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Swiss Confederation
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German)
Confédération suisse (French)
Confederazione Svizzera (Italian)
Confederaziun svizra (Romansh)
Confœderatio Helvetica (CH) (Latin)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto(unofficial) "Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno" (Latin)
English: One for all, all for one
German: Einer für alle, alle für einen
French: Un pour tous, tous pour un
Italian: Uno per tutti, tutti per uno
Romansh: In per tuts, tuts per in
Anthem"Swiss Psalm"
Location of  Switzerland  (dark green)

on the European continent  (dark grey)  —  [Legend]

Capital Bern[note 1]
46°57′N 7°27′E / 46.95°N 7.45°E / 46.95; 7.45
Largest city Zürich
Official language(s) German,
French,
Italian,
Romansh[1]
Demonym Swiss
Government Federal state, with parliamentary system and direct democracy
 -  Federal Council Moritz Leuenberger (VP 10)
Micheline Calmy-Rey
Hans-Rudolf Merz
Doris Leuthard (Pres. 10)
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf
Ueli Maurer
Didier Burkhalter
 -  Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova
Legislature Federal Assembly
 -  Upper House Council of States
 -  Lower House National Council
Independence
 -  Foundation date 1 August[note 2] 1291 
 -  de facto 22 September 1499 
 -  Recognized 24 October 1648 
 -  Restored 7 August 1815 
 -  Federal state 12 September 1848[2] 
Area
 -  Total 41,284 km2 (136th)
15,940 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 4.2
Population
 -  2009 estimate 7,782,900[3] (94th)
 -  2007 census 7,593,500 
 -  Density 188/km2 (65th)
477.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $315.768 billion[4] (38th)
 -  Per capita $43,195[4] (7th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $500.260 billion[4] (21st)
 -  Per capita $68,433[4] (4th)
Gini (2000) 33.7 (medium
HDI (2007) 0.960[5] (very high) (9th)
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .ch
Calling code +41

Switzerland (German: die Schweiz,[note 3] French: la Suisse, Italian: la Svizzera, Romansh: la Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Confœderatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country codes CH and CHE), is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe[note 4] where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.

Switzerland is a landlocked country whose territory is geographically divided between the Alps, the Central Plateau and the Jura that yields a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). The Swiss population of approximately 7.8 million people concentrates mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, with a nominal per capita GDP of $67,384.[4] Zürich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as having the second and third highest quality of life in the world.[6]

The Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and was one of the last countries to join the United Nations. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including the World Economic Forum, the International Olympic Committee, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization and the second largest UN office. On the European level it was a founder of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Agreement.

Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, to which the Romansh-speaking valleys are added. The Swiss therefore do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity. The strong sense of belonging to the country is founded on the common historical background, shared values (federalism, direct democracy, neutrality)[7] and Alpine symbolism.[8] The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary.

Contents

Etymology

The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, in use during the 16th to 19th centuries.[9] The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The toponym itself is first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, ultimately perhaps related to suedan "to burn", referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build.[10] The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation.[11][12]

The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz for the Confederation,[13] but simply Schwyz for the canton and the town).[14]

The Neo-Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was introduced at the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic. It is derived from the name of the Helvetii, a Celtic tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era. The name of the Helvetii is attested epigraphically, in Etruscan form, on a vessel dated to ca. 300 BC.[15] They first appear in historiography in the 2nd century BC, in Posidonius. Helvetia appears as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century, with a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.[16]

History

Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of modern Switzerland established a protective alliance at the end of the 13th century, forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.

Early history

The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years.[17] The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC.[17]

Founded in 44 BC, Augusta Raurica was the first Roman settlement on the Rhine and is nowadays the most important archaeological site in Switzerland[18]

The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel. La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC,[17] possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. In 58 BC, at the Battle of Bibracte, Julius Caesar's armies defeated the Helvetii.[17] In 15 BC, Tiberius, who was destined to be the second Roman emperor and his brother, Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii—the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica—first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia.

In the Early Middle Ages, from the 4th century, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps in the 8th century, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy.[17] The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.[19][20]

Throughout the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties). But after its extension under Charlemagne, the Frankish empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.[17] The territories of nowadays Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.[17]

By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg and Kyburg.[17] Some regions (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, later known as Waldstätten) were accorded the Imperial immediacy to grant the empire direct control over the mountain passes. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264 AD, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) extended their territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.[19]

Old Swiss Confederacy

The house dominions that existed around AD 1200:
     Savoy      Zähringer      Habsburg      Kyburg

The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace on the important mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwalden is considered the confederacy's founding document, even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.[21][22]

Federal charter of 1291

By 1353 the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zürich and Bern city states to form the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the federation.[22] By 1460, the confederates controlled most of the territory south and west of the Rhine to the Alps and the Jura mountains, particularly after victories against the Habsburgs (Battle of Sempach, Battle of Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of Emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence within the Holy Roman Empire.[22]

The Old Swiss Confederacy had acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but expansion of the federation suffered a setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. This ended the so-called "heroic" epoch of Swiss history.[22] The success of Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal religious conflicts in 1529 and 1531 (Wars of Kappel). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Treaty of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality.[19][20]

During the Early Modern period of Swiss history, the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years' War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653. In the background to this struggle, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the Battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.[22]

Napoleonic era

The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.

In 1798, the revolutionary French government conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution.[22] This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons and Mülhausen and Valtellina valley separated from Switzerland. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September of 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.

When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and Austrian forces invaded Switzerland. The Swiss refused to fight alongside the French in the name of the Helvetic Republic. In 1803 Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons.[22] Henceforth much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality.[19][20][22] Swiss troops still served foreign governments until 1860 when they fought in the Siege of Gaeta. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland's borders have not changed since.[23]

Federal state

The first Federal Palace in Bern (1857). One of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council), Bern was chosen as the federal capital in 1848, mainly because of its closeness to the French speaking area.[24]

The restoration of the power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war broke out in 1847 when some of the Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbundskrieg).[22] The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. However minor the Sonderbundskrieg seems to be when compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland.

The war made all Swiss understand the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic, Protestant, or from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interests were merged.

Thus, while the rest of Europe was plagued by revolutionary uprisings, the Swiss drew up an actual constitution which provided for a federal layout, much of it inspired by the American example. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. Giving credit to those who favoured the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided between an upper house (the Swiss Council of States, 2 representatives per canton) and a lower house (the National Council of Switzerland, representatives elected from across the country). Referenda were made mandatory for any amendment of this constitution.[20]

A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. Article 11 of the constitution forbid sending troops to serve abroad, though the Swiss were still obliged to serve Francis II of the Two Sicilies with Swiss Guards present at the Siege of Gaeta in 1860, marking the end of foreign service.

Inauguration in 1882 of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel, connecting the southern canton of Ticino.

An important clause of the constitution was that it could be re-written completely if this was deemed necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.[25]

This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. An early draft was rejected by the population in 1872 but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874.[22] It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters.

In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique even today.[22]

Modern history

The beginning of tourism in the 19th century led to the construction of important infrastructures. Here the train connecting the village of Zermatt (1891).

Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) and he remained there until 1917.[26] Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the Grimm-Hoffmann Affair in 1917, but it was short-lived. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, on the condition that it was exempt from any military requirements.

During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans,[27] but Switzerland was never attacked.[22] Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion.[20][28] Under General Henri Guisan, a massive mobilisation of militia forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to one of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Réduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.[28]

The bombing of Schaffhausen during World War II

Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached a peak after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland completely surrounded by the Axis. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees[29] and the International Red Cross, based in Geneva, played an important part during the conflict. Strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy.[30] During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding Luftwaffe planes in May and June 1940, then forcing down other intruders after a change of policy following threats from Germany. The fact that the Swiss Air Force consistently beat the Luftwaffe was a recurring embarrassment for Hitler in World War Two. The Allies acknowledged this, but the Allied Air Forces also many times intruded Swiss Air Space and made raids on several cities during the War. Over 100 Allied bombers and their crews were interned during the war. During 1944-45, Allied bombers mistakenly bombed a few places in Switzerland, among which were the cities of Schaffhausen, Basel and Zürich.[28]

The coat of arms of the Canton of Jura has been set apart in the dome of the Federal Palace. The canton was founded in 1978, its territory split off that of the canton of Bern and formally joined the Swiss Confederation in 1979.

Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971[22][31] and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level, women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp, who served from 1984–1989,[22] and the first female president being Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.

Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963.[20] In 1979 areas from the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.[22]

The National Exposition of 2002

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992[22] when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referenda on the EU issue; due to a mixed reaction from the population the membership application has been frozen. Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent and reluctant to enter supranational bodies.[20]

Politics

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state, the second oldest in the world.[32] A new Constitution was adopted in 1999, but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines basic and political rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdiction and authority. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level:[33] the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).

The Federal Palace in Bern is the name of the building in which the Federal Assembly of Switzerland (federal parliament) and the Swiss Federal Council (executive) are housed.

The Swiss Parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation, depending on the population of each canton. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.[32]

The Federal Council constitutes the federal government, directs the federal administration and serves as collective Head of State. It is a collegial body of seven members, elected for a four-year mandate by the Federal Assembly which also exercises oversight over the Council. The President of the Confederation is elected by the Assembly from among the seven members, traditionally in rotation and for a one-year term; the President chairs the government and assumes representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department within the administration.[32]

The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the "magic formula". In the 2007 Federal Council elections the seven seats in the Federal Council were distributed as follows:

2 Social Democrats (SPS/PSS),
2 Liberal Democrats (FDP/PRD),
2 Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC),[note 6]
1 Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC).

The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals against rulings of cantonal or federal courts. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.[34]

Direct democracy

The Landsgemeinde is an old form of direct democracy. It is still practised in two cantons.[35]

Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy since it is aided by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civic rights (Volksrechte, droits civiques), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.[32][36]

By calling a federal referendum a group of citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament, if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Eight cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.[32]

Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they can get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months.[note 7] Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, with voters having to indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of both the national popular vote and a majority of the cantonal popular votes.[note 8][37][38][39]

Cantons

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:[32]

Canton Capital Canton Capital
Wappen Aargau matt.svg Aargau Aarau Wappen Nidwalden matt.svg *Nidwalden Stans
Wappen Appenzell Ausserrhoden matt.svg *Appenzell Ausserrhoden Herisau Wappen Obwalden matt.svg *Obwalden Sarnen
Wappen Appenzell Innerrhoden matt.svg *Appenzell Innerrhoden Appenzell Wappen Schaffhausen matt.svg Schaffhausen Schaffhausen
Wappen Basel-Stadt matt.svg *Basel-Stadt Basel Wappen Schwyz matt.svg Schwyz Schwyz
Wappen Basel-Landschaft matt.svg *Basel-Landschaft Liestal Wappen Solothurn matt.svg Solothurn Solothurn
Wappen Bern matt.svg Bern Bern Wappen St. Gallen matt.svg St. Gallen St. Gallen
Wappen Freiburg matt.svg Fribourg Fribourg Wappen Thurgau matt.svg Thurgau Frauenfeld
Wappen Genf matt.svg Geneva Geneva Wappen Tessin matt.svg Ticino Bellinzona
Wappen Glarus matt.svg Glarus Glarus Wappen Uri matt.svg Uri Altdorf
Wappen Graubünden matt.svg Graubünden Chur Wappen Wallis matt.svg Valais Sion
Wappen Jura matt.svg Jura Delémont Wappen Waadt matt.svg Vaud Lausanne
Wappen Luzern matt.svg Lucerne Lucerne Wappen Zug matt.svg Zug Zug
Wappen Neuenburg matt.svg Neuchâtel Neuchâtel Wappen Zürich matt.svg Zürich Zürich

*These half-cantons are represented by one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States.

The cantons have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts.[35] However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population and geographical area. Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km2 (14 sq mi) (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi) (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,889 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.[40]

In a referendum held in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919 over 80% of those voting supported a proposal that the state should join the Swiss Confederation. However, this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian Government, the Allies, Swiss liberals and non German-speaking Swiss.[41][42]

Foreign relations and international institutions

The Palace of Nations - the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva

Traditionally, Switzerland avoids alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action and had been neutral since the end of its expansion in 1515. Its policy of neutrality has been internationally recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.[43][44] Only in 2002 did Switzerland become a full member of the United Nations[43] but it was the first state to join it by referendum. Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as an intermediary between other states.[43] Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people have consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.[43]

The reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement,[31] founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant[45]

An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. Geneva is the birth place of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. The European Broadcasting Union has the official headquarters in the city. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member of the League of Nations. Apart from the United Nations headquarters, the Swiss Confederation is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and about 200 other international organisations.[43] The World Economic Forum foundation is based in Geneva. It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos which brings together top international business and political leaders to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment.

Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Ice Hockey Federation. The most important ones are probably the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne, the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football), in Zürich, and the UEFA (Union of European Football Association), in Nyon.[46]

Swiss Armed Forces

An F/A-18 Hornet in flight over Switzerland. Pilots have to deal with the Swiss mountains.

The Swiss Armed Forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed of conscripts: professional soldiers constitute only about 5 percent of the military personnel, and all the rest are conscript citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in special cases up to 50) years. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy, however on lakes bordering neighbouring countries armed military patrol boats are used. Swiss citizens are prohibited from serving in foreign armies, with the exception of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican.

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organisations and political parties find this practice controversial and dangerous.[47] Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. They usually receive the marching order at the age of 19 for military conscription. About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, an alternative service exists.[48] Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in boot camp for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks. The reform "Army XXI" was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model "Army 95", reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those, 120,000 are active and 80,000 are reserve units.[49]

MOWAG Eagle armoured vehicles in a military parade

Overall, three general mobilisations have been declared to ensure the integrity and neutrality of Switzerland. The first one was held on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The second one was decided in response to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The third mobilisation of the army took place on September 1939 in response to the German attack on Poland; Henri Guisan was elected as the General-in-Chief.

Because of neutrality, the army cannot take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed forces department has also maintained the Onyx intelligence gathering system to monitor satellite communications.

Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether (see Group for a Switzerland without an Army). A notable referendum on the subject was held on the 26 November 1989. Although it was defeated, over one third of the people voted in favour of it.[50][51] A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after, the September 11 attacks, was defeated by over 78% of voters.[52]

Geography and climate

Satellite image of Switzerland

Extending across the north and south side of the Alps, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi).[53] The population is about 7.7 million, resulting in an average population density of around 190 people per square kilometre (485/sq mi).[53][54][55] The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half.[53]

Contrasted landscapes between the 4,000 metres of the high Alps (Matterhorn on the left), the Sanetsch region and the plateau at Lake Lucerne

Switzerland contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps on the south, the Central Plateau or middleland, and the Jura mountains on the north.[53] The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps countless glaciers are found, totalling an area of 3,000 square kilometres.[56] From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, Rhone, Inn, Aare, and Ticino flow finally into the largest Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.[53]

Contrasted climates between the most glaciated area in western Eurasia (Aletsch Glacier),[57] the cold temperate Jura (Vallée de Joux) and the southern canton of Ticino (Lake Lugano)

About a hundred of Switzerland's mountain peaks are close to or higher than 4,000 metres.[58] At 4,634 m/15,203 ft, the Dufourspitze is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m/14,692 ft) is probably more famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is also well known for the Jungfrau(4,158 m/13,642 ft) and Eiger, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m/13,284 ft).[59]

The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Middle Land. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country.[59] The largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in western Switzerland. The Rhone River is both the main input and output of Lake Geneva.

The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities,[60][61] from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The winters in the mountains alternate with sun and snow, while the lower lands tend to be more cloudy and foggy in winter.[61] A weather phenomenon known as the föhn[60] can occur at all times of the year, even in winter, and is characterised by a relatively warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity. It blows mostly on the northern side of the Alps where it can trigger dangerous avalanches.[61] The driest conditions persist in the southern valleys of the Valais[60] above which valuable saffron is harvested and many wine grapes are grown, Graubünden also tends to be drier in climate[60] and slightly colder, yet with plentiful snow in winter. The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time.[60] The eastern part tends to be colder than western Switzerland, yet anywhere up high in the mountains can experience a cold spell at any time of the year. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year, with minor variations across the seasons depending on locale. Autumn frequently tends to be the driest season, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland can be highly variable from year to year, and difficult to predict.

