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Just Being Polite
(originally published in the November 2009 issue of Expat In Switzerland)

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It is no secret that living in Switzerland entails abiding by numerous rules and regulations that sometimes affect even the most insignificant parts of our daily lives – you can't mow your lawn on a Sunday or use the washing machine after 10pm at night for example. Such rules are usually written down in a set of house rules and if not, you will soon learn about them when you unwittingly break them. But what about the social etiquette of our host country? Here a rough guide to behaving yourself when invited into a Swiss home:

Arrive on time. The Swiss don't make the finest timepieces in the world for nothing; they like punctuality.

Take your shoes off upon entering a Swiss home, your host might well protest that this isn't necessary but they want you to really.

Shake hands with everyone already present, a general “hi” thrown into the room would not be polite. This is expected of men, women and children.

As in many countries a bottle of wine is a standard gift when invited to dinner but don't expect to drink it. It would be very impolite for the host to open and offer you some of your own wine, implying that he hadn't already prepared for your visit by carefully selecting a good wine for you to enjoy.

If you have been invited to celebrate a birthday and you take a wrapped gift it would not be unusual for your gift to remain wrapped until after you have gone. Unwrapping it in front of you might cause embarrassing emotion.

Never start drinking from your wine glass until your host has raised his glass and started off the round of “Prost” (Cheers). Make eye contact with each person as you clink glasses with them and use their name i.e “Prost Christine” when you say cheers. This process may well be repeated when the glasses are refilled. Glasses will probably not be "topped up" until they are actually empty. The wine glass should be held by the stem and not by the bowl! Never pour wine yourself – this is the host's job.

Salad should be eaten with a fork only, i.e. without a knife, it is however acceptable to use a piece of bread to help push the salad onto the fork - a replacement knife. Bread should be broken into pieces with your hands and not cut with a knife.

The Swiss place their knife and fork at 3.15 on the plate to indicate they have finished their meal. If you leave your knife and fork apart on the plate you are signaling to your host that you would like some more.

Conversation will likely be general and impersonal. Money is a taboo topic of conversation and certainly never discuss salaries; what a person earns is nobody's business.

Most Swiss like to go to bed relatively early, so don't overstay your welcome!

It is considered impolite to just drop in on a Swiss person at their home for a cup of tea and a chat – you need to set up a firm “date” in advance for such a visit. Like all good rules there are exceptions; if it is your birthday for example the Swiss might well turn up uninvited in order to congratulate you (being polite), be prepared, as it is then necessary to offer them a glass of wine and something small to eat.

Don't worry if you make a faux pas - tell your hosts about the traditions and etiquette in your own country - they are generally interested in hearing about other traditions and customs.

No strict etiquette required at the studio! A photo shoot at Foto eMotion is a fun, informal experience to be remembered, resulting in beautiful, contemporary pictures that transform your home and that will be treasured forever.

Linda Atschreiter Linda is a regular contributor to the ExpatInCH.com newsletter and runs the Foto eMotion photographic studio in Zug. See www.foto-emotion.ch for more information

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