Swiss Punctuality

February 27, 2013 | SOCIALIZING | By Ute Limacher-Riebold

Photo courtesy of Expat Since Birth

This post is part of our “Adopt a Culture” series where bloggers tell us about customs they have adopted from a culture other than their own.

When talking about Switzerland, people usually think about mountains, chocolate, cheese and watches. In the 16 years I’ve lived in Switzerland I have adopted several habits, but one in particular seemed quite impressive to me. It’s the swiss perception of time, the swiss punctuality.

When I moved to Switzerland at the age of 18, I already knew the country. I grew up next to the Southern border of Switzerland and spent holidays in the Confoederatio Helvetica (that’s where CH comes from). But living in Switzerland was something different.

During the first weeks I realized that I had to reconsider my concept of time. I came from Italy, where being punctual meant to be more or less 30 (sometimes even more) minutes late. So, when I knew that I had to spend a few years in Switzerland, I decided to first observe people and their swiss way of life.
I quickly realized that Swiss people have a special connection to time. They seem to have an innate feeling for it. You always know the exact time, as there are clocks at almost every corner. – Yes: Switzerland and watches go hand in hand. If a bus or tram is supposed to leave at 08:32, it doesn’t wait any second longer. Public transport is aligned such that you don’t have to wait longer than 10 minutes to change to the next train, bus or tram. – It took me a while to get used to this. Every time I had to take more than one means of transportation, I started up to one hour earlier (depending on the distance I had to travel), because I was afraid that one bus, tram or train would be cancelled or that I would miss a connection.

The funniest aspect of the swiss punctuality is, that not only the transport system is like that, but people are too. If you’re invited at 7pm, you are expected to show up at 7pm. In the western and southern part of Switzerland, people tend to be more relaxed and do even appreciate if you turn up at 7.05pm (or a bit later).

Even groups of people manage to be very punctual. I remember that we rarely waited for late comers. If you were late, you had to find another way to catch up the others (we didn’t have cellphones back then!). And “late” was everything exceeding 15 minutes. – Nowadays people would call, but still: being late is a sign of rudeness.

How did we embrace this in our family? Somehow I believe that my children were born with that skill. They don’t like to be late and they know that being on time is a sign of respect.

I believe that I adopted a different sense of time in Switzerland. I never really managed to be as punctual as Swiss people, as I’m always too early, but I adopted this habit of not being late. It is one of these things of another culture that we embrace without questioning, sometimes even without realizing that it becomes part of ourselves.

Do I expect punctuality in other countries or from people who didn’t experience the „Swiss-time“? Not always. I do expect people to come on time for meetings or to more formal appointments. But I also enjoy the more relaxed paste, unless, we have a train or a plane to catch and the other person has another perception of time and punctuality…

You can read more of Ute’s posts about Switzerland in her series on the Expat Since Birth website.

Related posts:

Making Friends as an Expat Woman
Finding a Community
Me Time: Babysitters 101
The cool moms at my playgroup
Perfect Party Cake for Kids


4 responses to “Swiss Punctuality”

  1. […] week I have a guest post at Nomad Parents called “Swiss punctuality” about how I adopted another sense of time while living in […]

  2. Simone says:

    Nice guest post 🙂
    As you know, I moved to Spain a year and a half ago, and I think I’ve adapted to their timing concept, which is not quite as relaxed as the common stereotype would have you believe. Ten minutes late for a coffee date with a friend is ‘normal’, which is also true for London, where I lived before. In Germany, where I’m originally from, that would definitely be classed as “late”. I gather that there are regional differences – Spanish people from Central or Northern Spain often complain about the tardiness of their Southern counterparts!

    • Ute says:

      Hi Simone, I’m very glad you liked my post! Thank you for leaving a comment. I experienced the same in Spain and in Greece.

      I think that in every country we can observe regional differences about the timing concept: sometimes people from the North of a country are more punctual than those from the South, at least, people that’s what people assume. But it also depends from the kind of date or appointment you have. If it’s formal, it’s usually considered as impolite if you’re late (unless you are the boss and you being late shows that you are “important”… ). If the date is less formal, people is usually more relaxed.
      It would be interesting to know more about how punctuality is considered in other countries. Which countries are similar to Switzerland? Which are the more relaxed countries about time and punctuality?

  3. […] children learn to be organised and to be on time, because it’s a sign of respect. I also like them to be polite, respectful, but not in a way that they say things they don’t […]

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