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How to Do Business in Switzerland

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The People

Switzerland photoThe Swiss value cleanliness, honesty, hard work, and material possessions. Motto: “Unity, yes; Uniformity, no.” They are very proud of their environment and have a long tradition of freedom. They value sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality and a sense of responsibility. They are very proud of their neutrality and promotion of worldwide peace. The Swiss have a deep-rooted respect for saving and the material wealth it brings.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands with everyone present—men, women, and children—at business or social meetings. Shake hands again when leaving.
  • Handshakes are firm with eye contact.
  • Allow the hosts to introduce you at parties.
  • Use last names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Swiss hosts or colleagues to use their first names. Academic and professional titles are used frequently.
  • First names are reserved for very close friends and family.

Body Language

  • Poor posture is frowned upon. Do not stretch or slouch in public.
  • Do not point your index finger to your head. This is an insult.
  • Body language varies from region to region in Switzerland.

Corporate Culture

  • The Swiss take punctuality for business and social meetings very seriously and expect that you will do likewise. Call with an explanation if you will be delayed.
  • Business cards in English are acceptable. Hand your business card to the receptionist upon arrival for a meeting. Give a card to each person you meet subsequently.
  • Generally, English is spoken in business with foreigners. Inquire beforehand to determine if an interpreter is needed.
  • Business climate is very conservative. Meetings are generally impersonal, brisk, orderly, planned and task oriented.
  • The Swiss tend to get right down to business after a few minutes of general discussion.
  • Presentations and reports should be orderly, well-prepared, thorough and detailed.
  • The Swiss are fair bargainers but not hagglers. Discussions are detailed, cautious, and often pessimistic. Decisions are made methodically.
  • It is not acceptable to call a Swiss businessperson at home unless there is an emergency.

Dining and Entertainment

  • In the German parts of Switzerland, beckon a waiter by saying Herr Ober, and a waitress by saying Fräulein. It is considered rude to wave your hand.
  • Business luncheons are more common than business breakfasts.
  • Business entertainment is almost always done in a restaurant.
  • Spouses are generally included in business dinners.
  • The host proposes the first toast. Don’t drink until after the toast is proposed.
  • Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal—not in your lap. However, keep your elbows off the table.
  • Cut potatoes, soft foods and salads with a fork, not a knife.
  • Use eating utensils at all times, including to eat fruit.
  • Break bread with your hands if possible. Do not use a knife.
  • If salt and pepper are not on the table, don’t ask for them.
  • Don’t smoke at the dinner table. Wait, watch and ask permission before smoking.
  • Sample everything offered to you. Try to finish everything on your plate when dining in someone’s home. It is impolite to leave food on your plate.
  • When you are finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
  • Leave a party no later than midnight.
  • It is considered impolite to ask for a tour of your hosts’ home. If your hosts want to give a tour of their home, they will offer.


  • Appearance should always be clean and neat. The Swiss are known for conservative and neat attire.
  • Overly casual or sloppy attire is not appreciated.
  • For business meetings, men should wear suits and ties; women should wear suits or dresses.


  • Gifts are normally not exchanged at business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate at the successful conclusion of negotiations.
  • Be prepared to give a gift in case you are given one. A gift with your company logo is acceptable.
  • Give books, desk attire, whisky, cognac, good bourbon, or wine. Do not give anything sharp.
  • When invited to someone’s home, always bring a small gift for the hostess and a small gift for children.
  • Give candy (good quality), pralines, flowers (unwrap before presenting, odd number), pastries.
  • Do not bring large or expensive gifts. This is considered vulgar and makes receiver uncomfortable.
  • Don’t give red roses or carnations (these imply romance). White chrysanthemums and white asters are for funerals only.
  • It is polite to send flowers to the hostess before a large party or the next day with a thank you note.

Helpful Hints

  • Be punctual.
  • Show great respect for elderly.
  • Don’t litter (you will be scolded publicly).
  • Don’t chew gum or clean your fingernails in public.
  • Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets while talking with people.
  • Never put your feet on a desk, chair or table.

Especially for Women

  • More women are becoming more and more involved in business and public life in Switzerland, though the banking and finance industries continue to be dominated by men.
  • Foreign businesswomen will be treated fairly and professionally in Switzerland.
  • Many Swiss businessmen would be embarrassed if a foreign businesswoman invited them to dinner. Swiss men are very conservative and still expect to pay for a meal. If possible, a foreign businesswoman should invite a Swiss businessman to lunch rather than dinner.

Mary Bosrock
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
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