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Facts About Switzerland

Following a few quick facts about Switzerland. Of course, there would be much more to say about our tiny country, but I aim to answer them throughout the website.

Switzerland is landlocked and shares borders with the Principality of Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Italy and France. Switzerland was not always amongst the richest countries in the world. In order to survive, many Swiss had to emigrate until the beginning of the 19th century.

Since we are on the low side when it comes to natural resources, trade was the key to our riches. Being inventive and building quality products brought us 'out of the hole' and it still is the backbone to our economy next to tourism, banking, and the insurance sector.

Quick Facts about Switzerland

Helvetia's diversity is already recognizable in its official names:

Schweiz - Suisse - Svizzera - Svizra

Rütlischwur on the meadows above Lake Lucerne "We shall be a single People of brethren,
never to part in danger nor distress.
We shall be free, just as our fathers were,
and rather die than live in slavery.
We shall trust in the one highest
God and never be afraid of human power".
Swiss Rütlischwur via WikimediaCommons
  • Rather than use one of the official languages, Latin was favored for the official name "Confoederatio Helvetica" (Helvetic Confederation - CH). The abbreviation CH is still used for Swiss currency, country code, Internet domains, and more.
  • Switzerland's foundation was laid in 1291 by the communities Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (now Ob- and Nidwalden). In the following centuries more and more communities joined the confederation. National unity was declared in 1848, and the new and current constitution came in effect. Since then, the Federal Assembly in Bern rules the Swiss Federal State.
  • The Federal Council is made up of seven members that are elected by the United Federal Assembly every four years; one of its seven members is elected president (a mostly representative position) for one year.
  • Switzerland has a population of approximately 8.2 million (23.8% foreign residents).
  • The four official languages are: German (64.9%), French (22.6%), Italian (8.3%) and Romansh (Rumantsch) (0.5%).
  • Switzerland's Federal capital is Berne; Zürich is the largest city.
  • There are only three square flags in the world and the Swiss flag is one of them (the others being Vatican and UN). The white cross on a red background came to reflect its people, although it is not clear why the white cross was chosen in the first place. Each canton has its own flag.
  • We can't blame but ourselves for political wrongdoing. Our direct voting system is such that we could vote for 'free wine for all' - the most popular alcoholic beverage in Switzerland - but no, instead we vote for higher taxes, and prevent ourselves from having fun with snowmobiles, jet skis and skidoos :)
  • Provinces are called cantons. Switzerland is a federation of 26 cantons (3 of them are made up of 6 half cantons). They are self-financing, have their own laws, raise their own taxes and spend them as they see fit. Cantons are made up of 2'715 independent communities, governed like miniature cantons themselves.
  • The Swiss Currency is the Swiss Franc (Schweizer Franken) - in short CHF, SFr., or Fr. - 1 Swiss Franc has 100 centimes/Rappen/cents, which are divided into 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents; banknotes are 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000.
  • Switzerland shares its currency with the neighbouring Principality of Liechtenstein.
  • Switzerland's size: 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 square miles); a bit over 60% are covered by the Alps.
Ascona on the banks for Lago Maggiore
Mediterranean Climate in Ascona on Lake Maggiore in the Canton Ticino
  • The lowest point is is the Lago Maggiore in the Canton Ticino, 193 meters above sea level (633 ft) - the city of Ascona on the banks of the Lago Maggiore is 196 m (643 feet); the highest mountain entirely on Swiss soil is the Dufour Spitze - 4'634 meter above sea level (15,203 feet).
  • Our climate is as diverse the rest of the country. La Brévine - Canton Neuchâtel - recorded 1987 the lowest temperature at minus 41.8C (-43.24F) and is nicknamed "Little Siberia". The highest temperature at 41.5C (106.7F) was measured 2003 in Grono, Canton Graubünden, bordering the Canton Ticino.
  • Switzerland has more than 1500 sparkly lakes. The largest is the Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) that we share with France; the largest lake entirely on Swiss soil is Lake Neuchâtel.
Bay of Spiez
Bay of Spiez in the Bernese Oberland
  • We rely very heavily on train for transportation. We score more kilometres per person per year than the Japanese, though the latter beat us with more train rides per person and year. Almost 2.5 Mio use the "Half Fare Card" and approximately 450'000 the "General Abonnement" (now called Swiss Pass) that allows for free rides year-round on trains, buses, trams and ships.
  • We marry rather late in life. Men are approximately 31, women almost 29 when they get hitched. This doesn't mean that it has a positive impact on our divorce rate. About 53% don't make it "till death do us part".
  • According to 2012 statistics, Switzerland has 38.2% Roman Catholics, 26.9% Protestants (both supported by taxes raised by the communities), 5.7 other Christian communities, 4,9% Muslims followed by Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. 21.4% have no affiliation with any religion.
  • We are still a nation of tenants, despite the fact that ownership has risen over the past decades. According to 2012 statistics: 55.7% are tenants; 11% own a condominium; 25.6% own a house; 6.1% are members of a cooperative or the dwelling is provided free by relatives or employers, live-in accommodation or similar.
Switzerland's Women demonstrate for their right to vote
Switzerland's Women demonstrating for the right to vote in 1957
© Keystone/Photopress
  • Women are allowed to vote since 1971. The small village of Unterbäch (Canton Valais) caused trouble when they allowed their women to vote in 1957 (Cantons and State voted against). An equality law was established in 1981, followed by a Federal Office for Equality in 1988. Since 1996 we have a law against any discrimination, including at the workplace. The last standing men against women's right to vote had to be forced by law to change their minds (Appenzell Innerrhoden). According to the Gender Gap Index, Switzerland is on the 25th position.
  • Despite of that, Switzerland's crime rate is amongst the lowest in the world :)
  • Switzerland is neutral, but has an armed force of about 200'000 at all times, and a small number of professional soldiers. Every able-bodied Swiss male between 20 and 34 has to go through 18 to 21 weeks of basic military training followed by 3 weeks (for soldiers) service each year. Alternative services including civil service after the basic training is possible; exempt from military are certain professions (teachers, train employees) but do have to pay an extra military tax.
  • Don't be surprised to meet Swiss men with a shouldered gun on the train or walking the streets. Every soldier has an automatic rifle in "his closet" and is required to practice shooting every so often.
  • The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 and is made up entirely of Swiss soldiers.
  • Despite the cultural melange, we have a strong feeling of who we are. Apparently though, we failed to translate that to others, especially to our visitors and foreign business partners. "Swissness" was coined to tell the world what we stand for: cultural diversity, sophisticated service, precision, efficiency, high quality products, stability and value.

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