Switzerland's ecosystems can be particularly fragile, because of the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to climate change.[62][63]

Economy

The Omega Speedmaster, a Swiss-made watch worn on the moon during the Apollo missions. In terms of value, Switzerland is responsible for half of the world production of watches.[31][64]

Switzerland has a stable, modern and one of the most capitalist economies in the world. It has the 2nd highest European rating after Ireland in the Index of Economic Freedom 2008, while also providing large coverage through public services. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger western European economies and Japan, ranking 6th behind Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Iceland and Ireland. The Swiss franc remains one of the world's strongest currencies with the lowest inflation rate.[65]

The Greater Zürich Area, home to 1.5 million inhabitants and 150,000 companies, has taken top position in some life quality surveys.[66]
The Engadin Valley. Tourism constitutes an important revenue for the less industrialised alpine regions.

If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 15th in the world for GDP per capita.[67] The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world.[68] For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin.[69] In 2005 the median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 95,000 CHF, the equivalent of roughly 90,000 USD (as of December 2009) in nominal terms.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB and Adecco.[70] Also notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.[69]

Chemicals, health and pharmaceutical, measuring instruments, musical instruments, real estate, banking and insurance, tourism, and international organisations are important industries in Switzerland. The largest exported goods are chemicals (34% of exported goods), machines/electronics (20.9%), and precision instruments/watches (16.9%).[71] Exported services amount to a third of exported goods.[71]

Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland. Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighboring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. Unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 4.4%, as of December 2009.[72] Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004.[71] Foreign citizen population is 21.8% as of 2004,[71] about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world's 17th highest, at 27.44 international dollars in 2006.

Switzerland has an overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is an easy place to do business; Switzerland ranks 21st of 178 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index. The slow growth Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reforms and harmonisation with the European Union.[73][74] According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany.[71] Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland's free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalisation is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD.[73] Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world.[75][76][77] Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Education, science, and technology

Some of the Swiss scientists who played a key role in their discipline (clockwise):
Leonhard Euler (maths)
Louis Agassiz (glaciology)
Auguste Piccard (aeronautics)
Albert Einstein (physics)

Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons.[78] There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons, but most cantons provide a free "children's school" starting at four or five years old.[78] Primary school continues until grade four or five, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons.[78] At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura,[78] while students who assimilate a little bit more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.

The "Zentrum" campus of ETH Zürich,[note 9] university in Switzerland, where Albert Einstein studied.

There are 12 universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The biggest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students. The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the ETHZ in Zürich (founded 1855) and the EPFL in Lausanne (founded 1969 as such, formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne) which both have an excellent international reputation. In 2008, the ETH Zurich was ranked 15th in the field Natural Sciences and Mathematics by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities[79] and the EPFL in Lausanne was ranked 18th in the field Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences by the same ranking. In addition there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen (HSG) and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) are the leaders. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.[80]

Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed his theory of relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners stand in relation to Switzerland[81] and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organisations residing in Switzerland.[82]

The LHC tunnel, in the world's largest laboratory, Geneva.

Geneva hosts the world's largest laboratory, the CERN,[83] dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include the lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the scanning tunneling microscope (Nobel prize) or the very popular Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurized balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.

Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programs. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space[84] or Maxon Motors[85] who provide spacecraft structures.

Switzerland and the European Union

Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in a referendum in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union (EU) and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU.[86] In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the EU in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy has been growing most recently at around 3% per year. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of some in the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this supported by the conservative SVP party. The western French-speaking areas and the urban regions of the rest of the country tend to be more pro-EU, however with far from any significant share of the population.[87][88]

The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven bilateral agreements to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified. The second series includes the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation. In 2006, Switzerland approved a billion francs supportive investment in the poorer eastern European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission. The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to reduce banking secrecy and to raise tax rates to parity with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened in four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GNSS project Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products.[89]

On 27 November 2008, the interior and justice ministers of European Union in Brussels announced Switzerland's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone from 12 December 2008. The land border checkpoints will remain in place only for goods movements, but should not run controls on people, though people entering the country had their passports checked until 29 March 2009 if they originated from a Schengen nation.[90]

Energy, infrastructure, and environment

The Gösgen Nuclear Power Plant is one of the four in Switzerland.

Electricity generated in Switzerland is 56% from hydroelectricity and 39% from nuclear power, with 5% of the electricity generated from conventional power sources resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network. On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed),[91] and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed).[92] The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. A new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern is presently planned. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The agency is supporting the 2000-watt society initiative to cut the nation's energy use by more than half by the year 2050.[93]

Entrance of the new Lötschberg Base Tunnel, third longest railway tunnel in the world, under the old Lötschberg railway line. It is the first completed tunnel of the greater project AlpTransit.

A very dense rail network[31] of 5,063 km (3,146 mi) carries over 350 million passengers annually.[94] In 2007, each Swiss citizen travelled on average 2,103 km (1,307 mi) by rail, which makes them the keenest rail users.[95] The network is administered mainly by the Federal Railways, except in Graubünden, where the 366 km (227 mi) narrow gauge railway is operated by the Rhaetian Railways and includes some World Heritage lines.[96] The building of new railway base tunnels through the Alps is under way to reduce the time of travel between north and south. Swiss private-public managed road network is funded by road tolls and vehicle taxes. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute system requires the purchase of a vignette (toll sticker)—which costs 40 Swiss francs—for one calendar year in order to use its roadways, for both passenger cars and trucks. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length of 1,638 km (1,018 mi) (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km2 (15,940 sq mi), also the one of the highest motorway densities in the world. Zürich Airport is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway, which handled 20.7 million passengers in 2007.

Switzerland has one of the best environmental records among nations in the developed world;[97] it was one of the countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified it in 2003. With Mexico and the Republic of Korea it forms the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG).[98] The country is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66% to 96% of recyclable materials being recycled, depending on the area of the country.[99] In many places in Switzerland, household garbage disposal is charged for. Garbage (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) is only collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid at the time of purchase.[100] This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free.[101] Swiss health officials and police often open up garbage for which the disposal charge has not been paid and search for evidence such as old bills which connect the bag to the household/person they originated from. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from CHF 200–500.[102]

Demographics

Official languages in Switzerland:[103]       German (63.7%; 72.5%)       French (20.4%; 21.0%)       Italian (6.5%; 4.3%)       Romansh (0.5%; 0.6%)

Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has four official languages: German (63.7% total population share, with foreign residents; 72.5% of residents with Swiss citizenship, in 2000) in the north, east and center of the country; French (20.4%; 21.0%) to the west; Italian (6.5%; 4.3%) in the south.[103] Romansh, a Romance language spoken locally by a small minority (0.5%; 0.6%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language. The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian.[104]

The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of Alemannic dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication typically use Swiss Standard German, whilst the majority of radio and TV broadcast is (nowadays) in Swiss German as well. Similarly, there are some dialects of Franco-Provençal in rural communities in the French speaking part, known as "Suisse romande", called Vaudois, Gruérien, Jurassien, Empro, Fribourgeois, Neuchâtelois, and in the Italian speaking area, Ticinese (a dialect of Lombard). Also the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billette[105] from French), from similar term in another language (Italian azione used not as act but as discount from German Aktion). Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so many Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual, especially those belonging to minorities.[106]

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population.[107] Most of these (60%) are from European Union or EFTA countries.[108] Italians are the largest single group of foreigners with 17.3% of total foreign population. They are followed by Germans (13.2%), immigrants from Serbia and Montenegro (11.5%) and Portugal (11.3%).[108] Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, are the largest group among people of Asian origin.[109] In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions have expressed concern about what they perceive as an increase of xenophobia, particularly in some political campaignings. However, the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners, underlines Switzerland's openness.[110]

Health

The Swiss citizens are covered by a compulsory universal health-insurance coverage, permitting access to a broad range of modern medical services. The healthcare system compares well with other European countries and patients are largely satisfied with it. In 2006 life expectancy at birth was 79 years for men and 84 years for women.[111] It is among the highest in the world.[112][113] However, spending on health is particularly high, with 11.5% of GDP (2003) and, from 1990, a steady increase is observed, reflecting the high prices of the services provided[114] With aging populations and new healthcare technologies, health spending will likely continue to rise.[114]

Urbanisation

Urbanisation in the Rhone Valley (outskirts of Sion)

Between two thirds and three quarters of the population live in urban areas.[115][116] Switzerland has gone from a largely rural country to an urban one in just 70 years. Since 1935 urban development has claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the previous 2,000 years. This urban sprawl does not only affect the plateau but also the Jura and the Alpine foothills[117] and there are growing concerns about land use.[118] However from the beginning of the 21st century, the population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.[116]

Switzerland has a dense network of cities, where large, medium and small cities are complementary.[116] The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of man's presence.[119] The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are Zürich, Geneva-Lausanne, Basel and Bern tend to increase.[116] In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests.[116] In addition the two main centers of Zürich and Geneva are recognized for their particular great quality of life.[120]

Religion

Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.[121]

The reformed church of Glarus

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (41.8% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (35.3%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%, predominantly Kosovars, Bosniaks and Turks) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions.[122] In a 2009 referendum, Swiss voters banned the construction of new minarets. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll[123] found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit or life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic. Greeley (2003) found that 27% of the population does not believe in God.[124]

The country is historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597.[125] The larger cities (Bern, Geneva, Zürich and Basel) are predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, as well as Ticino, is traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was resoundingly rejected, with only 21.1% voting in support.[126]

Culture

Alphorn concert in Vals

Switzerland is in the unusual situation of being the home of three of Europe's major languages. Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs.[127] A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language, the country itself being rooted in western European culture.[128] The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in eastern Switzerland constitutes an exception, it survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.

Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences. In addition the country attracted a number of creative persons during time of unrest or war in Europe.[129] Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950.[130] Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Locarno International Film Festival[131] and the Montreux Jazz Festival.[132]

Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity.[133][134] Nowadays many mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) culture in summer. Some areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors and a higher ratio of Swiss. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the cities. Folk art is kept alive in organisations all over the country. In Switzerland it is mostly expressed in music,dance, poetry, wood carving and embroidery. The alphorn, a trumpet- like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.[135][136]

Literature

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not only a writer but also an influential philosopher of the eighteenth-century[137] (his statue in Geneva)

As the Confederation, from its foundation in 1291, was almost exclusively composed of German-speaking regions, the earliest forms of literature are in German. In the 18th century French became the fashionable language in Bern and elsewhere, while the influence of the French-speaking allies and subject lands was more marked than before.[138]

Among the classics of Swiss German literature are Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890). The undisputed giants of 20th century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911–91) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Pledge), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film.[139]

Prominent French-speaking writers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Germaine de Staël (1766–1817). More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947), whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment and Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887–1961).[139] Also Italian and Romansh-speaking authors contributed but in more modest way given their small number.

The probably most famous Swiss literary creation, Heidi, the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps, was one of the most popular children's books ever and has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), wrote a number of other books around similar themes.[139]

Media

The freedom of the press and the right to free expression is guaranteed in the federal constitution of Switzerland.[140] The Swiss News Agency (SNA) broadcasts information around-the-clock in three of the four national languages—on politics, economics, society and culture. The SNA supplies almost all Swiss media and a couple dozen foreign media services with its news.[140]

Switzerland has historically boasted the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its population and size.[141] The most influential newspapers are the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, and the French-language Le Temps, but almost every city has at least one local newspaper. The cultural diversity accounts for a large number of newspapers.[141]

In contrast to the print media, the broadcast media has always been under greater control of the government.[141] The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was recently changed to SRG SSR idée suisse, is charged with the production and broadcast of radio and television programs. SRG SSR studios are distributed throughout the various language regions. Radio content is produced in six central and four regional studios while the television programs are produced in Geneva, Zürich and Lugano. An extensive cable network also allows most Swiss to access the programs from neighboring countries.[141]

Sports

Ski area over the glaciers of Lötschental

Skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering are among the most popular sports in Switzerland, the nature of the country being particularly suited for such activities.[142] Winter sports are practiced by the natives and tourists since the second half of the 19th century with the invention of bobsleigh in St. Moritz.[143] The first world ski championships were held in Mürren (1931) and St. Moritz (1934). The latter town hosted the second Winter Olympic Games in 1928 and the fifth edition in 1948. Among the most successful skiers and world champions are Pirmin Zurbriggen and Didier Cuche.

Like other Europeans, many Swiss are fans of football and the national team or 'Nati' is widely supported. Switzerland was the joint host, with Austria, of the Euro 2008 tournament. Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the League A. In April 2009, Switzerland hosted the 2009 IIHF World Championship for the 10th time.[144] The numerous lakes make Switzerland an attractive place for sailing. The largest, Lake Geneva, is the home of the sailing team Alinghi which was the first European team to win the America's Cup in 2003 and which successfully defended the title in 2007. Tennis has become increasely popular sport, and Swiss players such as Martina Hingis and Roger Federer have won multiple Grand Slams.

Roger Federer is one of the best male players in the history of tennis, and the current number one ATP tennis player in the world

Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. However, this ban was overturned in June 2007.[145] During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, Jo Siffert and successful World Touring Car Championship driver Alain Menu. Switzerland also won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007-08 with driver Neel Jani. Swiss motorcycle racer Thomas Lüthi won the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in the 125cc category.

Traditional sports include Swiss wrestling or "Schwingen". It is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport by some. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf.[146] Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practiced only among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 kg stone named Unspunnenstein.[147]

Food

The cuisine of Switzerland is multi-faceted. While some dishes such as fondue, raclette or rösti are omnipresent through the country, each region developed its own gastronomy according to the differences of climate and languages.[148] Traditional Swiss cuisine uses ingredients similar to those in other European countries, as well as unique dairy products and cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental. The number of fine-dining establishments is high, particularly in western Switzerland.[149][150]

Chocolate had been made in Switzerland since the 18th century but it gained its reputation at the end of the 19th century with the invention of modern techniques such as conching and tempering which enabled its production on a high quality level. Also a breakthrough was the invention of milk chocolate in 1875 by Daniel Peter.[151]

Swiss wine is produced mainly in Valais, Vaud (Lavaux), Geneva and Ticino, with a small majority of white wines. Vineyards have been cultivated in Switzerland since the Roman era, even though certain traces can be found of a more ancient origin. The most widespread varieties are the Chasselas (called Fendant in Valais) and Pinot Noir. The Merlot is the main variety produced in Ticino.[152]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ De jure "federal city"; de facto capital. Because of historical federalist sensibilities, Swiss law does not designate a formal capital, and some federal institutions such as courts are located in other cities.
  2. ^ Traditional. The Federal Charter only mentions "early August" and the treaty is a renewal of an older one, now lost.
  3. ^ The Swiss German name is also sometimes spelt as Schwyz or Schwiiz. Schwyz is also the standard German (and international) name of one of the Swiss cantons.
  4. ^ Or Central Europe depending on the definition. See Geography of Switzerland.
  5. ^ As shown in this image, the current members of the council are (as of November 2009, from left to right): Didier Burkhalter, Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Ueli Maurer, Micheline Calmy-Rey, Hans-Rudolf Merz, Doris Leuthard (President of the Confederation), Moritz Leuenberger (Vice-President of the Confederation)
  6. ^ The SVP/UDC has suffered a split since the election, with both their councillors defecting to the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland (BDP/PBD). As of 2009, with the election of Ueli Maurer, the SVP/UDC and the BDP/PBD hold one seat each.
  7. ^ Since 1999, an initiative can also be in the form of a general proposal to be elaborated by Parliament, but because it is considered less attractive for various reasons, this form of initiative has yet to find any use.
  8. ^ That is a majority of 23 cantonal votes, because the result of the popular vote in the six traditional half-cantons each counts as half the vote of one of the other cantons.
  9. ^ In 2008, ETH Zurich was ranked 15th in the field Natural Sciences and Mathematics by the Shanghai Ranking and in 2007 it was ranked 27th in all fields.

