Monday, February 15, 2010

Ich han dich gern

For Valentine's Day, Fabian cooked a delicious dinner with recipes from Jamie Oliver. We devoured rosemary sole wrapped in fine bacon, minted peas, ginger broccoli, and the BEST avocado+ salad I've had in my life. After we finished feasting, he agreed to let me interview him about Love in Switzerland.


Is "Ich han dich gern" the Swiss equivalent to saying “I love you”?

Yes, it’s the equivalent but the direct translation is “I like you a lot”. Everything here is way toned down. When I grew up, I never heard parents say “Ich han dich gern” to a kid. The first time I heard parents tell their kids they love them was in the US.

What about “Ich liebe dich”?
That’s German, Hochdeutsch. I heard it a lot in German movies, but in daily life, I know Germans give compliments sparingly and also say “I love you” sparingly. They want to reserve it for when they really mean it. This is similar to how the Swiss are. Now I hear parents saying “Ich han dich gern” and I think that’s the influence of the Anglo Saxon world, the influence of other cultures, other habits.

There is the Swiss German word “Liebi” which means Love. The phrase “Liebi mache” means to make love.

How do you express love and affection in Switzerland?
The main difference between the US and Switzerland is that Americans say “I love you” in public a lot, even among friends, even among guys (“I love you man”). This is not common here. However, with couples, I don’t see any other difference than saying or not saying the phrase “I love you”.

So do couples say “Ich han dich gern” a lot?
No, not in public. I don’t know about in private. What’s very common is the use of nicknames: Schatzli, Schatz, Müsli, Hasli, which is the same as Darling, Honey, Bunny, etc.

Do you verbally express more affection now, after having lived in the US for 6 years?
Sure. I’m not cheap with compliments anymore. The Swiss and Germans are very sparse with compliments. This is the stereotype. Typically, “Nicht schlecht” ("Not bad") is traditionally a high compliment. Americans are the best sincere compliment makers vs. just flattering. The Swiss typically mistrust these compliments. They don’t think it’s sincere and they cannot imagine that Americans sincerely mean it. I think giving a lot of compliments is great. It’s not a scarce resource. This is something I deeply appreciate about American culture.

Other cultures seem like they have mastered the protocol of flattery. Americans are very spontaneous about giving a compliment. The Swiss typically mistrust this.

I can only speak for Zürich, but how people interact here has changed in the past 20 years. Every 3rd person here has a foreign passport.

When I moved to the US, an early version of "Values Americans Live By" by L. Robert Kohls, helped me become aware of how to look at American values without going into the typical Swiss stereotypes about Americans (shallowness, too happy, too self-confident, too positive). I wish he could describe the German or Swiss cultures. I’m sure he would do a great job.

What about the stereotypes about the Swiss?
There are different perceptions about the Swiss. Some say the Swiss are really friendly, but hard to open up. They don’t offer personal things on a silver plate. They are very happy but you need to dig a bit.

Why do so many Swiss marry foreigners?
This should be the topic of another entry.


What other questions do you, my dear readers, wish I had asked Fabian? What experiences have you had with... "I love you"!


  1. Ah! This is such a fun post! Ok, I grew up hearing "I love you" from my parents a lot - between them and to us kids. (We're Mexican-American, by the way.) These verbal affirmations of love were and are very important to me. They warm my heart. Of course, actions need to match the words for them to be sincere, but I hold the words in highest esteem. My husband (also American), also grew up hearing "I love you" from his parents, but what he remembers the most was the different ways they showed their love to him: playing with him, spending time with him, etc. So, you see, we have different love languages and to keep one another happy and loved, we have had to learn to speak different love languages. I make sure I show my love in addition to saying the words, and he makes sure to say the words in addition to the ways he shows his love. It's more than just a cultural thing but also a love language thing!

    Another interesting thing is how you say "I love you" in Spanish or Italian. You can say "te quiero" or "ti voglio bene" which literally mean "I want you," but culturally they mean the same thing as the American "I love you" between couples.

  2. Very interesting! I am American through & through, but I've always been uncomfortable with friends casually saying "I love you", I never know what to say back. I reserve that phrase for family (which over time could include friends). And being a southern American, I am familiar with more flattery type compliments, which I never truly trusted. Fabian's insight gives me a different view of it, though- thanks for that!

  3. Excellent point, Amanda, I'm glad you brought up actions and the different ways you can show love. My parents are Romanian and while they never said "I love you" ("Te iubesc") to me or to each other, we came up with other phrases which were the equivalent. At the end of each phone conversation we'd say "Kisses" ("Pupi"). For us and only us, this meant "I love you". Mom and dad also hugged and kissed me on the cheek a lot.

    It took me three decades to start saying "I love you" to friends and significant others. It holds so much weight for me, it isn't always easy to get out. But I'm glad I've added it to my vocabulary. It's such a beautiful sentiment, it feels great to give and receive it.


    Carrie, I always forget you're from the South. I think it's your flawless English accent, unmarked by a drawl. And as a side-note, you give Amazing hugs and I feel much Love in them.

  4. "Müsli" is a term of endearment? Doesn't that mean, like, cereal...?

    I LOVE this post!! (And have to make a generous compliment because I'm an American :) )

  5. ooooohhh, I'm so happy to find you here, Melania! (via Facebook.) Great entry... saying I love you... I was sharing notes with another new mom when Eli was about a year or so old... she spoke of how great it was the first time your baby says "I love you." And I was struck by the thought that I don't remember ever saying "I love you" to Eli... (she laughed.) I speak Korean exclusively to Eli and in Korea it is not a common thing to easily say "I love you"... but it English I say "I love you" to loved ones easily and readliy... But I don't speak English to Eli! Even though the "emotion" and "action" is there, the words that may or may not be a part of a culture's language seem to dictate so much of our habit. I have been trying out the saying of "I love you" in Korean, but I can't shake the feeling of trying out someone else's coat... And it's been over a year! :-) Sending you lots of love, Yoon Soo

  6. It's weird, recently there have been co-workers that I am not particularly close with at all that have said "Love you!" to me and I always feel like I have to say it back even though I don't love them. And then I do and I feel BAD. WRONG. It's happened 2x now. But I enjoy saying I love you freely to my friends and family. And I recall my mom saying it to me lots. Sam and I say it a lot to each other and we wonder if it will lose it's power, it's meaning, but it always feels good and genuine coming from each other. At least for now!

  7. Amy, müsli indeed is a type of cereal. It's pretty good, I like it in yogurt.

    Andie & Yoon Soo, you were both crucial in helping me overcome my shyness & mental block of saying IT. Thank you!

  8. Great interview! So insightful! I do disagree with one point though: I don't think it's true that Europeans are suspicious of compliments. In the German Speaking areas, maybe, but as an Italian I can tell you, we pay compliments a lot and are very verbal about our affection too. And people don't take it as fake. Just spontaneous :-)

  9. Elisa, you're right. Duh. I have to clarify Fabian is talking about German speaking / Northern countries. I'll edit the entry tonight once he gets home. Thanks for the crucial point!

  10. I just discovered your blog and liked this post a lot! My parents are both from Turkey and even though Turkish people are also known to be very warm and verbally express their emotions very well, I am not like that at all. Being born in the German speaking part of Switzerland and the culture here influenced me a lot obviously. I can hardly say "Ich han dich gern" let alone "Ich liebe dich!". I do love how open Americans are though and try to be less awkward taking compliments etc. :)