Doing business with the Swiss
Switzerland has a stable and strong economy, which makes it an attractive international business partner for many companies in both the East and West. The country itself has 26 different cantons, each with their own political, social, cultural en especially economic ideas. Not to mention that all these cantons are spread out over three different areas where they speak four official languages: German, Italian, French and Rhaeto-Romansh. With this in mind a typical “Swiss person” does not really exist, nor is there one kind of “Swiss” etiquette that you must study. In order to do business in this country you need to be prepared and aware of the cultural challenge you have to deal with.
The Swiss people living in the German part of Switzerland value sobriety, thrift, tolerance, and
punctuality. They also have a major feeling of responsibility, which is reflected in how they do business.
To meet their deadlines employees keep on a tight schedule and will only differ from this when top management agrees. Although top management does give their employees a bit of responsibility when it comes to reaching consensus. They are expected to contribute when a deal must be made at high speed. A Swiss-German is also very punctual when it comes to making appointments, so it is better to be prepared and show up on time to gain respect of your Swiss counterpart. The French and Italian parts rather have a more laid-back approach to both strategy and punctuality. They will plan their deadlines in a longer perspective. Because of the conflicting cultural differences in each part of Switzerland you must know exactly with which part you do business with to avoid mistakes and save face.
Arjan Koelewijn (28) was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Switzerland a couple of years ago. He knows all about the bumps of getting adopted into the Swiss-German business culture. “When I was younger and I applied for my first job in Zug I was running late. This was a big mistake, because Swiss-German people are very punctual and serious about this. My second mistake was introducing myself with my first name as they always introduce themselves with their last name.” Avoiding this kind of mistakes will help you save face during a job interview in a Swiss-German related company, but it’s definitely not the only thing you must keep in mind.
Swiss people in general are also very formal, which is why a friendly slapping on the back or shoulder is not done. They always keep a certain way of distance with their counterparts and will only get personal when a closer relationship has been established. Arjan also points out their determination when it comes to work: “Swiss people work on a very high level and expect the same way from you. In return you will receive a reliable and honest counterpart.” When asked about their directness, he answers: “I do not find Swiss people too direct. They usually are more introverts in business. It normally takes them a little while until they show you who they really are.” As a tip to other foreigners adapting to the Swiss culture, Arjan says: “Try to make a good impression by studying Swiss culture and respecting it. Do not make the same mistakes as I did during my job interview and you will probably be fine.” Although if you cannot adapt to the Swiss-German part of Switzerland you can always try the French or Italian part.