References

Footnotes

  1. ^ Federal Constitution, article 4, "National languages" : National languages are German, French, Italian and Romansh; Federal Constitution, article 70, "Languages", paragraph 1: The official languages of the Confederation are German, French and Italian. Romansh shall be an official language for communicating with persons of Romansh language.
  2. ^ A solemn declaration of the Tagsatzung declared the Federal Constitution adopted on 12 September 1848. A resolution of the Tagsatzung of 14 September 1848 specified that the powers of the institutions provided for by the 1815 Federal Treaty would expire at the time of the constitution of the Federal Council, which took place on 16 November 1848.
  3. ^ "Population size and population composition". Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Neuchâtel. 2009. http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/en/index/themen/01/02/blank/key/bevoelkerungsstand.html. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
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  102. ^ Richtig Entsorgen (Kanton Basel-Stadt) (1.6 MiB)—Wilde Deponien sind verboten... Für die Beseitigung widerrechtlich deponierter Abfälle wird zudem eine Umtriebsgebühr von Fr. 200.– oder eine Busse erhoben (page 90)
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  110. ^ Definitive report on racism in Switzerland by UN expert humanrights.ch
  111. ^ Switzerland who.int. Retrieved on 2009-06-29
  112. ^ Life expectancy at birth, 2006 who.int. Retrieved on 2009-06-29
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  142. ^ Sport in Switzerland europe-cities.com. Retrieved on 2009-12-14
  143. ^ A brief history of bobsleigh fibt.com. Retrieved on 2009-11-02
  144. ^ IIHF World Championships 2009 official website
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  146. ^ Hornussen swissroots.org. Retrieved on 2010-01-25
  147. ^ Tradition and history interlaken.ch. Retrieved on 2010-01-25
  148. ^ Flavors of Switzerland theworldwidegourmet.com. Retrieved on 2009-06-24
  149. ^ The MICHELIN Guide Switzerland 2010 attests to the high quality of gourmet cooking with one new 2 star restaurant and 8 new one star Press information, Michelin. Retrived on 2009-12-14
  150. ^ Swiss region serves up food with star power usatoday.com. Retrived on 2009-12-14
  151. ^ Chocolate swissworld.org. Retrieved on 2009-06-24
  152. ^ Wine-producing Switzerland in short swisswine.ch. Retrieved on 2009-06-24

Bibliography

  • Church, Clive H. (2004) The Politics and Government of Switzerland. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69277-2.
  • Dalton, O.M. (1927) The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  • Fahrni, Dieter. (2003) An Outline History of Switzerland. From the Origins to the Present Day. 8th enlarged edition. Pro Helvetia, Zürich. ISBN 3-908102-61-8
  • Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (2002–). Published electronically and in print simultaneously in three national languages of Switzerland.

External links

Government
Reference
Geography
Travel
History
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Education
Science, research, and technology

Coordinates: 46°50′00″N 8°20′00″E / 46.8333333°N 8.3333333°E / 46.8333333; 8.3333333


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Switzerland article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Central Europe : Switzerland
noframe
Location
noframe
Flag
Image:Sz-flag.png
Quick Facts
Capital Berne
Government Federal Republic
Currency Swiss Franc (CHF)
Area 41,285 km²
Population 7,489,370 (July 2006 est.)
Language Swiss-German, German, French, Italian, Romansh
Religion Protestant and Roman Catholic in pretty equal shares, Judaism 0.2%
Electricity 230V/50Hz
Calling Code +41
Internet TLD .ch
Time Zone UTC+1

Switzerland [1] (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansch: Svizra) is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north.

The climate is temperate, but varies with altitude. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers.

Switzerland is known for its mountains (Alps in south, Jura in northwest) but it also has a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 m while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m above sea level.

Understand

Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations, but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.

Switzerland showcases three of Europe's most distinct cultures. To the northeast is the beer-drinking, sausage-eating German-speaking Switzerland; to the south-west the wine drinking and shopping spills effortlessly into France; in the south-east the sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style plazas; and in the center: classic Swiss flugelhorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality.

Switzerland can be a glorious whirlwind trip whether you've packed your hiking boots, snowboard, or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.

Economy

Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of the big Western European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness. Switzerland remains a safe haven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Reflecting the anemic economic conditions of Europe, GDP growth dropped in 2001 to about 0.8%, to 0.2% in 2002, and to -0.3% in 2003, with a small rise to 1.8% in 2004-05. Even so, unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average.

Regions of Switzerland
Regions of Switzerland
Lake Geneva
On the northern shores of the Léman, from the Jura to the Alps
Jura Mountains and Fribourg
Hiking, lakes, watch-making
Bernese Lowlands
The core region of Traditional Bernese influence
Bernese Highlands
The Majestic Bernese Alps
Central Switzerland
The birthplace of the Swiss Confederation, the legends of William Tell
Basel
Industrial city, with countryside
Zurich
A tourist region in its own right
Northeastern Switzerland
Between the Alps and Lake Constance
Valais
Europe's highest peaks and largest glaciers
Graubünden
Region which is the same as canton Graubünden, very mountainous, lightly populated and home to many great tourist cities
Ticino
Italian speaking region which is the same as the canton Ticino
The capital city of Berne
The capital city of Berne
  • Zurich - Switzerland's biggest city and a major center of banking also has a thriving nightlife.
  • Geneva - This center of arts and culture, the second-largest city in Switzerland, is by far the international capital-- home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organisations. Geneva was the home of John Calvin during the Reformation, elevating the city to the rank of "Protestant Rome," the effects of which drive Geneva today.
  • Berne - The Swiss capital features an amazingly well preserved old-town with arcades along almost every street. Great restaurants abound, as do bars and clubs. Check out the Einstein sites as well.
  • Basel - Slightly smaller than Geneva, Switzerland's third city is the traveller's gateway to the German Rhineland and Alsace.
  • Lausanne - While Geneva is busy being the international capital, Lausanne fills the role in most of the rest of French-speaking Switzerland. Scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws.
  • Lugano - Italian-speaking Switzerland's top destination, with a gorgeous old-town and a pretty lake. The food is simply amazing.
  • Lucerne - Central Switzerland's main city with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights. It's pretty too, and though it is heavily touristed the views and museums make putting up with the crowds well worthwhile.
  • Locarno - On the shore of southern Switzerland's largest lake.
  • Solothurn - Solothurn, situated on the river Aare and on the foot of the Jura mountain range is referred to as 'Switzerland's Finest Baroque town'.
  • Interlaken - The outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland. Anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning.
  • Zermatt - There are a lot of mountain resorts in Switzerland, but only one of them has the Matterhorn.
  • Davos - The highest city in Europe and financial capital of the world in January. The largest ski resort of Switzerland.
  • St. Moritz - World's oldest winter resort.
  • Grindelwald - The classic resort at the foot of the Eiger.
  • Gstaad - For famous people only.
  • Crans Montana - On a sunny terrace facing the giants of Valais Alps.
  • Verbier - The big ski resort of the four valleys.

Get in

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For EU, EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) or Swiss citizens, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Others will generally need a passport for entry.

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: Not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union.

Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you travelling within the Schengen area or not, some airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.

Keep in mind that the counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa.

As of January 2010 only the citizens of the following non-EU/EEA/Swiss countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area; note that they must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work while in the EU: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.

Note that

  • while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
  • British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.

However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.

Further note that

(*) Macedonian, Montenegrin and Serbian citizens need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel and

(**) Serbian citizens with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (Serbs residing in Kosovo) still do need a visa.

Note though that Swiss customs controls are in place, and likewise with customs controls for travelling outside of Switzerland into the rest of the EU.

Major international airports are in Zurich, Geneva and Basel, with smaller airports in Lugano and Berne. Flying into nearby Milan (Italy), Lyon or even Paris (France) or Frankfurt (Germany) are other options though rather expensive and time-consuming (3h Frankfurt-Basel, 4h Milan-Zurich, 5h Paris-Berne) by train. Some discount airlines fly to Friedrichshafen, Germany which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from Romanshorn, not too far from Zurich. The Flagcarrier of Switzerland is SWISS [2] which is a member of Star Alliance [3] and successor of the famous Swissair.

Trains arrive from all parts of Europe. Switzerland is together with Germany one of the most central-lying countries in Europe, making it a center of railways and highways to the rest of Europe. Some major routes include:

Common tourist destinations within Switzerland are easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on main roads will remain in place even after 2008. Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be named. Some delay may be caused by queuing at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable.

Get around

By plane

The following carriers offer domestic flights within Switzerland:

  1. SWISS [5] (Basel/Mulhouse (EuroAirport Swiss), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport, Zurich Airport)
  2. Darwin Airlines [6] (Berne (Belp Airport), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
  3. FlyBaboo website [7] (Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)

But in almost every case you will be better off taking the train.

Public transport

The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transportation - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 min, but as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day, on Sundays. Authoritative information, routes, and schedules can be found at [8], or from a ticket window in any train station.

Tickets

Almost nobody in Switzerland pays full fare for the transit system. At the very least they all have a Half-Fare Card (Demi-tarif/Halbtax) which saves you 50% on all national buses and trains and gives a discount on local and private transit systems. Press the '1/2' button on the ticket machines to indicate you have this card, and be prepared to hand it to the conductor along with your ticket on the train. Annual half fare cards cost CHF150; visitors from abroad can buy a 1-month Half-Fare Card cards for CHF99 [9] [10]. You save CHF 57 on a round-trip ticket from Zurich to Lugano, so if you are planning on traveling a lot, it will quickly pay for itself. Children between ages 6 and 16 pay 1/2 price for travel around Switzerland.

The next step up from a half-fare card is a Swisspass, which grants you access to all national bus and rail, all city transit systems, and hefty discount on privately operated boats, cable cars, and ski lifts. These range from CHF 260 for a 4-day, 2nd class pass to CHF 578 for a month pass, 2nd class. Like the half-fare, you can buy this from any train station ticket office.

Only two trains in Switzerland require reservations: Bernina Express, running daily between Chur and Tirano and the Glacier Express running from St. Moritz to Zermatt.

On most trains in Switzerland, tickets can be bought on board, but with a surcharge of CHF 10, so it is recommended to buy tickets before hand. Though this does not apply for the suburb trains (you'll get fined if you haven't got a ticket). Swiss Rail kiosks accept credit/debit cards, although they require that a PIN be entered.

Travel

Using the trains is easy, although the number of different kinds of trains can be a bit confusing unless you know that the schedules at a Swiss train station are color coded. The yellow sheet is for departures and the white sheet is for arrivals. Faster trains appear on both of these sheets in red, while the trains in black stop at more stations. For long trips it is often easier to use the website, as it will pick transfers for you. You need not fear transfers of five minutes or less. You will make them, provided you know exactly which platform you arrive on and which one you depart from. Many Swiss commute with a one or two minute transfer!

At the track, the signs indicate the destination and departure time. The small numbers and letters along the bottom show you where you can board the train. The letters indicate the zone you should stand in, and the numbers indicate the class. The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" or "2" on the side of the car, these correspond with the numbers on the sign. All Swiss trains are non-smoking — this is also indicated on the side of car, as well as inside.

Luggage can be stowed above your seat or in between seats, or on a rack at the end of the car. During busy periods, people often stow large luggage (or skis) in the entrance area in between cars. This is usually fairly safe, but use common sense.

The variety of trains is bewildering at first, but is actually quite simple. The routes the SBB-CFF-FFS website suggests will make much more sense if you understand them. All trains have a one or two letter prefix, followed by a number, for example RE2709, IR2781. Only the prefix, the destination, and the time of departure are important.

  • Regio/Régional (R) trains are local trains. They stop everywhere or almost everywhere, and generally reach into the hinterlands of a major station like Lausanne, but not to the next major station (in this case Geneva). If you are going to a small town, you may transfer at a large station to an R train for the last leg. Often you can use tickets from city public transit on the S system, but ask before trying.
  • RE (RegioExpress) trains generally reach from one major station to the next, touching every town of any importance on the way, but don't stop at every wooden platform beside the tracks.
  • IR (InterRegio) trains are the workhorses of Swiss transit. They reach across two or three cantons, for instance from Geneva, along Lake Geneva through Vaud, and all the way to Brig at the far end of the Valais. They only stop at fairly large towns, usually those that boast three or four rail platforms.
  • IC (InterCity) trains are express trains with restaurant cars. They are sumptuous and comfortable, often putting vaunted services like the TGV to shame, and make runs between major stations, with occasionally stops at a more minor one where tracks diverge.
  • ICN trains (InterCityNeigezug, or Intercity Tilting Train) are the express tilt-trains, as luxurious as the IC trains. They run between major cities like Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Biel, and Basel.

There are also a number of narrow gauge railways that don't fit this classification that supplement the buses in the hinterlands, such as the line from Nyon to La Cure or the line from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.

You can bring your bicycle on every train in Switzerland, with two provisos: you must have a ticket for it (available from the ticket machines, CHF 10 for a day pass), and you must get on at a door marked with a bicycle. On ICN trains and some IR trains this is at the very front of the train.

As good as the Swiss train system is, if you have a little time, and you only want to travel 1-200 miles, you could try purchasing the world's best footpath maps and walk 10-20 miles a day over some of the most wonderful and clearly-marked paths, whether it is in a valley, through a forest, or over mountains.

The trails are well-planned (after a number of centuries, why not?), easy to follow, and the yellow trail signs are actually accurate in their estimate as to how far away the next hamlet, village, town or city is--once you've figured out how many kilometers per hour you walk (easy to determine after a day of hiking).

There are plenty of places to sleep in a tent (but don't pitch one on a seemingly pleasant, flat piece of ground covered by straw--that's where the cows end up sleeping after a lazy day of eating, and they'll gnaw at your tent string supports and lean against your tent sides. And definitey don't do this during a rainstorm!), lots of huts on mountain tops, B & B's on valley floors, or hotels in towns and cities. You could even send your luggage ahead to the next abode and travel very lightly, with the necessary water and Swiss chocolate!

Information for railway fans

In Switzerland nearly all railways run electrically but it is possible to find many steam railways such as the Brienzer Rothornbahn or the Furka Railway for instance. There are many interesting mountain railways of all types. In Switzerland most electric trains get their power from a single phase AC network at 15 000V 16 2/3Hz. This network uses its own powerlines run with 66 kV and 132 kV, which have, unlike normal power lines, a number of conductors not divisible by 3. Most powerlines for the single phase AC grid of the traction power grid have four conductors. Railway photography is permitted everywhere provided you don't walk on forbidden areas without permission.

Here is short list of the most remarkable railway lines:

  • The Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, a 8 hours travel in the Swiss Alps.
  • The Bernina Express from Davos to Tirano, the highest transversal in the Alps, high mountain scenery.
  • The Jungfraujoch railway, from Interlaken (560 meters) to the Jungfraujoch station (3450 meters) in two hours. Definitely the most impressive journey in the Alps.
  • The Gornergrat railway, departure from Zermatt to the 3090 meters high Gornergrat.
  • The Mount Rigi railway, oldest mountain train in Europe.
  • The Mount Pilatus railway, from Lucerne to the top, the steepest railway in the world.
  • The Lötschberg is a line connecting Berne and Brig, not considered as a mountain train but still impressive scenery.
  • The Gotthard with its many spirals connecting Lucerne and Bellinzona

By car

To use the motorways (known as Autobahnen, Autoroutes, or Autostrade, depending on where you are), vehicles under 3500 kg weight need to buy a "Vignette", a sticker which costs 40 CHF that allows you to use the motorways as much as you like for the entire year (more precisely, from 1 December of the preceding year to 31 January of the following, so a 2009 vignette is valid from 1 December 2008 until 31 January 2010). Trailers must have a separate vignette. Avoiding the motorways in order to save the toll price is generally futile; the amount is well worth it, even if you are only transiting. Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a 100 CHF fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of 140 CHF).

Sharing vignettes is, of course, illegal and subject to the same fines as not having one.

Vehicles larger than 3500 kg have to pay a special toll assessed through special on-board units that is applied for all roads, not just the motorways.

Speed limits: 120 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on normal roads and inside tunnels and 50 km/h inside villages. Vehicles unable to travel at 80 km/h are not permitted on the motorways. Whilst driving "a wee bit too fast" is common on motorways, people tend to stick pretty closely to the other two limits. Fines are hefty and traffic rules are strictly enforced.

Don't Think You'll Speed Undeterred

If you get fined but not stopped (e.g. caught by a Speed Camera) the police will send you the fine even if you live abroad. In Switzerland, speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a Legal Offence, if you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international rogatory will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country.

Also, starting from 2007, Switzerland banned all GPS appliances with built-in speed cameras databases as they are equipped with "Radar Detectors".

According to some GPS navigator producers, it is advised to remove the Swiss radar database while driving in the country as the police may give you a fine and impound your device even if is turned off and placed in the trunk of your vehicle!

The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05%. As in every country, do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.

If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. They feature some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but can literally throw you in jail for speeding, even on highways. If you stick to the limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while still maintaining you are not excessively fined/arrested.

Be aware that the 'priority to right' rule exists in most major cities, as well as towns and village centres. Dipped headlights are strongly recommended at all times.

