Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Post: What do the Swiss think of Expats in Switzerland?

After some conscious research and experience living as an expat in Switzerland over the last three-plus years, I’ve come to some conclusions about what the Swiss think of us, the expat in Switzerland. This is by no means scientific research, and if you’re Swiss and would like to throw in your two cents (I mean Rappen), please do.
  1. The Swiss think we American expats in Switzerland all used to be fat. But then we got here, and suddenly we got skinny. (If this were true, the South Beach Diet would have been replaced with the Swiss Chocolate one long ago). Anyhow, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a Swiss person say, “Wow, you must have been here awhile. Because you’re not fat anymore.” Or the other good one is, “You don’t look like an American at all. Because you’re not fat.” Oh, Switzerland.

  2. The Swiss think it’s weird that we eat chips with our sandwiches. To that I say, just wait. The new Subway in my little town of Baden is already stuffed with kids from the school across the street. And they’re all buying the meal combos that include your choice of Zweifel chips. Poor Switzerland. It will soon be as chip crazy as America.

  3. The Swiss don’t understand why we don’t smoke since smoking makes you skinny. To that I would just tell them, “No, don’t you remember, me being in Switzerland alone makes me skinny. I don’t need to smoke.”

  4. The Swiss like us as individuals but think as an expat group that we’re ruining their country. As my neighbor once said to me. “Now Baden is trashy, dangerous, and filled with foreigners.” I looked at her and then she added, “Oh, I don’t mean you.” They never do.
What do you think the Swiss think of us based on your experiences? Or if you are Swiss, please tell us, what do you think?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer and blogger. Besides keeping her own blogs, One Big Yodel and Writer Abroad, she also blogs for a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living in abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.

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M'dame Jo said...

Honestly, I don't think much of expats as a whole. There's a quite large community of expats in the Geneva and "Lemanic" area and for me, they're often people working in big international companies and only going out with other expats and able to live 5 years in Geneva without learning a single word of French or even trying to fit in in any way. And put their kids in international schools. A small society in society, completely closed on itself. The only time I've been somewhat integrated to such a impossible-to-integrate group is when I met one of them in a public laundry here in Lausanne. He was working for Nestlé and I went out with a lot of Nestlé people and no one knew any French.

Another type of expats I've met are academics. And again, the largest majority spends 4 or 5 years here and leaves not speaking a single word of French. But convinced that you cannot meet swiss people.

I guess the situation is different for "isolated" expats, migrants who move here with thir family and find themselves rapidly integrated to the swiss society. But they're not "expats", they're swiss with an accent and a foreign passport. As opposed to expats, they don't plan on going back to where they come from. I guess the attitude is different if being in Switzerland is considered temporary or your new home.

About the being fat and the cigarette comments, it's not really different that being said "Aw, I love Stockholm!" when you just said you're swiss to an American. In all countries, there are a lot of ignorant people...

Chantal said...

Hi M'dame Jo

Thanks for your comments. It's great that you point out the language thing. I think a lot of expats don't bother learning the local language at all, and it's too bad. I think it's hard because some expats lead such a transient lifestyle. And from personal experience it's really hard in the German-speaking part with the whole dialect thing going on. But still, I think we all miss out when we don't at least try to learn the language. So I'm about to take three weeks of intensive German after taking a year and a half off from lessons. Let's see how that goes.

M'dame Jo said...

Yes, the dialect makes things harder. But if it makes you feel better: (younger) swiss French swiss and German generally communicate... in English. They don't like speaking high German, neither do we, English is a simpler language.. and here you go.

I know, sad.

r said...

In just over a year of french lessons (in Lausanne), I found that almost no other native anglophones joined my class. With a class that changed composition a lot but always had between 5 and 15 people in it, I only ever came across one other native english speaker. When I asked the teacher about this once she said it was always like that, and although she knows a lot of native english speakers in her non-professional life, we almost never (in her experience, and compared to spanish speakers or portugese speakers or whatever) take lessons. Which I thought was interesting.

julie said...

I'm swiss and to be honest, I don't think I've actually ever met an American expat. I do think that they tend to stick to themselves, and while speaking English to someone doesn't bother me one bit, I'm completely weirded out by the fact that people are comfortable living in a country without even trying to learn it's language (it really shouldn't be that hard considering you could be immersed 24/7 if you wanted to). I don't even really like to go on vacation to places where I don't at least know a little bit of the language.

As for the fattyness...well, stereotypes exist in pretty much every culture about pretty much every other culture (especially if their presence in the media is as big as the american one). If we see 1 fat American on TV, we generalize; if your 1 swiss neighbour says something ignorant, you generalize. We all have stereotypes in us...the only way to get rid of stereotypes is to spend time with and get to know people of the other culture.

Oh and chips with sandwiches? What? WHY????!!!?!?

...On the other hand I do love Subway and I do love Zweifel so I guess I'll have to give it a try.

E said...

According to a recent study (, Americans are the third fattest people in the world...What surprised me is that the Germans are the 4th!

Sean said...

Looking at the post from "E"......

Chantal I wonder where these Swiss get this nonsense about the overweight Americans from???

Perhaps, because quite frankly, where on earth is "Kiribati" and "American Samoa"?

