Being interested in international PR and cultural diversity, I had imagined Zurich as one of the most international cities in Europe and probably the most cross-cultural.
After a dozen of business meetings as well as time spent with expats, I got surprised in many ways. This was not in any negative or positive way, it was just different from what I had first imagined.
Zurich is multicultural, multilinguistic but not very cross-cultural.
- A lot of PR and communication work done by PR agencies is either local or national. Zurich is in the heart of Europe but the links with other countries are not always established.
- There are as many as four official languages in the country with particular cultures in the 26 cantons but there is a little connection between them. Some PR agencies and companies have difficulties linking the different cantons together. The barrier may not only be linguistic but also cultural.
- Language : although 4 languages are spoken and English is accepted, it is clear that you can’t make proper business without speaking German fluently.
- The internal fragmentation is also symbolised by the media landscape. Regional titles are more influential than national newspapers.
- Companies offer multilingual communication to their clients and less international communication. Few businesses I spoke to were proactively looking for business outside of Switzerland. This might be the result of the high volume of work in the country.
- Swiss identity: the distinct position outside of the European Union, the Swiss German language, Swiss culture, national food: these are signs to remind you that Swiss cherish and protect their identity. There isn’t one Swiss culture but many Swiss cultures. Diversity is more complex than the simple addition of languages. This might be why some large international PR agencies have trouble adapting to the local market. It’s the same for international groups where permeability to local culture can be strong. Some employees of international groups insist on speaking English in a Swiss german city.
- Reputation in Zurich is based on word-of-mouth, more than in many other cities. Connections and contacts are crucial to grow your business but once trust is in place, it’s there to last.
All these facts create huge potentials of connecting cultures within Switzerland and connecting the country with its neighbours. It just takes a bit more work and patience than one could think in the first place.