Is it easy to make friends in your culture?
In the category of “making friends” in the 2020 Expat Insider survey, conducted annually by InterNations, Switzerland ranks at the bottom end of the list at 53.
Only Japan, Norway, Sweden, Kuwait, and Denmark offer tougher friend-making odds.
The Local describes making friendships in these countries quite aptly:
“The way to their hearts can sometimes feel as long, dark and cold as the Nordic winters.”
And considering the Swiss concept of friendship and aversion to small talk with strangers, it’s easy to see why this would be the case.
An outsider might find it difficult to gain the trust and loyalty of lifelong friendship from the Swiss…particularly, as an expat, who is more likely to leave the country at some point.
So, how do you build friendships in countries where it’s notoriously hard and where your expat status makes it more likely that your time is fleeting?
Take Your Cue from Locals
Differing concepts of friendship can be a struggle, but some cross-cultural understanding will help ease the transition.
An American in Switzerland should be considerate of differences in communicational comfort.
Because the most important thing to keep in mind in countries that have a more restrictive definition of friendship is to hold back, as your own cultural approach will come across as overbearing.
Refrain from small talk with strangers in grocery stories. When with colleagues, speak in generalities and don’t get too personal too quickly.
And on the other side of the pond, a Swiss expat in America should brace oneself for discomfort when it comes to communication and friendship.
You might choose either to be open to adapting to the norm of small talk and practice sharing your personal life, bit by bit, or you might accept being viewed as closed and reserved by your American colleagues.
If your goal is to make friends and integrate, the first choice will obviously gain you more ground in a culture that’s more sociable than your own.
And remember: when you’re a foreigner, making friends is more than just socializing; a local friend can greatly aid you in understanding and navigating the culture.
Speaking in Generalities
As with everything, these generalities are not inclusive of every American and every Swiss.
You’ll find some Americans to be private and reserved and some Swiss to be more open to friendship.
You must always take stereotypes with a grain of salt and know that each and every person is an individual case.
Regardless, an awareness of your host culture’s general approach to human-to-human contact will help you avoid overstepping the common social boundaries that the culture deems agreeable.