Cultural differences in EU projects

Part 7: Switzeland – hard to understand or describe

I have to admit that what I know about Swiss people mostly comes from short holiday/school experiences, not working/project relations. Switzerland’s participation rate in EU research is quite good, so sooner or later our paths will cross hopefully. Based on the descriptions I have read or heard from people living there, the picture is not that positive. I would like to note in advance, that my limited experience with Swiss people in projects is much better.

Four language communities live in Switzerland – German, French, Italian and the Romansch. Culturally they are integrated but also separated a little bit, which makes it hard to describe their cultural identity.

They believe in commodity and security. Their thinking is logical, things are in order in Switzerland (the Pascal programming language has been developed by a Swiss). This also results in loyalty or better to say solidarity to the system, administration. They are creative in industries, which do not change their system, challenge their society – watches, knives, programming, zipper zips, chocolate, etc.

The need for security comes with the lack of trust in the others unfortunately, not only in foreigners, but also neighbours, fellow citizens. People moving to Switzerland for work or better living might see this behavior as socially excluding. Some use the word ‘police state’.

They do not see life as an open place of opportunities, they are more narrow-minded, keeping the rules, focus on security, precise logic. This is slowly changing with the new generations growing up.

The neutrality of Swiss can easily turn into or seen as disinterest, coldness. EU projects require hard commitment and a little passion as well.

What you might keep in mind that  disinterest does not mean the lack of commitment.

 Swiss people have a strict sense of time, understanding of deadlines, which is generally good, but EU projects have to be managed with certain flexibility. At least one partner will keep all deadlines for sure. The Swiss in business are detailed, thorough, cautious, accurate, tiring negotiation partners, fair bargainers.

They value consensus-building and group decision-making. They will come well prepared to the meetings, they will see no need for improvisation of any kind. You might prepare yourself for longer discussions, questions on details before the meeting.

Do not ignore these questions, don’t try ice-breaking with a joke, and don’t stop the discussion aggressively.

None of the authors describing Switzerland seem to admit fully understanding this nation or specifically liking their behaviour on an average day.

Citizens on the other hand are satisfied; they are quite a happy population in Europe. That includes also the around 1 million foreigners living in Switzerland.

In summary:

  • Treat them with respect, always be well prepared when meeting them
  • Do not pressure small talks, go straight to the point

Be happy to have them in the project, they will do the job by the due deadline


[Sources: (Sarah Goldberg), Richard Hill, We Europeans, 1997.]



Do you have any experience? What do you think about cultural differences in EU projects?

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Read more:

Part 1: Hungary  

Part 2: Denmark  

Part 3: France  

Part 4: The Netherlands  

Part 5: Italy  

Part 6: The Czech Republic  



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