Giving and receiving gifts in Switzerland 

This topic seems to be another evergreen especially with expatriate people who live in Switzerland. Your child is invited for the first time to a birthday party by a schoolmate, what to give, how much to spend???

Your neighbour gets married and you are invited to the Apéro?

You bosses’ wife has died and you are invited to the funeral? What is appropriate to do in these circumstances?

This list shall be a small guideline into what or how a SWISS person does it or how the customs work hereabouts.

Let’s start with the beginning of a new life.

Organised Baby showers (and bridal showers for that matter) are not known here.

Of course when someone announces of becoming a parent, congratulations will flood in from family and friends.

Not all parents-to-be are well off, so it is quite common here to hand down items, such as the bed, Moses basket, cradle, bathtub for babies, pushchair, clothes, toys and other ‘hardware.

In many families there is even a tradition regarding the baby’s bed/cradle. They are sometimes in use in a family over more than hundred years.

So it is not offensive to directly ask a future parent what they need or want for their baby. A ‘wish list’ is not common in Switzerland.

If you’re not certain what to give, you can never be wrong with a voucher from a store specialized in baby items. The amount to put on that voucher depends on how close you are to the future parents.

You’ve been asked to be go parent to the tiny tot, then for Godparents in Switzerland it is traditional;

To give to the baby a golden bracelet with engraved nameplate on it’s arrival or on it’s christening.

A set of baby cutlery, often in silver or engraved with the babies name and/or date of birth

Open a bank (savings) account for the baby, and pay into this every month or year a certain amount (the money will be given to the child on his Confirmation or coming of age)

A nice custom for the christening to do for a godparent, is to decorate the christening candle (photo in the albums)

Historical detail:

In olden days, a godparent gave a piece of silver cutlery to every occasion where gifts were presented, birthday, x-mas and so, and the set was usually complete at the confirmation and was used as ‘dowry’.

Ideas for gifts to babies and their parents could be:

Personalized vouchers!

I.e. A night out for the parents and you’ll baby-sit or Mom goes to the hairdresser and you baby-sit, offer your services as a cleaner or cook etc. this may seem to some like a puny gift, but when I got some of these vouchers, they were more valued by us than all gems and gold in the world!!!

Use your imagination and you’ll find ideas to assemble a small booklet of these vouchersJ

A Torte made of Pampers
For those who are good at doing crafts this is a very original way to surprise future parents and all items can be used!

Ask in pharmacies for ‘Müsterli’ (Samples/Echantillons) of products for babies. Explain that you need these to create an unique gift, in my experience, the shop assistants will be very generous then!! Buy small things for the additional decoration, such as baby socks, small toys, a dummy, a bottle etc. To give you an idea how a finished torte can look go to the   photo section on the groups’ site)

Often new parents get almost inundated with clothes for the baby for the first year, so that they could change the dress twice a day every week and still have unused dresses in the cupboardL and a baby does not wear off the clothes………………

You’ll be on the safe side to buy clothes in the size 80 to 86,that’s the size a one year old wears usually and when done at the time the baby was born, it’ll fit perfect for the season as well!

Personalized gifts for the baby
By example a plate and beaker made of earthenware  ( photo in the album section)

A photo frame made of tin (or silver) and engraved with the details, such as name, weight, size, time of birth etc

A large handmade sign in front of the house, announcing the new arrival
(Photo in the album section)

Stag nights and Hen nights are also well known here, but they are a lesser affair than by example in the UK, where you have to spend at least a weekend in Amsterdam getting bladdered and not remembering a single thing of the weekend afterwardsJ

In Switzerland, these events are more to play funny tricks onto the bride and groom.

It can stretch from JUST going for a quiet drink somewhere to rent a log cabin and have a good time together.

Historical Notice
In olden days, the bride and groom deliberately smashed old crockery for good luck on their respective stag/hen nights

Again organised bridal showers are not common here. Nowadays many couples already share a flat when they get married, so they will have enough toasters, blankets and bottle openersJ

IF NOT, then they will assemble a wish list that makes the round among all guests before the wedding. The gifts are usually taken to the wedding and then placed on a table at the venue for everyone to see and the couple will open the guests usually in presence of the guests during the reception

It is also very common that a couple wishes for money towards a special project, be that the Honeymoon or a special acquisition like new furniture or a re-vamp of the garden, deposit to buy/build a house etc.

