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UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

Which parts of Switzerland are most and least tolerant of foreigners?

Attitudes toward foreign nationals vary throughout Switzerland, with some regions being more open towards immigrants than others.

People sit in a square in Zurich at sundown
Residents of urban areas are found to be much more tolerant of foreigners than those who live in regional and rural parts of the country. Photo by Amit Lahav on Unsplash

Although Swiss people are thought by some to be xenophobic, a study released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on Thursday reveals that Swiss population “generally shows openness when confronted with national or cultural difference… Few people say they are disturbed by the presence of those perceived as different and the majority reject racist attitudes”.

“In fact, of all the people living in Switzerland, few say they are bothered by the presence of people of different origins”, FSO added.

These findings are in line with an earlier FSO study, in which 70 percent of Swiss who participated in the survey said foreigners are essential for the country’s economy and that they do the work that Swiss don’t want to do.

Additionally, 75 percent disagreed with the claim of right-wing groups that foreigners are responsible for any increase in the unemployment rate, and more than half (57 percent) reject the notion — also widespread in the populist circles — that foreigners abuse social benefits.

READ MORE: How do the Swiss really feel about foreigners?

However, the new FSO study found that the level of tolerance toward foreigners differs across the country.

Generally speaking, the split is seen along the geographical and linguistic lines.

For instance, foreign nationals are “perceived as different” less frequently in the French and Italian-speaking cantons than in the German ones, with the exception of Zurich.

There is also an urban – rural divide at play.

“Openness is comparatively less wide among those politically oriented to the right and those living in sparsely populated areas”, according to FSO .

Overall, “the population living in urban spaces turns out to be more open to national or cultural difference”, FSO noted. “Inhabitants of densely populated municipalities generally show more openness than people living in low-density areas”.

Not coincidentally, the vast majority of foreigners live in big Swiss cities and areas surrounding urban centres, according to a study carried out earlier this year by University of Geneva.

 It found “a strong foreign presence” in and around large cities, which are close to economic centres and job opportunities — such as the shores of Lake Geneva (Geneva and Vaud), as well as Zurich. 

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?

More study findings

The FSO survey also reports that attitudes towards diversity “vary according to individual characteristics” of respondents.

“People with Swiss nationality without a migrant background exhibit more negative attitudes”.

Among this group, 41 percent say they are disturbed by the presence of people speaking another language or having a nationality, religion or skin colour different from their own. This rate is two times lower — 20 percent— among the population with a migrant background.

READ MORE: Over a third of Switzerland’s population has migration background

Member comments

  1. I have found that 20% of German-speaking cantons are friendly.
    About 80% in the Italian, French, and Romansch speaking area friendly.
    The whiff of superiority complex is ever present.

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For members

UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

In Switzerland, you might hear the term 'Bünzli' to describe someone. What does it mean?

A person wearing socks with sandals
Socks with sandals are a part of the Bünzli uniform. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

One of many cultural curiosities, a Bünzli is someone who is simultaneously very Swiss – but whom the Swiss make significant fun of. 

The term has no direct English translation, which can make it a little confusing at first to understand. 

At least in part because it is relatively difficult to translate into English, the word Bünzli itself is often used among English speakers who live in Switzerland. 

Here’s what you need to know about Bünzli, a truly Swiss phenomenon. 

What is a Bünzli? 

The term Bünzli is a Swiss German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, has narrow mind and view of things and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition. It is almost always used as a criticism or in a negative context. 

While the internet gives up the translation ‘philistine’ in English, there are other elements which make a Bünzli a Bünzli. 

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too.

Other English words like fussy, fastidious, stodgy and exact also describe a Bünzli. 

A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

A Bünzli will have a perfectly manicured garden and will never want to split a bill evenly, instead demanding to pay exactly what he or she had – and nothing more. 

He is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant.

Some say Bünzli are particularly Swiss, like a distilled, concentrated form of pure Swiss-ness, although the fact that Bünzli are usually the target of ridicule from Swiss people indicates that foreigners are not the only ones who find the behaviour weird or out of line. 

The best English translation is probably a ‘goody two-shoes’, although in this case the more likely attire is socks paired with Adiletten. Yep, you get the idea.


Wearing Adiletten with socks doesn’t make you a Buenzli…but it helps. Photo: Christian H. Flickr

Still not sure what a Bünzli is? 

If you still don’t know what a Bünzli is, it might be helpful to see a few further examples. 

The following YouTube video goes through some specifics of the Bünzli is in Swiss German (although if you already speak Swiss German, you’ll likely know what a Bünzli is). 

Switzerland’s English forum often holds debates where expats look to discover the exact meaning of the term

Swiss news site Watson lists several reader examples of their Bünzli experiences, from having the police called for a noise complaint at 10:01pm, to telling tourists who asked for directions while holding a train door open to let go of the door so the train can leave. 

How do I spot one? 

For those who still don’t exactly know what a Bünzli is, don’t fret.

It’ll often happen the other way around, i.e. the Bünzli will discover you, when you haven’t done your recycling or when your doormat is the wrong way around in front of your apartment or when you cycle across the pedestrian crossing with no cars around. 

Keep the above in mind and trust us, you’ll know one when you see one. 

Have you had any Bünzli experiences? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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