A recent study by the HSBC bank found out that expats in Switzerland have the “worst social life” out of 39 global destinations assessed. And even the Swiss admit they can face a hard time finding new friends when they move to another city inside Switzerland.
This probably does not come as a surprise if you are a foreigner living in Switzerland for some time now. However for newcomers it can be a source of anxiety and frustration, to say the least.
But just because Switzerland is not the easiest place to make new friendships that doesn’t mean you can’t establish meaningful relationships around here.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite: it may take you a bit longer to find your people, but once you manage to do so your Swiss friend will most likely be a friend for life.
So here are my 6 strategies to find friends in Switzerland. Or anywhere else in the World. Because let’s face it: if you can do it in Switzerland, you can do it anywhere.
1. Check your attitude. First of all, let me ask you something. How many times, when you were back home, have you said to yourself or to your friends: “There’s probably some expats out there feeling lonely and in need for new friends; let’s go out and find them”?
Yeah, I thought so…
So check your attitude and don’t act like the locals owe you something. They don’t!
If you want to find friends in Switzerland you’re the one who has to take the first step and actually go find them. No one is going to knock on your door one day and simply ask to be your friend.
2. Learn the local language. Joining a language school is a great way to meet other newcomers. My boyfriend and I have some good friends in Switzerland that we met in our first German classes.
Learning the local language also contributes to a smoothly integration in the new culture. Most important, it says you are making an effort and that you are here to stay. As a result, people will be nicer to you, even if you don’t speak it flawlessly.
3. Reach out to the expat community. When you first arrive the easiest way to find friends in Switzerland is to connect with other people in your situation. And there are lots of ways to do that.
You can join international expat communities, such as InterNations. Or maybe your homeland even has an expat organization in your new city, like the Portuguese Association of Zurich or the American International Club of Geneva, to mention only two.
During my first year in Switzerland, I attended several events organized by Facebook or Meetup groups, from language meet ups to women’s get togethers, and definitely recommend it as a way to be introduced to new and interesting people who are also keen to socialize and get to know you.
4. Join a class. The downside of having only expat friends is that one day they are here, the next day they may be gone to another destination. So if you are planning to stay in Switzerland for a while, it might be a good idea to try to meet Swiss people as well.
To find Swiss friends in Switzerland, I recommend joining a sports club, an art class or any other kind of regular activity. Although there are exceptions, Swiss natives usually need more time than people from other cultures to trust someone and establish a friendship. This means you have to win them slowly.
Make sure you choose something that you love doing or learning though, because this can take a while. For us it has been dance classes. And even if we don’t succeed in meeting new people, at least we’re having lots of fun.
5. Understand the culture. You have to do your homework and understand the new culture you are in if you want to avoid any social faux pas.
Contrary to American, English or south European folks who make friends easily and consider everyone a potential friend (in Portugal we have this saying “The friends of our friends are our friends too”), Swiss people make a clear distinction between mere acquaintances and real friends.
Thus friendship is a serious thing in Switzerland: a friend is someone you can turn to for advice when you have a problem, not someone you go have a beer with.
Being over friendly when you have just met someone is considered a pushy and superficial behavior.
On the other hand, refusing to learn the local language is the quickest way to become a social outcast.
6. Be a friend. Last but not least, be a friend. The best strategy to find friends in Switzerland or anywhere else is to be a good friend.
Don’t reach out to people only when you are feeling lonely or want to go out and party. Make sure to be there whenever they need you and honor your word.
At the end of the day, maybe you are not going to have dozens of friends in Switzerland. But you will certainly have good ones.