Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds.
Quite a few Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number onto the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, visitors using credit cards should carefully review the information printed on all receipts prior to discarding them. This happens, for instance, in some book and clothing stores and even at the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.
Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.
Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment practice of deescalation. Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking crossing a red pedestrian light, for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example but note that, in Basel city at least, whilst the cross-walks give priority to pedestrians many drivers will stop on and reverse over cross-walks without much care or attention. Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone number in Switzerland is 117, and operators are generally English-speaking.
Football soccer games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games especially in Basel or Zurich are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.
Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need without unduly endangering oneself. People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.
The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16 but not in all cantons, so make sure to ask before buying while the age for any other alcohol e.g. spirits, "alcopops", etc is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.
Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence of the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.
In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.
There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.
Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of public fountains unless specially marked Kein Trinkwasser - Non potable. There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and it's currently illegal to sell any genetically modified food.
Many of the internet cafes that have emerged in the 1990's have closed since, probably because Switzerland has one of the highest rate of high-speed internet connections in homes in the world, but almost any video rental shop and most train stations will have a few internet terminals. The tourist office should be able to direct you to the nearest one. The going rate is 5 CHF for 20 minutes.Also, you can send email, SMS text messages to cell phones or short text faxes from just about every public phone booth for less than 1 CHF. Some public phone booths allow you to browse the internet. There are many shopping centers and cities Lausanne and Vevey for example that offer free wireless internet access: ask the young locals; maybe they know where to go.
The public phones are surprisingly cheap, and have no surcharge for credit cards.
If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 Mhz bands - they usually cost around 10-40 CHF and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Orange or Sunrise in most cities. Swisscom mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas. Other operators cover mainly cities.
There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros M-Budget-Mobile (http://www.m-budget-mobile.ch/) and Coop Coop Mobile (http://www.coop.ch/coopmobile/) for example cost around 20 CHF and include already 15 CHF airtime. The cheapest prepaid card for calls within Switzerland is Aldi Mobile (http://www.aldi-mobile.ch/): 0,14 CHF/min Switzerland fixed and Aldi mobile, 0,34 CHF/min other mobiles. The cheapest prepaid card for international communication is yallo (http://www.yallo.ch/): 0,39 CHF/min within Switzerland as well as to all European and many more countries to the mobile and fixed networks. This includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. SMS cost 0,10 CHF. The prepaid cards can be bought online 30 CHF with 30 CHF airtime inclusive, in most post offices 29 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive or Sunrise shops 20 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive. An other prepaid card with cheap rates offers Lebara Mobile Sister company of Sunrise. The prepaid card is available for 5 CHF with an equivalent talk time and recharge vouchers offer the talktime equivalent to the price of the voucher.
Learning the mother tongue of the area you will be staying in is a great sign of respect. English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated especially in the French-speaking part of the country, even if you're replied to in English. Itâs always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.
Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you. If you are in the German speaking region of Switzerland, it is generally wise to try to communicate in German rather than attempting to speak Swiss German. The German Swiss almost instinctively switch to German once they notice that they are speaking to a foreigner.
German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers.
As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder.
Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a gray area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.
Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times left - right - left. This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French and German speaking part. If it is a business related meeting you just shake hands. Don't be shy as you if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.
Do not litter. While Switzerland will not fine you as in Singapore, littering is definitely seen as bad behaviour in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter. Also make sure that you put it in the correctly labeled bin e.g. recyclable. Some bins actually have times to when this should be done to avoid excess noise!
Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.