or something like that, and still not hit the same path. But there are three types, really, the standard yellow signs, there most of the time you’re just gonna see those. And they’re basically just yellow. And they are pedestrian routes, so they should be safe for most people, but you might still want to wear good shoes. Yeah, just normal shoes, no equipment, that’s fine. And then you get red and white trails. So like striped, red, and white. Those are proper hiking trails. And they’re only really suitable if you’re in good shape, and you’re ready to also climb a little bit. Again, don’t need any equipment, but you need definitely very sturdy shoes, maybe take some food and drink, because they could be longer as well, and not go through towns or anything. And then the blue and white trails are where it gets really technical. So these require special equipment. So if you don’t know the area, or if you’re not a regular climber, don’t do them on your own, probably only with a guide, or if you’re a professional climber, someone who does it.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, better to be safe than sorry. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, exactly.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

So is there anything else that you think the Swiss would like visitors to know, before they come to Switzerland? 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yeah, maybe just two things. So first, it might be nice if you just learn a little bit of French or German depending on which region you go to. As mentioned, everybody is probably going to speak English but just so that you can greet them in their own language and maybe ask for a drink or some food. It’s just about the effort and people really appreciate it. And they’ll probably approach you in a sort of more positive way if you just made a little bit of an effort there. But you don’t have to be really proficient in either of these languages, because everybody will speak good English.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

That’s right. And in my experience, even if I say something to a person in their local language, they always, nearly always reply to me in English anyway. So don’t be worried that because you greet them in German, for instance, that they’re going to then speak back to you in German. It’s a fair chance they will speak back to you in English anyway.

Kathrin Spinnler  

That’s right. But it’s nice. They’ll probably just appreciate you making a little effort there. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Yeah, definitely. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

And another thing maybe to touch on is queuing, this is a very interesting thing because the Swiss they’re known for being precise, being on time and everything. But when it comes to queuing, there’s just usually a really big mess. Unlike English people, maybe people from the UK are often very much into queueing, but the Swiss aren’t as much. And so you might be surprised if you’re waiting for the bus or something that people kind of bump into you. Or if you’re even just walking down the street, people get in your space a little bit. And I suppose part of it is that Switzerland is quite densely populated, because most people can’t really live in the Alps in the mountains. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

So everybody sort of gathers in the Central Plateau. So that area is quite densely populated and people are used to just being a little bit in each other space. So if that happens, if someone sort of maybe jostles you just smile at them make eye contact and maybe excuse yourself, say Entschuldigung or Pardon. And usually you’ll get a really good reaction. So people might find that you are sometimes if you’re waiting for something even start some chitchat. So don’t be surprised if that happens and just be very friendly and they will be friendly back most likely. And then of course, most of all, just enjoy your trip. Have a great time. Switzerland has loads to offer and so I’m sure you’ll find something that you really enjoy.

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Fantastic. Thanks very much Kathrin for sharing all those useful tips with us. I’m sure that anyone listening who’s planning a visit to Switzerland will find them very handy. Now, you also host a podcast about Switzerland, although technically it’s about living in Switzerland, but if anyone’s interested in listening to that, where can they find you and what’s the name of the podcast?

Kathrin Spinnler  

Yes. So the podcast is called Living in Switzerland. So it’s quite easy to remember and it’s for anyone who’s considering maybe even if it’s just studying for three or six months, or actually moving there for a job. And we’ve got lots of different guests talking about things like socializing in Switzerland, the education system, just all kinds of things. And you can find it on any podcast platform. It’s called as I said, Living in Switzerland, or on the website, which is rigby.ch. And if you have any direct questions, also, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn. That’s probably the best way to reach me if you have any follow up questions after today. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

Okay, excellent. Well, I’ll include links to all those details in the show notes for this episode. Thank you again. It’s been wonderful speaking to you. 

Kathrin Spinnler  

Thank you. 

Carolyn Schönafinger  

I hope you found all Kathrin’s tips helpful. Being aware of the cultural differences in Switzerland, and embracing them is really important. Just by making a few minor changes to the way we do things at home is an easy way to show the locals that you respect them and their customs, and they will really appreciate it. If you’d like to hear more from Kathrin you’ll find links to her podcast Living in Switzerland, and where to connect with her in the show notes for this episode. And for more helpful Swiss travel tips head on over to our website holidaystoswitzerland.com. We are always adding new trip planning articles to the website, so make sure you take a look. Thanks for joining me today. Next time we’re hopping aboard a unique but lesser-known panoramic train, the Gotthard Panorama Express. Until then, tschüss.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.