As is widely known, Switzerland is a multilingual country with four official languages – Swiss German (nearly 70% of the indigenous population), French, Italian and Romansh.
Most people can at least read Swiss German, so if there is a unifying language, then that is what it has to be. As many Swiss speak at least two of the official languages plus English, they have to be viewed as one of the great polyglot nations of the world – an obvious boost to their internationalist aspirations.
On the whole, the Swiss believe in plain speaking and place directness before diplomacy. It is expected and respected that people will speak their minds, without feeling the need to couch any uncomfortable messages in a softer way in order to spare the feelings of the audience. The type of coded language used by the Japanese or the British can be misconstrued in Switzerland as prevarication or even deviousness. Better to say what you mean and mean what you say.
As has already been stated, however, this directness of approach should not be confused with confrontation or aggression – it is more the result of a desire to get to the truth or the empirically provable right answer.
People tend to be reticent to speak about personal issues to new contacts, preferring to keep communication on a strictly business footing. There is little small talk prior to starting a meeting and people will try to express themselves succinctly and without theatrical embellishments.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Switzerland. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Switzerland and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: