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Thread: Do the Swiss Speak Standard German?

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    Do the Swiss Speak Standard German?

    My older brother went on a journey to Switzerland and when he came back he told us the Swiss despise standard German. They speak only dialect and if a German from Germany comes who doesn't speak their dialect, they prefer to speak English than standard German. Where does this hatred for standard German come from?

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    I'm sorry, but as a Swiss (don't be irritated by the indication below my avatar) I must say this is the purest nonsense and is close to a very serious affront.
    However, it seems to be quite a frequent experience Germans make with Swiss people, so I consider this problem worth to be subject of a short examination and explaination.

    Of course there are many, many idiots and rude people also in Switzerland, and their number is still growing, but there are also very erudite people who speak - together with their dialect - high-German, even though with an accent depending on their dialect, often better than the average German of modern days, and in addition several foreign languages at proficiency level.

    I cannot identify the problem in your brother's case as I ignore the facts. However, I see the following three possibilities which could explain the behaviour of my fellow countrymen:

    1. Many Germans like - often, but as it often is the case with the more plebejic elements of your nation, not always in best intention - to make fun of Alemannic dialects, or they want to imitate the dialect and speak them themselves in an intent to break the ice. The average (Alemannic) Swiss will always interpret this as a condescension or even rudeness, even if the German did not mean it as such, as we do not consider our dialects as something of minor value and to be made fun of by foreigners. Such behaviour - if shown by a German - will immediately activate and corroborate the cliché of the "arrogant German" deeply rooted in the collective subconscious of the Swiss in every single Swiss individual (at least the Alemannic, the ones of German mother tongue), in some more, in some less. Admittedly, this is an (unjustified) inferiority complex resulting from the fact that you Germans speak high-German much faster and smoother as we do, even if some of us can imitate Germans so that you will hear no difference anymore or almost none. So, please do not make fun of the way we are speaking, especially not if we have mediterranean blood as well.

    2. Maybe your brother has the appearance and charisma of a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall. If yes, he might be right in a history film but will be considered seriously out of place by the vast majority of my fellow countrymen regardless of their provenience. Please note, that most Swiss are more cautios (zurückhaltend) and less extraverted, less "forsch" than the average German. The German should not see the cautiousness of the Swiss as a sign of disrespect but on the contrary as a sign of respect for the differences between the Germans and the Swiss, differences rooted mainly in our different historical experiences in the last century, a fact that I explained already elsewhere. If you would like to read about these differences, I recommend the book "Bildung" by Dietrich Schwanitz. There you will find quite an informative explaination of the differences between Swiss and Germans.

    3. The Swiss your brother met were either French speaking romands or people of Italian mother-tongue. These people are - with respect to the German majority - in a minoritarian position in Switzerland and feel the urge to preserve their language, so they try to use it as often as this is possible in conversations with speakers of a different tongue. Often they are not able to speak German at all. To my knowledge, nowadays even the French speaking Swiss often learn English instead of German as a first foreign language. Because English is easier to learn and the French speaking people generally feel culturally superior to the rest of humanity anyway , they will never learn German.

    As a summary, let me just tell you that we are not a people of peasants and herdsmen anymore and that the Germans are no longer the nation of poets and thinkers. I think, Germans are welcome here in general. I personally know and have worked with quite a few people from Germany and always got along well with them after a first phase of adaptation. However, there are cultural differences that cannot be neglected and should not be neglected by a German who wants to get along with the Swiss or even settle here. There are civic traditions still alive in Switzerland the Germans unfortunately have thrown over board a long, long time ago.

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    Standard German is one of the official languages in Switzerland, therefore an educated Swiss German person from there should be able to speak it besides their dialect, isn't it?

    It seems like this Swiss person either wasn't a German Swiss, as HamilkarBarkas said, or he was offended by your brother, not saying intentionally, but maybe he said or did something which was seen as against the Swiss.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Siebenbürgerin View Post
    Standard German is one of the official languages in Switzerland, therefore an educated Swiss German person from there should be able to speak it besides their dialect, isn't it?
    Every Swiss German learns to speak High German, or Standard German if you prefer, in school. However, mainly according to the level of education (primary, secondary school, grammar school, university) a person does achieve, some speak it better, some worse, but believe me: They all understand every single word of it, but unfortunately not always the intention said word is uttered with by a very straightforward, extraverted German person who is trying to make a joke in the best of intentions.

