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Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

In some countries, neighbours don’t need an instruction manual on how to treat each other in a courteous and respectful way. But the Swiss have their own — written and unwritten — etiquette.

Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland
Never on Sunday: don't even think of mowinf your lawn. Skitterphoto on Pexels

Although this can be difficult to discern for foreigners, Swiss seem to know these rules by heart — perhaps because they created them. 

Though for people from another country, these ‘dos and don’ts’ may seem odd at first, practicing them is a sign of cultural integration — and it does make communal life a lot more pleasant. 

Here’s how to make it work. 

A drink is just a drink  

Being social and yet keeping your distance (that is, respecting your neighbour’s privacy) is a delicate balancing act,  but this is a skill you must learn if you are going to live in an apartment building. 

When you first move in, it is customary to invite your neighbours for a drink so you can introduce yourself. This is usually a polite gathering, but if you think it will lead to close friendships, you are wrong.  

There may, of course, be exceptions, but in most cases you will probably not (or rarely) see your neighbours in social situations.

The Local is thinking about writing a long-firm article entitled “How to make Swiss friends in 250 easy steps”, although we’re not sure if we can narrow it down to such a short list.  

Socially accepted greetings

The Swiss are sticklers for proper greeting etiquette. If you see a neighbour and don’t greet them, you may become the building’s outcast. 

However, don’t call them by their first name, unless instructed (by them) to do so.

The proper way to address a person is to say grüezi, bonjour, or buongiorno, followed by Frau/Herr, Madame/ Monsieur, or Signora/Signore, and then the last name.  

‘Hey, you’ or ‘Whazzup?’ is not going to cut it in Switzerland.

When planning a party, leave a note

If you are going to have a company and make noise, post a note in the building, informing your neighbours of the date and time of the event, and apologising in advance for any disturbance.

Or, you can tell them directly if you happen to see them out and about — but only after the obligatory grüezi, bonjour, or buongiorno are exchanged (see above).

Be quiet

All apartment buildings in Switzerland have a noise ordinance in place, which bans loud noises after 10pm. You might have heard that you are not even allowed to flush your toilet after this time, but in most buildings this is not the case, unless your toilet sounds like a jackhammer.

However, loud music, TV, and other noises are strictly verboten.

Sacred Sundays

In Switzerland, Sundays are considered rest days so your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by a sound of a lawn mower, hedge cutter, or nail being hammered into a wall.

Be a sensitive laundry user

Most Swiss apartment buildings have a communal washer and dryer, and each tenant has his attributed day and time to do the laundry.

There are two rules to remember here: One, don’t hog the machines on a day that’s not yours, unless you agree with a neighbour to switch schedules.

Two, always clean up the machines and the area around them after use.

Don’t do  a half-hearted job: remove the lint and other debris from the dryer, wipe the inside of the machines, and sweep the floor if necessary.

Trash talk 

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Dumping your garbage bags haphazardly in front of the building rather than at the official drop-off spot, or putting out your trash for collection on the wrong day of the week, will not only annoy your neighbours, but municipal authorities as well.

Likewise, not segregating your waste — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — will not win you any ‘good neighbour’ awards either. 

Your garden gnomes are rude

With modern garden gnomes invented in neighbouring Germany, it’s no surprise to see them all across gardens in Switzerland – and particularly in the German-speaking part. 

However, if your garden gnome is of the rude variety – for instance one with the audacity to bear its buttocks – then you might be annoying your neighbours without realising it. 

Some Swiss, particularly in rural areas, can be a little prudish when it comes to nudity, like this Aargau couple, who sued to get their neighbour’s gnome to put some pants on

They decided to sue in late 2021 because she refuses to move her butt-naked garden gnome, which is facing directly the pensioners’ kitchen window.

“When I look north, I see an ass”, the indignant husband testified in a district court.

They argue the neighbour deliberately placed the offensive gnome in the couple’s field of vision, an accusation that the gnome owner vehemently denies.  

As the plaintiffs consider the incident to be “an attack on their honour”, they request that the gnome owner be fined of 1,050 francs.

Let’s hope this last tip rings a bell…

If you are a foreigner, you may not know that cows and churches are ubiquitous in every part of Switzerland. Both have very loud bells that chime incessantly.

They are, however, integral parts of the Swiss culture and people love them. They will not take your complaints about the noise kindly.

So if you are a light sleeper, don’t rent in a building located near a church or a meadow.

And you should also avoid farmhouses with roosters, unless you live for early mornings. 

Member comments

  1. Not just cows.
    We have sheep with bells in the fields nearby and they are pretty loud as well. (But we love them).

  2. Here in Lenzerheide I am so glad that I can read the news on the Local App. It often makes me chuckle. I am desperately trying to learn German or even the mythical language Swiss German in the hope I can converse with my neighbours. Any tips would be gratefully received. Ps is playing the flute on a Sunday allowed?

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OFFBEAT

Residents of Swiss village successfully sue after river ‘flows too loudly’

A court has ruled in the favour of residents of a small Swiss village who sued local authorities after a river flowed too loudly.

Residents of Swiss village successfully sue after river 'flows too loudly'

We can’t say with certainty that this only happens in Switzerland, but we suspect this is so.

Residents of a district of Saint Légier in the canton of Vaud complained that a stream in their neighbourhood flows too loudly, demanding that local authorities install soundproofing.

The river, which is primarily used by farmers for irrigation, was partially re-routed in 2020. 

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

Authorities denied the request, saying that “the noise emitted by the stream… does not constitute an inadmissible attack on the tranquility of local residents”.

The complainants then took their cause to the district court, demanding that acoustic assessments be made to measure the stream’s noise level, countering the argument that their tranquility is not disturbed. 

Their arguments were heard loud and clear, with the court finding in their favour. 

The court said officials should either bury the stream, make it narrower, or install a noise barrier.

All this may sound bizarre, except that this is hardly the first time a group of residents creates ruckus about ambient noise.

Other instances include people complaining about loud church bells, public clocks chiming every 15 minutes, and cow bells.

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