Driving is the best way to see a wonderful country with outstanding roads. Six tips for mountain roads:

  • Honk if you're on a small road and you don't see around the bend.
  • The Postal Bus (bright yellow) always has priority. You can hear it approaching by means of its distinct three tone horn
  • The car driving uphill has priority over the car driving downhill.
  • Don't even think about driving as fast as the locals: they know every bend, you don't.
  • In general, drive at a speed which allows you to stop within the distance you can see, in order to be safe; and drive so that you would be happy to meet yourself coming the other way!
  • During Winter, although all vehicles are equipped with Winter tires, it is advised that you apply chains to the wheels of your car if driving in an area of heavy snowfall.

Bicycle

Veloland Schweiz has built up an extensive network of long distance cycle trails all across the country. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free! Cycling in cities is pretty safe, at least compared to other countries, and very common. As with the car you need to buy a vignette sticker for your bike too, these are a liability insurance in case of accidents. A common place to buy the stickers is the post office.

In-line Skating

Besides the main types of transportation, the adventurous person can see Switzerland by in-line skating. There are three routes, measuring a combined 600-plus kilometers designed specifically for in-line skating throughout the country. They are the Rhine route, the Rhone route, and the Mittelland route. These are also scenic tours. Most of the routes are flat, with slight ascents and descents. The Mittelland route runs from Zurich airport to Neuenburg in the northwest; the Rhine route runs from Bad Ragaz to Schaffhausen in the northeastern section of the country. Finally, the Rhone route extends from Brig to Geneva. This is a great way to see both the country-side and cityscapes of this beautiful nation.

  • The Castle of Chillon: near Montreux
  • The Lavaux vineyards: on the shore of Lake Geneva
  • The Castles of Bellinzona: in the southern canton of Ticino
  • The Abbey of St. Gallen
  • The Top of Europe and the Sphinx observatory: a "village" with a post office on the 3,500 metres high Jungfraujoch above Wengen
  • The Grande Dixence: a 285 metres high dam, south of Sion
  • The Landwasser viaduct: on the railway between Chur and St. Moritz
  • The Matterhorn: from Schwarzsee, Gornergrat or simply from the village of Zermatt
  • The northern walls of the Jungfrau and Eiger: two of the most celebrated mountains in the Alps, they can be seen from the valley of Lauterbrunnen or from one of the many summits that can be reached by train or cable car
  • The Aletsch Glacier: the longest in Europe, the Aletsch wild Forest is located above the glacier, best seen from above Bettmeralp
  • The lakes of the Upper Engadine: one of the highest inhabited valley in the Alps at the foot of Piz Bernina, they can be all seen from Muottas Muragl
  • The Lake Lucerne: from the Pilatus above Lucerne
  • The Oeschinensee: a mountain lake with no rivals above Kandersteg
  • The Rhine Falls: the largest in Europe, take a boat to the rock in the middle of the falls

Buy

Switzerland is not part of the European Union and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 centimes, Rappen or centesimi. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro and will give you change in Swiss Francs or in Euro if they have it in cash. A check or a price-label contain prices both in francs and in Euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate comply with official exchange-rate, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss Francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country.

Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even Fr 200 and Fr 1000 notes. Some establishments (but fewer than previously) do not accept credit cards, check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.

Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass, rare), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ Franc, 1 Franc, 2 Franc, and 5 Franc (all silver colored) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970's and are, consequently, worthless.

Banknotes are found in denominations of 10 (yellow), 20 (red), 50 (green), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 1000 (purple) Francs. They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.

"Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods

Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese, and Swiss Army knives.

  • Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologers and jewelers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for 60CHF to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!!".
  • Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich: Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For a good value, try the "Frey" brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72h (quite expensive though, a bar of 125g costs about CHF 8.-). For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as low as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich).

Holey moley!

Ever wondered why Swiss cheese, known locally as Emmentaler, always has those distinct holes? Bacteria are a key part of the cheesemaking process. They excrete huge amounts of carbon dioxide which forms gas bubbles in the curd, and these bubbles are what cause the holes.

  • Cheese - many different regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since.
  • Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army Knife. There are two brands Victorinox and Wenger. Both brands are manufactured by Victorinox. The Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it (2005). Victorinox knives, knife collectors will agree, are far far superior, in terms of design, quality, functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and currently costs (Jan 2008) CHF78 . Most Tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs CHF364. The 1.6795.XAVT may in years to come be a collectors model. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knifes, even some Newsagents will stock them. They are excellent gifts and souvenirs. N.B. Swiss Army Knives must be packed in hold luggage.

Ski and tourist areas will sell the other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz, and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher area.

Supermarket Chains

Swiss employment law bans working on Sundays, so shops stay closed. An exception is any business in a railway station, which is deemed to be serving travellers and so is exempt. If you want to find an open shop on a Sunday, go to the nearest big railway station. If a business is family-owned, you aren't employing anybody so you can open, hence small shops can also open on Sundays.

Swiss supermarkets can be hard to spot in big cities. They often have small entrances, but open out inside, or are located in a basement, leaving the expensive street frontages for other shops. Look for the supermarket logos above entrances between other shops.

For the "self catering":

  • Migros [11] - This chain of supermarkets (in fact a cooperative) provides average to good quality food and no-food products and homeware. However, they do not sell alcoholic beverages nor cigarettes. Brand name products are rare as the chain does their own brands (quality is good, so you don't have to mind). Migros stores can be spotted by a big, orange Helvetica letter "M" sign. The number of "M" letters indicates the size of the store and the different services available - a single "M" is usually a smaller grocery store, a double M ("MM") may be larger and sells other goods like clothing, and a MMM is a full department store with household goods and possibly electronics and sporting goods. Offers change weekly on Tuesdays.
  • Coop [12] - Also a cooperative. Emphasis on quality as well as multi-buy offers, points collection scheme(s) and money off coupons. Sells many major brands. Come at the end of the day to get half-priced salads and sandwiches. Coop City is usually a department store with a Coop grocery store inside, a multi-floor layout provides space for clothing, electrical items, stationary, paperware as well as beauty products and perfume. Offers change weekly (some exceptions - fortnightly), on Tuesdays.
  • Denner [13] - A discount grocery store, noticeable for their red signs and store interiors. Relatively low priced. Offers change weekly, usually from Wednesday. Denner was bought by Migros in late 2006, but will not be rebranded at present.
  • Coop Pronto - a convenience store branch of Coop, usually open late (at least 20:00) seven days a week. Usually has a petrol, filling-station forecourt.
  • Aperto [14] - also a convenience store, located in the railway stations
  • Pick-Pay [15] - another discount grocery. Yellow logo. (Sold to Denner in Sept. 05, rebranding in progress)
  • Manor [16] - the Manor department stores often have a grocery store on the underground level.
  • Globus [17] - in the largest cities the Globus department stores have a grocery store on the underground level.

As of March 2005, Coop launched low-price-line (Coop Prix-Garantie). In Migros, you find "M-Budget" products. Sometimes it's exactly the same product, just for cheaper price. They also offer pre-pay mobiles as cheap as 29.80 CHF, including 19 CHF money on the SIM-Card and the some of the cheapest call rates.

The German discounter, Aldi Suisse started with 5 discount shops in the eastern part of Switzerland in early 2006. The prices are a little lower than at the other supermarket chains, but still significantly higher than in Germany.

Talk

There is no Swiss language. Depending on where you are in the country the locals might speak Swiss-German (Schwyzerdütsch), French, Italian, or, in the hidden valleys of Graubünden, Romansch, an ancient language related to Latin. All four are considered official languages. Some cities such as Biel/Bienne and Fribourg are bilingual, and any part of Switzerland has residents who speak something besides the local vernacular at home. Note that you are unlikely to hear Romansch, as essentially all the 65,000 Romansch speakers also speak Swiss German and or Italian, and they are actually outnumbered in Switzerland by native English speakers.

Around two-thirds of the population of Switzerland is German-speaking, located particularly in the center, north, and east of the country. French is spoken in the west, around Lausanne and Geneva, while Italian and Romansch are spoken in the far south. The Swiss themselves learn one of the other Swiss languages in school. In French-speaking Switzerland, this is typically German so English is less commonly understood there. In any of the large German-speaking cities you will have no trouble finding people who speak English. In the countryside, it is less common but hardly rare. People under the age of 40 typically speak more fluent English than older people. Generally speaking, in the past when two Swiss meet for the first time, they would first address each other in French, and then switch to a language both are most comfortable with once they have established each others native language. English, however, has now clearly become the most important second language in German-speaking Switzerland (as on much of the continent) much to the dismay of Francophone Switzerland including a debate if French or English should be taught in schools. Most offer both.

