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How to Connect with Swiss People

Connect to people - S. Hofschlaeger  /

In the last few years, Switzerland has always been considered a generally attractive place for expats to live or even settle. However, surveys usually point out one particular downside of life for expats in Switzerland: It seems incredibly hard to establish a healthy social life that includes locals. It seems, Swiss people are not only very punctual and precise but can also be quite distant - especially for someone who is used to a more outgoing culture.

Not surprisingly, in a 2015 survey conducted by Expat Explorer, Switzerland ranked poorly in making friends, integration and culture. Other surveys over the last years produced similar results.

What can you do? How can you connect to Swiss people?

I must admit I'm not sure if I'm qualified to make a recommendation. After all, I'm a native born Swiss and I've never had to adapt to life in Switzerland. However, when I moved from one canton to the other I found myself without friends and family around and had to start looking for a way to make new friends. Of course, I had the advantage of speaking the language and knowing the culture but I still had to make an effort.

Knowing that it's almost impossible to 'accidentally' meet new people in Switzerland and much less making friends, I decided to be proactive about it. What I ended up doing was joining the women's soccer team in my town. Not only did I enjoy playing soccer, I also met new people and - over time - made a few good friends. 

How to Best Connect with Swiss People: Join a 'Verein'

In Switzerland, there are hundreds or even thousands of Vereins ('clubs'). There is barely a village and definitely no city that doesn't have a few clubs which we call 'Verein'. According to Migros Magazin, about 4 million Swiss are part of at least one such club and meet regularly for the club activities.
The German word 'Verein' derives from the verb 'vereinen' 
which means 'to unite' or 'to bring together'. 
A Swiss Verein is an organization or a club 
that unites people with similar interests or goals. 
If you're new in town, a local 'Verein' is great for meeting new people from the area. This gives you the chance to connect with people outside of work and outside your usual circle of acquaintances. It works because you share a common interest or goal and you usually meet on a regular basis which can be a great start for a friendship. If you don't speak Swiss German (or French), don't worry! You'll most likely find a few people with good English skills!

'Vereins' can be sports clubs, theater groups, social organizations or groups of people who share the same hobby. There is no rule to what kinds of 'Verein' are allowed and you can find a great diversity all over Switzerland. Fun examples of Swiss Vereins are the 'Kneipp Club' in Berne, a 'Bonsai Verein' in Zurich or the 'Friends of old agricultural machinery'.

The most common and popular of 'Verein' in Switzerland are the local sports clubs with soccer and volleyball very high on the list. In smaller villages you also often find a traditional 'Turnverein', a gymnastics club that usually offers all kinds of sports as well. Athletics, handball, hockey, climbing, hiking - there is no shortage in selection!

Most if not all 'Vereine' in Switzerland work on a non-profit principle. That means that members of a 'Verein' are required to contribute financially to the club but the overall goal is to cover the costs and not profit. Many clubs, especially the larger sports clubs, also encourage voluntary work such as coaching kids or youth, refereeing matches, cleaning the club house, etc.

How to find a 'Verein' that suits you

First, think about what you would like to do in your free time. Are you an avid cyclist? Do you like birdwatching? Are you interested in movies? Do you want to improve the looks of your neighborhood?

Secondly, define on how much time you want to spend in your 'Verein'. Is once a week enough? Or twice a week? Or maybe just once a month?

Thirdly, find out which clubs exist in your village, town or city. The easiest way to do this is to check the official website of the municipality where you'll usually find a list of the local 'Vereine'. You can also ask your neighbors or do a classic google search.

Fourthly, go check it out! Most Swiss clubs are more than happy to have you join for a session or two and won't charge you for it. Once you make up your mind, you officially join the club and must follow the club rules such as paying the yearly membership fee or assisting the annual members meeting.



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