Switzerland is truly a unique country, especially in the context of Europe. Switzerland has fierce independence straight from its personality and is not a member of the EU. It has maintained a policy of official neutrality for longer than anyone can remember. These are just a few of the things that make Switzerland so fascinating. So, brace yourself for even more because now we bring you the 10 things you didn’t know about Switzerland.
10: Cantons of Switzerland
One of the most interesting features of Switzerland’s political geography is its division into 26 cantons. Switzerland is rather unique in that. It is officially known as the Swiss Confederacy. It is the only state in Europe that is officially recognized as a confederacy of states. Each Swiss canton is considered a member state of the greater Swiss confederation. A canton can be described in the same manner as a province, state, or other administrative subdivisions found in most other countries.
Each Swiss canton has rather uniquely its own constitution, legislature, government, and courts. Each canton is a sovereign state except with regard to matters of federal law. Despite this minor limitation cantons are remarkably independent and responsible for their own healthcare, welfare, law enforcement, and education and even retain the power of taxation. All of these areas of political life are also decided by Swiss citizens through a very robust direct democracy, where the Swiss vote directly on almost all political matters. As with so many other things in Switzerland, this system seems very strange. But the Swiss have lived this way for hundreds of years and take great pride in the liberty they enjoy.
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9: Swiss Banking
Many people have heard about the infamous Swiss banking system and by extension Swiss bank accounts. Swiss bank accounts have been portrayed in movies as a safe haven for criminals and tax evaders. And Swiss bankers are willing to go to jail for their unscrupulous and anonymous clients. While this isn’t the case anymore. The Swiss banking system over the centuries was a curious institution that accomplished many impressive financial feeds. In the past, the Swiss banking law of 1934 made as a criminal act for a Swiss bank to reveal the name of an account holder. The Swiss banks in Geneva and Zurich served as safe havens for the wealth of dictators, despots, mobsters, arms dealers, corrupt officials, and tax cheats of all kinds until 2015 when all this changed.
On 27th May 2015, Switzerland signed an agreement with the EU that aligns Swiss bank practices with those of EU countries. They ended the special secrecy that clients of Swiss banks have enjoyed in the past. Under the agreement both Switzerland and EU countries automatically exchange information on the financial accounts of each other’s residents. Singapore, in particular, has strengthened penalties for violators of bank secrecy. They now impose a steeper fine and longer jail sentences for offenders in order to attract former Swiss banking clients. It is likely that the importance of the Swiss banking system in terms of servicing the global criminal underground will greatly decline in the coming century.
8: Multiple Languages of Switzerland
Many countries have more than just one official language. Canada, for example, has two, French and English. Switzerland has more than just two. In fact, it has 4 official languages German, French, Italian, and Romansh. As might be expected the languages are related to geographic areas. So most of the eastern Switzerland people speak German. In the West, most people speak French. Italian is spoken in the south near the border with Italy. Romansh which is a unique romance language is spoken in the southeastern canton of Grisons.
Romansh, in particular, is interesting. Very few people know anything about this unique language and the ethnic minority that speaks it. Romansh is a descendant of the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire. Over the centuries it was heavily influenced by linguistic contact with the German language. As a result, Romansh sounds like a unique get a nearly incomprehensible blend of European languages. You would think that with all these languages the Swiss would be confused with a canton system and direct democracy. But this is not the case. If you take the time to ask any Swiss person.
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7: Swiss German
Like Austrian German, Swiss German is very different from German-German. And the accent is unmistakable, so much so, that it sounds like a completely different language, and it is. Swiss German vocabulary is different, pronunciation is different and so was the grammar. And unlike Austrian German, it’s usually not possible for Germans to understand Swiss German. One of the key characteristics of Swiss German called “Schwizerdutsch” is the preservation of some arcade features that are no longer present in standard German. The best example of this is “CH”. Which is often found at the beginning of words rather than just at the end and in the middle. For Example, in Swiss German the word for the kitchen is “ChuChe”, but in standard German, it is “Kuche”. And many other words that start with a “K” in German start with a “CH”.
Swiss German is the de facto language of Swiss German speakers within Switzerland. When Swiss German speakers encounter Germans they usually switch. They will always use “Hochdeutsch” outside the context of Switzerland. Interestingly enough Swiss German speakers have a bit of complex concern in their language. Because most Germans just considered being a barbaric dialect that sounds terrible. This, in turn, creates resentment toward Germans. Thus, the cycle of dislike and distrust is born. Still, things aren’t too bad. The Swiss will tolerate the Germans with their strange language for the most part. If only because they have to.
6: Alps of Switzerland
One of the most iconic symbols of Switzerland is almost certainly the Alps. The towering and circular range of mountains is home to the tallest single peaks in Europe. Some of the most famous peaks of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa. Which rise up to respectively 14692 and 15023 feet above sea level. The Alps offer a natural protective barrier against outsiders for Switzerland. This is why it is theorized that the country has been able to maintain its position of neutrality for so long.
Even before this, the Alps were known for halting the progress of the Carthaginian general Hannibal in his attempt to take Rome resulting in catastrophic losses for him. Simply because of the sheer massiveness of this impressive mountain range. From a geological perspective, the Alps are a medium-age mountain range being neither young nor old when compared to such mountain ranges as the Appalachians or the Andes. And of course, people love to come to Switzerland to go skiing in the Alps. Which is probably what they’re most famous for. It’s quite possible that no other mountain range in the world conjures up the same images of history, romance, and recreation as do the Alps which largely lie in and around Switzerland.
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5: Swiss Food
Most people do not realize that some of the best and most delicious food comes from Switzerland. What are some of these tasty morsels? Well, muesli for one is world-famous as a mixture of oats and other grains combined with nuts, seeds, and fruit, and with so much variety. It would be impossible to do all the types of muesli justest here. Suffice it to say muesli is known and appreciated well beyond the borders of Switzerland for its delicious and natural tastes. As well as its appeal to healthy living and it doesn’t just stop there.
Fondue is a Swiss dish composed of melted cheese in a large pot that is heated under particular conditions. It is beyond delicious with people typically dipping bread into the mix for an incredibly awesome taste. And then there is the world-famous Swiss chocolate which often covers entire aisles and Swiss supermarkets and has an international reputation for high quality and taste. One of Switzerland’s best-kept secrets is its food, so fly on over and give it a taste, you won’t regret it.
4: Gun Ownership in Switzerland
When most people think of gun freaks, most people think of Americans or “Muricans” as they are sometimes called. As the first online in terms of gun ownership and use but this might not be the most accurate view of things. Part of Swiss gun ownership goes back to traditions as far back as the post-Napoleonic restoration after the Swiss expelled their French conquers. Tradition and patriotism have kept gun ownership alive and well in Switzerland.
As a consequence, most Swiss citizens have extensive firearms training. Most households also held multiple guns. what is striking, however, is the difference in crime when comparing Swiss gun culture to American gun culture. Where injuries and fatalities are much higher. No one really knows the reasons for this, whether is Switzerland’s smaller size, careful regulation of firearms, different styles of governance, or something else entirely. But regardless of the cause, Switzerland is held up as a role model of safe gun culture in the world. It remains so to this day.
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3: Swiss-German Relations
In a not too similar way to how Austrians and Germans don’t really get along. Swiss people particularly Swiss German speakers tend not to like Germans very much. Germans are viewed as rude, intrusive, and ignorant of Swiss culture. In recent decades there has been a huge influx of Germans entering the Swiss labor market, sucking up jobs and making their presence known. This coupled with German’s ignorance of Swiss history and politics. But conversely, Swiss people’s better-than-average knowledge of German history and politics makes for a difficult situation. Then, of course, there is the language issue. High German isn’t really the de facto official language in Switzerland. Germans send a waltz into the country demanding that Swiss German speak their German which breeds resentment and distrust. With Germany’s increasingly liberal policies and talking down to Switzerland? It’s unlikely that relations will improve anytime soon.
2: Not so Neutral Neutrality
Even though Switzerland has always officially maintained a policy of neutrality. Particularly during World War II. Issues actually more complicated than one is led to believe. While Switzerland did not actively participate in national socialism. It wasn’t entirely neutral either. A great deal of property and gold that had been confiscated by the national socialists from their victims ended up in Switzerland. Where much of it remains today. During World War II some of the more financially able victims of the national socialists attempted to flee to Switzerland. They were rejected and turned away. In some cases, Swiss officials actively aided and abetted in carrying out national socialist objectives. So, while officially neutral not everything that Switzerland has done has turned out this way.
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1: William Tell was from Switzerland
The greatest folk hero of the Swiss is surely William Tell or in German “Wilhelm Tell”. He is venerated as a human symbol of bravery against tyranny. It is claimed he was a brilliant marksman to boot. He was able to cleanly shoot an apple off the head of a child. With either a bow or crossbow depending on which version you read. He is credited either with actively resisting, encouraging rebellion against, or even assassinating some members of the Habsburgs. As they sought to encroach on Swiss territory. Although no exact date is known for when he lived and that’s as is often the case with folk heroes. He transposes the centuries allowing him to conveniently fit whatever narrative people wanted to fit into.
So, that was our today’s list of 10 things you didn’t know about Switzerland? What do you guys know more about Switzerland? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks.