For members


Seven strange Swiss superstitions foreigners should know about

Just when you thought you have mastered all the ins and outs about life Switzerland, there are more wacky things you need to know about to be truly integrated into local culture.

Seven strange Swiss superstitions foreigners should know about
Superstitions about witchcraft abound.Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Overall, the Swiss are very pragmatic and rational but, like people everywhere, they sometimes believe in truly weird things — and not just on Halloween.

Some beliefs and superstitions are the same as in other countries and have taken hold in all of Switzerland’s linguistic regions— for instance, fear of number 13 or of black cats crossing the road in front of you — while others are derived from local customs.

Here are some of them.

Step on (in) it

Not surprisingly, one of the superstitions that has taken root pretty much everywhere in Switzerland has to do with cows.

More specifically, many people believe that if you accidentally step into cow’s dung (not that anyone would actually do it on purpose), you will come into money.

That’s a good thing, because you will need it to buy a new pair of shoes.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The devil lives in the Alps

At the border of cantons Vaud and Valais, stands the glacier of Les Diablerets, which in French means the abodes of devils. Many people believe it is so named after the evil spirits who roamed — and possibly still roam — there.

However, the Swiss have adopted a…”devil-may-care” attitude about this legend; after all, Les Diablerets is one of the most popular ski domains in both cantons, so to hell with the superstitions.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Casting a spell

Witches have a prominent role in superstitions, particularly in the Swiss-German part, where they are called “hexen.”

If you want to know if someone is a witch, you have to lick them on the forehead. If it tastes salty, indicating that the person is indeed a witch or a sorcerer, you must rush into a church and collect dust from three angles. Then pick up three different types of wood and light it to “smoke” the witch.

More witches…and cows

Sorcerers, it is believed, can put their spells on all creatures big and small, including cattle.

If that happens to a bull of yours,  draw a cross on the inside and outside of the barn, light a fire, and throw in flowers from the churchyard to ward off the spell.

And if you accidentally step into dung on your way out of the barn, all the better!

The “13”  controversy

When it comes to number 13, three opposing views prevail in Switzerland.

One maintains that it is unlucky and to be avoided at all costs. Among them are SWISS airline, which doesn’t have row 13 on any of its aircraft, and another is University Hospital in Zurich, which doesn’t have room number 13.

In the opposing camp is the casino in St. Moritz, where 13 is celebrated as a lucky number. On the 13th of each month, visitors have the opportunity to take part in a raffle at 12:13 a.m. and possibly receive a main prize.

Then there is a third group in Switzerland — those who don’t care one bit about number 13. In fact, rumour has it they want to launch a referendum to eradicate number 13 once and for all.

Plant a tree

Of course, not all superstitions relate to bad luck.

One of the good ones relates to a wedding tradition.

Some newlyweds in Switzerland plant a tree outside their home to bless their union, and bring good luck and fertility to the marriage.

Photo by Trần Long from Pexels

Lucky charms

In some parts of the country, a pig is seen as a symbol of good luck, particularly at New Year, when people offer their friends and loved ones marzipan pigs as New Year gifts.

This belief dates to the Middle Ages, when owning a lot of pigs was a sign of wealth and prosperity.

There is no research to indicate whether this method is more effective than stepping in cow dung.

It may just be a matter of luck.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers, showing their fireballs on warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. In Switzerland, some towns want to make the event even more special by turning off their lights.

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

Every year, skywatchers get ready for the Perseid meteor shower, which in 2022 is going to peak in the early hours of Saturday, just before dawn. At its peak, it will be possible to see about 200 shooting starts per hour if the conditions are optimal.

The Perseids, as this particular meteor shower is known, are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Its small dust particles (not actual stars) burn up when they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. They can be observed worldwide but are best viewed in the northern hemisphere.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

And they may be in large parts of Switzerland. Despite the full moon blocking some of the views (don’t worry, the moon should set at around 2 am), the skies should be clear of clouds during the early hours of Saturday, according to the Swiss meteorology agency MeteoSchweiz.

Some cities also want to remove another major obstacle to stargazing: the artificial lightning that hides most of our stars, the Milky Way, and many shooting stars. The Projet Perseides invites Swiss towns to turn off municipal lights and incentivise stargazing.

The project, created in the French-speaking cantons, has gathered support mainly in western Swiss, but, according to the organisers: “Ultimately, we are targeting the whole of Europe”.

Which cities are participating?

You can find the complete list of municipalities here. The communes include Champagne, Grandson, La Chaux, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Provence, Yverdon-les-Bains, Fribourg, and more than 100 others.

The project invites the municipalities to turn off their public lightning and convince citizens and businesses to do the same – all voluntarily.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Projet Perseides started in Orbe in 2019 when the non-profit association convinced the town and surrounding municipalities to turn out the lights. In 2020, nearly 120 Vaud cities joined the project. The following year, they were joined by cities in Valais, Fribourg and Neuchâtel, according to the site.

What if my city is not among them?

Even if your city is not a part of the project, it is still possible to watch the phenomenon. The best time would be between 2 am (when the bright full moon sets) and pre-dawn hours, so until around 5 am.

The association says: “to enjoy the night, don’t look at light sources. Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness”. This includes ditching your phone for a few hours.

If you can visit a part of town with little artificial light, perhaps going up a mountain, for example, you also improve your chances of seeing more of the shower.