Swiss German is a family of southern German dialects. Even if you are quite fluent in standard German, you are unlikely to understand anything said to you. The dialects vary so dramatically that someone from Zürich may have real trouble understanding someone from the eastern Valais. All Swiss German speakers can also speak standard German, albeit with a heavy sing-song accent, but in the cities many prefer to use English when speaking with foreigners. Swiss German belongs to the same language family as the German dialects of Alsace, (France) Voralberg, (Austria) and Baden-Württemberg (Germany). A small portion of Swiss German speakers spill over into northern Italy, but Italian is universally spoken in this region of Italy as well along the frontier. The Swiss media still makes regular use of Swiss German, which is a special case in the German speaking world, showcasing Switzerland's desire to maintain its special identity. Generally, the Swiss German speakers are the most likely to see themselves as distinctly different and unique in general context of German speaking Europe.

Swiss French (officially Romand) is essentially standard French with some differences. It is spoken more slowly, with more of a drawl. The numbers are not the same. Though anyone will understand you when you use soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt-dix (70, 80, 90), the use of these vanish as you proceed east along Lac Léman: in Geneva soixante-dix becomes septante and quatre-vingt-dix becomes nonante.quatre-vingts and huitante are both acceptable ways to say the number eighty. However, by the time you reach Lausanne, however, quatre-vingts has given way to huitante, and in the Valais it is possible to hear the almost Italian octante.

Another difference is that you may encounter people using the word cornet to define a plastic bag (as opposed to the word sachet that would be heard in France).

Swiss Italian is no more divergent from standard Italian than any other regional dialect that you would encounter within Italy.

Learn

Switzerland has some universites of world renown, like ETH in Zurich or University of Lausanne. Keep in mind, it's much better to speak the local language, so if you can't speak either French, German or Italian, better go for a language course first. There are a few English courses as well, but it will be much easier to go with local language. Also have in mind that if you're a foreigner, and you want to go for popular subjects, you have to pass entry-tests, and it will cost you a lot, not only for university fees, but also for living.

If you like cheaper learning, go for Migros Klubschule, they offer language courses in almost every language as well as a lot of different courses for many subjects, just have a look on their website [18]. You may also want to try the different "Volkshochschule", which offer a large variety of subjects at very reasonable fees (such as [19] in Zurich, for instance).

If you are looking for quality French courses for adults or juniors, you can learn French in one of the ESL schools centres located in Switzerland [20]. You can also choose LSI (Language Studies International) and go for one of the many schools in their extensive network to learn French in Switzerland [21]

Work

If you want to work in Switzerland, be aware that you generally need to obtain a work permit.

Switzerland signed an agreement with the European Union that allows citizens of the old EU-15 states to work and search jobs at arms length with Swiss citizens. In these cases you only need a valid passport and have to register with the local administration. The same system applies in general to citizens of the new EU-10 states (Eastern European states in general) plus Bulgaria and Romania but there are limitations on the number of permits. For all other countries in the world the best way is to check with your embassy if there are, for example, exchange programs.

Switzerland has an unemployment rate of about 3.5% (Feb. 2009) and skilled academics will have good job opportunities.

The high level of Swiss salaries reflect the high costs of living, so keep in mind that you must spend a lot for accommodation and food, when you negotiate your salary. Still, if you want or have to make money fast, you can save a substantial amount per month while working in a low-paying job. In general, you work 42 hours/week and have 4 weeks of paid holidays.

Switzerland has no legal minimum salary. The salary depends on the industry you work in, with most companies paying at least 3500 CHF per month, for example as cashier in a supermarket. Overtime work is usually paid (unless otherwise agreed in contract).

If you want to check the average salaries by industry or make sure you get the right amount paid, Swiss employees are heavy organized in trade unions SGB [22] and always keen to help you.

Sleep

Most tourist areas in Switzerland have a tourist office where you can call and have them book a hotel for you for a small fee. Each town usually has a comprehensive list of hotels on their web site, and it is often easiest to simply call down the list to make a reservation rather than try to book online. Many hotels will request that you fax or email them your credit card information in order to secure a reservation. In general, hotel staff are helpful and competent, and speak English quite well.

Hotel rates in Switzerland can get quite expensive, especially in popular ski resort areas.

There is also a hostel network in Switzerland for students. Types of hotels in Switzerland include historic hotels, traditional hotels, inns located in the country, spas and bed and breakfasts.

Stay safe

Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds.

Quite some Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number into the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, the visitor utilizing credit card should carefully review the information printed on all receipts prior to discarding them. This happens, for instance, on some book and clothing stores and even on the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.

In most cities the area around the train stations tend to be the seediest, and there is always some sort of 'red light district', though it may only be a block or two long.

Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.

Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment (practice of deescalation). Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking (crossing a red pedestrian light), for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example (but note that, in Basel city at least, whilst the cross-walks give priority to pedestrians many drivers will stop on and reverse over cross-walks without much care or attention). Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a near restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone number in Switzerland is 117, and operators are generally English-speaking.

Football (soccer) games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games (esp. in Basel or Zurich) are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.

Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need (without unduly endangering oneself). People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.

The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16 while the age for any other alcohol (e.g. spirits, "alcopops",...) is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.

Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence to the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.

In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.

There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.

Stay healthy

Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of public fountains unless specially marked. There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and its currently illegal to sell any genetically modified food.

Respect

Learning the mother tongue of the area you will be staying in is a great sign of respect. English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated, even if you're replied to in English. It’s always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.

Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you. If you are in the German speaking region of Switzerland, it is generally wise to try to communicate in High German rather than attempting to speak a Swiss German dialect. The German Swiss almost instinctively switch from Swiss German to High German once they notice that they are speaking to a foreigner.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers.

As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder.

Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a gray area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times (left - right - left). This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French speaking part. In the German speaking part it is normal to just shake hands when being introduced. Don't be shy as you if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.

Do not litter. While Switzerland will not fine you (as in Singapore), littering is definitely seen as bad behaviour in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter. Also make sure that you put it in the correctly labeled bin (e.g. recyclable). Some bins actually have times to when this should be done to avoid excess noise!

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.

Contact

Many of the internet cafes that have emerged in the 1990's have closed since, probably because Switzerland has one of the highest rate of high-speed internet connections in homes in the world, but almost any video rental shop and most train stations will have a few internet terminals. The tourist office should be able to direct you to the nearest one. The going rate is 5 CHF for 20 minutes. Also, you can send email, SMS (text messages to cell phones) or short text faxes from just about every public phone booth for less that 1 CHF. Some public phone booths allow you to browse the internet. There are many shopping centers and cities (Lausanne and Vevey for example) that offer free wireless internet access: ask the young locals, maybe they know where to go.

The public phones are surprisingly cheap, and have no surcharge for credit cards.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 Mhz bands - they usually cost around 10-40 CHF and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Orange or Sunrise in most cities. Mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas.

There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros (M-Budget-Mobile [23]) and Coop ( Coop Mobile [24]) for example cost around 20 CHF and include already 15 CHF airtime. The definitely cheapest prepaid card for international communication is yallo [25]: 0,39 CHF/min within Switzerland as well as to all European and many more countries (to the mobile and fixed networks). This includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. SMS cost 0,10 CHF. The prepaid cards can be bought online (30 CHF with 30 CHF airtime inclusive), in most post offices (29 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive) or Sunrise shops (20 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive). An other prepaid card with cheap rates offers Lebara Mobile (Sister concern of Sunrise). The prepaid card is available for 5 CHF with an equivalent talk time and recharge vouchers offer the talktime equivalent to the price of the voucher.

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

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Wikipedia

Pronunciation

Etymology

From Middle French Suisse (1515).

Adjective

Swiss (not comparable)

Positive
Swiss

Comparative
not comparable

Superlative
none (absolute)

  1. Of, from, or pertaining to Switzerland or the Swiss people.

See also

Translations

Noun

Singular
Swiss

Plural
Swiss

Swiss (plural Swiss)

  1. A person from Switzerland or of Swiss descent.

Derived terms

  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Swiss Army Penknife
  • Swiss cheese
  • Swiss dagger

Translations








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