    Furthermore, High German is merely a written language in Switzerland. As a spoken language, it is almost exclusively used in communication with a) foreigners or b) Swiss of a different mother tongue.
    However, most Swiss Germans do not speak Italian at all and French only quite rudimentarily, depending on their canton of origin, the Bernese (and the German speaking Fribourgers and Valaisans) being the best French speakers among Swiss Germans. The further east you go, the less and worse they learn and therefore speak French.

    There is a fourth but only remote possibility to explain the behaviour your brother encountered: The people he was attempting to get into conversation with were very old: The generation that experienced WWII does very often not like Germans at all, but this generation is dying out slowly but surely. However, some kind of defensive reflex survived in the collective subconscious, and when the behaviour of a German individual reminds us of "third Reich" - megalomania, we almost automatically seal off.

    As split as Swiss Germans from different cantons - or even regions within said cantons - are among themselves (no wonder we invented federalism ), as different they are from the (fictional) average German, who in general has a completely - and if I say "completely", I mean it!- different historical and cultural background which cannot fail to reflect also in his behaviour.

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    The Swiss Germans speak High German, but locally they speak dialect. It's very rare for a Swiss German not to be able to speak High German. To refuse to speak is another thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bärin View Post
    My older brother went on a journey to Switzerland and when he came back he told us the Swiss despise standard German. They speak only dialect and if a German from Germany comes who doesn't speak their dialect, they prefer to speak English than standard German. Where does this hatred for standard German come from?
    I doubt that very many people actually speak 100% standard German (High German) as it's really more or less the written form of the language.
    A Berliner or Kölner doesn't speak it and neither does a Hessian or Saxon or a Bavarian. So how can one expect the Swiss to do so?
    Personally, I always avoid speaking SG whenever possible. I'll partially utilize it though when the other person just can't comprehend what I'm trying to say. However, to me, it always feels artificial and unnatural as a means of communication.

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    I have met a swiss guy last saturday. He said the hatred against germans is a deep, undirected feeling for no special reason. It is in their soul. They even like italians more than germans.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Orlaghwila View Post
    I have met a swiss guy last saturday. He said the hatred against germans is a deep, undirected feeling for no special reason. It is in their soul. They even like italians more than germans.
    This is just blunt generalization. Please see above what I tried to explain regarding this subject before posting such delusive crap. Admittedly, there are many hardcore idiots among my fellow countrymen for sure.

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    Some time ago, I met a Swiss-German girl on Omegle chat. It's too bad I forgot to copy the conversation, it would have been an interesting case study. I was playing the ignorant American tourist as I usually do in Omegle chat and asked her questions about her identity and the Germans. She denied being German. She said she's Swiss-German, not German, and the Swiss are better than Germans. She said she didn't like the Germans. I asked if it was because of Hitler. She said no. I asked what's wrong with Germans then and she didn't know what to answer. She was evasive. After I told her I was actually German and started writing in German, she left.

    My impression is that the Swiss, like some Austrians and Southern Germans, have been indoctrinated with too much regionalism, at the expense of rejecting wider German identity and unity.

    PS, Swiss Paper Stirs Up Anti-German Sentiment

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    I have to say that I have never encountered any animosities against me being German in Switzerland.
    Years ago, I was in a relationship with a Swissgerman, from the Zürich area, and all of his family and friends always were very polite.
    On the other hand, I have always shown a lot of interest in dialects in General, so I don't think I ever seemed arrogant to Swiss people.

    I think many Germans don't make an effort to understand Swissgerman, so they react a little arrogant because they are confused and feel confronted almost with a foreign language.
    There are many people here in Germany who don't even understand local dialects within their own country, so go figure.

    I learned to understand Züridütsch pretty quickly, so I encouraged people there to talk normally when they had a conversation with me.
    That breaks a ice a lot. I would simply speak my natural German with my local slang, and they would speak their local dialect.
    That relaxes the situation greatly.

    One thing is, there are many German academics/doctors emigrationg to Switzerland, and I have heard that in some places the Swiss people feel like the Germans are now even taking the high positions in hospitals etc., so that could possibly feed the prejudice of the arrogant German who thinks they are something better.

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