No disrespect BUT, stereotypes are often there for a reason, because they are true, and more often than not I have seen you use "Swiss" stereotype reference too often to go un-mentioned.... So, Americans are officially third fatest.... doesnt mean you are, nor does it mean that all ex pats are obnoxious whiners, but lets face it, more often than not, they are!

PS: I have made some good American friends here and they are not fat! Go figure!

Chantal said...

Americans are fat. Every time I go back to the U.S. I can't believe how much larger (and sloppier dressed) the people are. I just think it's funny that if you're a skinny American the Swiss think it's their country that's "cured" you.

Vishal said...

I loved reading your blog and especially this article so couldnt stop from putting in my 2 cents. As far as your observations are concerned they are all true, but i think there is more to it. I am an Indian (my job is business development) who moved to switzerland about 15 months back from US where i spent 5 years. So i am neither swiss nor american but have had the pleasure of living in both wonderful countries. To the fat thing, quite frankly its about perceptions...yes many americans are immaculately well maintained, but one of the things that hit you first when you enter US is obesity and one of the thing that makes me extremely conscious is the fitness of swiss, so i guess the comment is not baseless, but of course one should not generalize it and thats where i agree with you.

the swiss of course are not welcoming to outsiders, which I find a bit strange....afterall its a global world now. But I guess to each its own. However I really like this country for many reasons, their efficiency is one, the people are more genuine and helping, if an american agrees to help you one can be sure that he/she already has a favour in mind, and i find that americans are too much into money (they cant spend even a cent) on others..But the swiss i find are more considerate and compassionate...if a swiss says i think its interesting one can be sure he/she finds it so, when an american says its interesting lets talk next week, you never know if he/she would really come back...

but one thing that makes life easy in america is english language and ofcourse the strong service orientation which i find is severly lacking in swiss..I mean go to a restaraunt in US (cheese cake, macaroni grill etc.) and one in swiss and the difference is palpable. The swiss think that the consumer exists because of them where as american business is about the consumer.

Well a long post but an interesting subject so couldnt help pitching in...

Anonymous said...


Juliet said...

Hey M'dame Jo,
I know this post is a few years old but I'm really glad you wrote it! Gave me a chuckle.

I'm Canadian and have been living in and out of Switzerland for a handful of years, since my boyfriend is Swiss. I'm pretty quick with languages and I studied High German in university, and have now picked up Swiss German pretty well fluently - at least, fluently enough for people who've just met me to be surprised that I'm not Swiss (later on they pick up on my weird mistakes).

And I gotta say, getting over the language barrier still doesn't make it much easier. I have Swiss roommates, hang out frequently with my boyfriend's Swiss friends, and am in a Swiss theater group.... and the going is SLOW. sooo slowwwwwww! Making "colleagues" is easy, but getting to know someone well enough to call them "friend"? Well enough that you can relax around them, or call them when you're upset? Whew. It takes forever.

Coming from the über-friendly East Coast of Canada, this has been frustrating. But I'm glad to know I'm not alone!


M'dame Jo said...

Juliet > The funny thing is that I'm now myself an expat in a new country :-) and it's not easy to make friends here (I'm in Italy) either. People are easier to talk to, but making friends, getting invited in someone's home takes at least as much time as in Switzerland (I'm not there yet).

Terrenos En El Peru said...


I AM GETTING TIRED of the bad news, and of being bombarded daily by it!

 The US isn't the same country it used to be! I love it BUT I also want to be and feel safe
 Aren´t things now getting quite dangerous in many ways for us?
 Inside our own country: Fear of terrorists attacks and rising crime is now becoming frightening...
 The relation that the US has with some countries is becoming very hostile and is fast becoming Very Dangerous.
 Think about North Korea, Iran , ISIS, ETA, AL Qaeda and others…
 This is Adding An Enormous Amount Of Stress To An Already Stressful Life and this is not healthy for us.


 We think to ourselves 'we've got to treat ourselves better. We deserve to live in a quiet place, less anxious and experience a normal life.'
 That’s right ! And you're not alone if you feel this way.
 The view of life inside the US is very different from many other parts of the world… and it seems to be getting worse.
 BUT some countries are peaceful and hardly even aware of these situations.
 In reality there are places that we can live and enjoy life the way we deserve to live.


 For instance, Peru in particular, is not far away and yet is a peaceful, democratic, beautiful and for the most part, inexpensive country.
 When you listen to the news in Peru, it’s almost always about internal issues, and very seldom do you get the feeling that life on earth is about to end.
 There are no world wars to worry about and the 'weight' of bad news seems so much farther away.
 Has it ever crossed your mind to move to a quiet city in Peru? No? Well perhaps it should!
 In the last decade there has been a substantial increase in the number of American, Canadian and European expats taking up residency in Peru and loving it! Most people never want to leave.
 Consider buying a piece of land close to Machu Picchu in the Urubamba Valley for instance, or in the mountains of Peru or in the jungle or Why not in the more than 1500 miles of beautiful beaches in Peru?
 There are a lot of very quiet cities that are already getting a number of American and European expats that are absolutely LOVING it. Why not you?
 Interested? Write to us:
 Have a look at the many properties available for you at
 If you want to see even more, contact us, and we will find you your dream property.


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