On how to win an argument in Switzerland


While waiting in line at the bakery this weekend I witnessed one of the rarest creatures in this country: A public disagreement. It’s the second one I’ve seen in my nearly three years of living in Switzerland and the two were eerily similar. They both involved the unspoken rules of waiting in a queue.

Our neighborhood bakery was especially packed that morning. Children were pointing out which pain au chocolat they wanted, women in dark sunglasses were picking up fruit târtes and dogs on leashes were nipping at each other. Bakery employees were filling orders as fast as they could and dolling out change at two cash registers. Somehow, one line had become two and some customers were receiving their orders more quickly than customers who had been waiting longer.

A particularly harried woman snapped at a man in glasses ordering a spinach quiche.

“Non! Je viens devant vous.”                 No! I am before you.

He snapped back.

“Si, bien sûr! Nous sommes égaux.”     Of course not! We are equal.

Clearly disgusted, the woman turned to the customers next to her and began loudly complaining that the man was malpolie. Impolite. Her volume was meant to reach his ears as she gathered support from her fellow customers. In a sense, she was rallying the community around her to ostracize the non-rule-follower. To shame his disorderliness.

He quickly left.


I’ve come to recognize this as a Swiss move that speaks volumes about the culture.

I’m certainly not arguing that an American would handle it differently or even better, but that it takes an outsider to recognize these cultural themes. For the Swiss, the country runs on order, conformity and a sense of “this is how it has always been done.” Which is why the country is so free of crime, so clean, (and perhaps) so wealthy. They like their rules and they like everyone to follow them. It starts in line at the bakery.

How are you this morning? Eating quiche? Here are a few, fun links for Tuesday:

Uh-oh. You don’t want to see this on your boarding pass.

An inclusive list of how to support those reeling from natural disasters

Do you know all of these classic, American breakfast foods?

Why I’m adding Grasse, France to my travel list

Are you terrified of getting married? A psychoanalysis of fear.

I’m not going back, but I’m taking inspiration from these back-to-school lunches




4 thoughts on “On how to win an argument in Switzerland

  1. Such an interesting situation to observe as someone from outside the culture! It probably is the better part of valor to leave when a fellow customer is rallying the line-waiting group against you. But, it did surprise me a little that he did not simply apologize and invite the woman to be served before him. That would have disarmed her anger and perhaps won him a friend. By leaving, he simply conceded he was wrong, and he lost the opportunity to have delightful pastry that morning!. Not a good outcome for him!

    1. We also couldn’t believe that he didn’t apologize or simply wave the woman in front of him! I can’t imagine engaging in an argument like this one — on either side. Does that mean I am simply non-confrontational or is it part of my American upbringing? For the record, he left with pastries in hand!

  2. Hello! Fellow former Californian (of sorts) living in Romandie. It’s funny, I’ve had the opposite experience here, at least in supermarkets – the minute a new caisse opens up, everybody runs over in a free-for-all, blatantly taking a better place in line than they had in the previous line. I once spoke up and got nothing for it. Perhaps I should have tried harder to attract my fellow shoppers’ sympathies and run the line-hoppers out of the shop 😉

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