I learned a little French in high school and college, but speak no German. If I were in France, I would ask, in French, if they speak English, and go from there.
In Zurich and in Zermatt, what is the polite thing to do when beginning to converse? Ask if they speak English, in German? Or just start speaking English (they’ll probably figure out we aren’t locals from the beginning). Since there are so many languages spoken by the Swiss 🙂
The local Zermatt people in Zermatt are generally comfortable with English and it is widely spoken. Many are also fluent in German, French, Italian, Spanish and now some are learning Russian! I’d simply ask if they speak English. I also cannot recall in over 40 years of visiting Switzerland having any difficulty conversing.
If ever you have to learn German and not French as Zermatt belongs to the Swiss-German part of our country. Actually the locals don’t speak real German but Swiss-German or Schwizerduetsch (here we start with your first lesson…). But their local dialect is so strange that even us from the lowlands can hardly understand them! So really no need for you to learn it also regarding the fact that almost everybody in Zermatt related to tourism will speak English (or at least what they think is English)!
Zermatt is actually on the edge of the Swiss-German speaking area. If you ski down to Cervinia they will speak Italian and just one valley to the west they speak French.
I have been to Zermatt something like a dozen times and never met anyone who doesn’t speak English well. In fact, I have heard the Swiss themselves using English to communicate with other Swiss people from a part that uses a different language. My impression is that most German speaking Swiss speak reasonable English, unlike the French and Italian speakers.
Hi, I would definitely do two things – take the gornergrat train up the mountain – sit on the right as you are going up – beautiful views of the Matterhorn and scenery in general. Also take the cable car up to the Klein Matterhorn – the view after you walk through the tunnel is incredible – the tops of lots of Alps and a sense of being on top of the world – dress warmly as it can be very windy so the wind chill make it really cold! Also at the top of the Klein is the ice grotto – a huge cave in the glacier with carvings, etc. You can do both in one day if you start fairly early (9 or so). There’s also a mountaineering museum that’s really interesting and walking some of the side streets in the older parts of town is wonderful. There may be concerts etc. but you’ll have to check with the visitors’ office (right by the main train station) for the dates you will be there. Have a great time!
If you know a little German, Patty, I’m confident that you will get along more than fine. German is the language of the majority of “locals” and entrepreneurs, but there is a very high fluency rate of English among the people of Zermatt. My husband and I speak next to no German, and we got by very well just on English. Language barrier was rarely a problem anywhere we were in Switzerland, in fact. We only ran into a communication block a couple of times in our whole trip, but never in Zermatt.
There are some places in Switzerland where it is handy to have some French or Italian, but this is not the case in Zermatt. If you need a good back-up language, German would be it. You should do very well. Have a good trip!