For learners of German, as well as our neighbours from the “big canton” of Germany, it can be difficult to navigate Zurich as newcomers. The local language plays a major part in this, because in Zurich, as in all other German-speaking regions in Switzerland, a dialect of Swiss German is spoken.
But no reason to panic! This dialect is not the official written language, which is Standard German. Nevertheless, if you live in Zurich you will be confronted with Swiss-German very often, which is why it is worth taking a closer look at some of the special features of the Zurich dialect:
A simple “Grüezi” is the universal greeting in Switzerland. It is derived from the polite (and outdated) form “Ich grüsse Sie.” Like this older form, “Grüezi” is only used in a context, in which people do not know each other and wish to use the polite form of address.
2. “Hätted Sie gern es Säckli?”
(Would you like a bag?)
A question you will often hear at the checkout of a supermarket. The word “Säckli” is the diminutive of the German “Sack,” meaning “bag,” usually meaning one made of plastic.
(By the way… / Watch out…)
This expression is slightly misleading, as it resembles the German “Im Fall,” which means “in case.” In Swiss German, however it is used to accentuate either the beginning of a sentence or the end of a sentence, or to emphasize a particular phrase. And more often than not, it is used as a filler word without any particular meaning.
4. “Ich trinke nur Hahnewasser”
(I only drink tap water)
If you are not prepared to pay 5 francs for water, you can ask for tap water. While the word “Hahn” means “cockerel” in German, it is also the word for “tap”. But watch out, some places may even charge for tap water…
5. So en freche Cheib!
(What a cheeky guy!)
As polite as they may be, when the people of Zurich are annoyed, they know how to curse. The derogative word “Cheib” is derived from the old German word “Keib,” which is still used in the South of Germany and is itself a derivate of the form “Kerl” – which means “guy.”
6. “Das isch no gäbig.”
(That is quite practical)
The adjective “gäbig” describes all things that serve a useful and practical purpose; a Swiss Army Knife is a prime example of something “gäbig”.
7. “Nöd scho wieder chröömle!”
(Do not buy something again!)
The word “chröömle” will bring back childhood memories for many a Swiss person. It does not simply mean “to buy something,”, but evokes a more precise concept: buying sweets or other small items at the corner shop with the little pocket money that you have as a child.
8. “Ich han kei Stütz.”
(I don’t have any money)
A “Stutz” denotes one unit of the Swiss currency, a franc. Although it is rarely true, the people of Zurich use this expression frequently. It is also used in different contexts: Homeless people may ask “Hesch mir en Stutz? (= Do you have a franc for me?) which may in turn annoy a few people (“freche Siech!” – cheeky guy!).
9. “Gömmer id Badi?”
(Let’s go to the (outdoor) swimming pool)
In the summer, the public outdoor swimming pools are very popular in Switzerland. As you visit them to swim – in German “baden” – they are called “Badi” in Swiss German.
10. “Merci, adie!”
A common way to say goodbye is “Adie”, which, unlike the French “Adieu”, does not mean “to God,” and thus “never to be seen again,” but is simply the polite way of saying “goodbye.” And since Swiss German employs many loanwords originating from French, “merci” is a common way of saying thank you.
Speaking of French, why not take a French course at inlingua? You’ll soon recognise some of the loanwords used in Swiss German!