Apart from the obvious, to put some money into a card, here are some other ideas:

If the couple needs money towards a house, buy one red brick and adorn that with flowers and place the folded money in and around the flowers (photo in the album section), a good florist will do that as well for you.

Fold the notes like flowers blossoms, add stems made of metal wire, adorn with leaves etc and but this bunch of ‘flowers’ in a nice vase.

Do something similar with dollhouse furniture if they want to replace their sofa/cupboards/kitchen etc

Wrap money tightly in kitchen foil, place in earthenware pot ,cover with either sand or soil, plant either real or plastic plants and add small shovel and rake, so they may go on their own treasure huntJ

And again you can never be wrong with a gift voucher of a store/s. Often in cities a couple of shops are together in a kind of guild, they issue vouchers and they can be used as money in all participating shops. This opens a greater choice for the couple, than if you were giving a voucher of one particular shop.

Another idea is to buy a voucher of a posh restaurant for a meal for two.

The amount? Well basically the sky is the limit……….but I’d say, that for people you are not related to and are not close friends to you, but you still want to offer a gift, an amount between 50.- and 150.-francs is ok to give at a wedding.

For all others, you surely know yourself how much you want to spendJ

Children’s Birthdays
Your child brings home an invitation to his/hers school friends birthday party.

The easiest way to know what to give is of course to ask the child (host) or his/her mum.

If you can’t do that for some reason (language barrier for example) then here are some ideas.

Don’t spend too much money!!! I have a rule of thumb with my children that works quite fine. The closer a friend the inviting child is to my children the more money I spend maximum is 20francs.

All the rage for girls are all things DIDDL / PIMBOLI related, be that a ‘My school friends album’, a set of pencils, eraser and pencil sharpener or a plush figurine.

ELLO and CLIKITZ beading stuff

Mandala Booklets for painting/ Small Barbie stuff such as a dress

Hair clips and similar jewellery from CLAIRE’S or H&M

Tapes/Cd’s with Girlie Stories, such as Wendy/Bibi Blocksberg/ Hanni und Nanni or alike with boys, Die Drei ???/TKKG, these are children’s detective stories.

Then other things for boys could be, PLAYMOBIL/LEGO/Books about knights or Pirates or similar. These suggestions may sound a bit stereotypical; having three girls I obviously have more clues about girls party invitations than boys. The few boys who invited my gals have wished for the gift ideas listed above J

These are just a few suggestions and all these things can be bought for around 10 francs (plus/minus 3 francs) and are perfect gifts.

Often the children get little bags with keepsakes on such a birthday parties, these are often the prices won at games etc. So don’t be shocked when your child comes back with a bag of sweets and little toys.

I started this article with new life, Babies, but all life has to end. So the last chapter shall be about how the Swiss deal with bereavement and what’s appropriate to give on that occasion

In Switzerland it is highly estimated by bereaved families when someone pays the last respect to the deceased by attending the funeral.

Often people bring small crowns of flowers or a ‘Schale’ a large bowl planted with flowers to the funeral service.

If you want to give something and don’t want that to be flowers, you can give money to the bereaved family, this is usually done plainly by putting the money in the card of condolences and handing it to a family member (often someone is designated to do that by the family) this money goes towards a tombstone or flower decoration on the grave.

It is often written in the obituary notice, instead of flowers think of… (Anstelle von Blumen gedenke man…..) and then the name  and account number of a charitable trust or similar. If you pay an amount towards these charities, the family of the bereaved will get a list of all people who did so, and you will get a letter of thanks of the family.

Often, in the Canton of Bern this is still traditional in rural areas, the life of the deceased is ‘celebrated’ after the funeral by a so-called ‘Grebt’ (Leidmahl)

The family invites the attending guests to a meal, hereabouts almost traditionally consisting of cooked ham and potato salad and green salad.

At first all people are quiet and don’t know how to behave, some may even feel awkward, but soon they start to talk about the person that just has been laid to rest and this is what the Grebt all is about, to remember that person, to celebrate that life and yes, also laugh about that person by telling stories and anecdotes.

This is also often a great comfort to the family of the deceased, to see how many people remember their dear family member and to hear good memories about that person’s life.



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