Addressing people in Switzerland
1) Why are you talking about the subject of how to address people in CH?
Being a kind of a Swiss agony aunt, (over various sites on the net), for English speaking ex pats in Switzerland, I realised that this topic is an ‘evergreen’ it regularly pops up, when people arrive to live in CH and wonder why some native people react funnily, when they are being approached by an English speaking person (trying out their German knowledge), very often it is down to those rules as explained below.
You are here only on first name terms from birth with your closest family. The rules to this are kind of unwritten ones and not knowing them, can lead to many misunderstandings with my compatriots, that’s why I came to tell you about this tonight.
2) Is this customary only in Switzerland?
No, it is not only we, the Swiss, where this is customary, in the other German speaking countries, such as Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, the way of addressing people is the same.
3) Where did you get the detailed information’s about this subject?
Some general rules about this, were first described in the 18th century in a book by a German baron, FREIHERR VON KNIGGE, in it he listed also other behavioural things and matters which were of importance that time; things such as You shall not wipe your mouth with the
Tablecloth and always use fork and knife when eating!:-):-)
In another book about interaction of people and the first name term rules, it states that, in the 40’ and 50’ of last century, a Woman who had to many "du-freunde" loses on value (morally) and is regarded as frivolous!! Nowadays this is rubbish of course; there are many books and booklets out on the market who tell the people of today about this all.
4) So what are the basic rules to this?
Always use the ‘high form’ first;
- With people you meet the first time and are same or above your age, - People you meet at business, be it a sales person in a store or a company director,
- People of respect such as Police officers, teachers, priests and magistrates
- Serving personnel in restaurants, in fact all people you don't know personally on a closer basis.
5) How do I present myself to someone I don’t know personally?
Always present yourself as: I am Mrs/Ms/Mr such and such and not with your first name.
6) Who is allowing whom to be called by first name? And how’s it done when addressing Teenagers?
The rules about who is offering first name terms to whom are;
Always the older person offers to the younger one
Boss to his employees
MIL/FIL to the new daughter / son in law
.........and so on
It is also regarded customary, that the boys and girls who leave school, when they are about 16 years old, are to be addressed in the high form; this is sort of a sign that they now enter the adult world.
And I remember well, how chuffed I was when this happened to me after leaving school, gave me a real boost:-)
7) Why is this Siezen (high form) so widespread in Switzerland?
The ‘high form’ here is seen as a sign of respect and politeness to your
vis-à-vis and once you are allowed to call the person by first name,
it shows that you've won the trust of this person, and that will mean a
lot if coming of a native Swiss person ;-)
Calling someone you don't know by first name or "Duzform" is regarded as very rude here and a sign of disrespect.
8) Have u got any little stories about this?
Many years ago, at my very first night at the English club in Biel
I presented myself with my married name, ARN and wondered why the people called me *Ann* all the time, when my first name was Sylvie!!!!! Suddenly it dawned on me, that they were on first name terms amongst the club members..............