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Switzerland Culture and Traditions

What defines Switzerland Culture? Most likely, visitors see us as a chocolate snacking, cheese eating, alphorn blowing and a yodelling nation, ruled by perfectionism and timed by precision watches; a law-abiding nation that takes seriousness very serious and sleeps with guns under their pillow in well-ordered and efficient Switzerland :)

The diversity of Switzerland Culture

Of course, there's always a little truth in every stereotypical cliché. Though neither Alphorn nor yodelling are exclusively Swiss, nor is chocolate for that matter, though the Swiss - who knew - set the standard in terms of quality for the latter. It is said that the origins of the Alphorn lay in Asia. Over the centuries though, we managed to find our own distinct folk music style that is typically Swiss albeit with distinct differences between regions.

So, what is typically Swiss Culture?

The influence of so many different cultures makes it sometimes hard to tell.

Switzerland was inhabited by the Celt's in the West, the Helvetii (the most powerful Celtic tribe) in the North and the Raetians - a stubborn Roman alpine tribe - in the East. Switzerland's culture is shaped by all of them and the many different languages spoken in our small country make the mix even more interesting.

Remnants of the pagan culture still affect our seasonal celebrations, even though the protestant reformers did their best to change that. Just think of the Swiss spring customs of scaring off winter like the Sechseläuten in the protestant Zwingli city of Zürich and the Chalandamarz in the Engadin.

The culture of Switzerland is multi-faceted and age-old traditions thrive. We don't just celebrate for the sake of tourism; we dwell in keeping ancient folk customs alive and wear our ethnic dresses with pride, albeit more and more only on special occasions.

Although we are maybe a bit on the conservative side, take our time to warm up to each other and visitors and slow in adapting to new trends, we got a bit bolder over the years in expressing our attitudes.

Switzerland's Economic Diversity as Part of our Cultural Heritage

Our landlocked country had not much to offer in terms of natural resources. Peasants - persistent, inventive and stubborn like stand-up tumblers - carved out a simple life in this mountainous country. We are shaped by our environment, rituals, languages and characteristics born out of necessity. Ultimately, inventiveness saved our country and finally brought economic wealth.

Switzerland is amongst the world leaders in technology, trade (every second franc is earned in export) and finance. Most businesses are small to medium-sized, and although the Swiss company Nestlé is the world's biggest food company, 97% of its workforce resides outside of Switzerland.

And of course, the tourist industry is a very important source of income too. The World Economic Forum stated in 2007 that Switzerland's tourism industry was the most competitive in the world.

The different laws and rules made by each Canton don't make life easy for Swiss companies but make them master negotiators in order to succeed. New jobs are created every year, and - remarkably - Switzerland is internationally competitive despite the highest salaries paid in Europe.

Switzerland Culture and the Arts

Swiss Culture "Unterwegs" (En route) by R. Indermeier
Art at the Train Station, Thusis

Switzerland boosts a thriving arts scene and has a rich heritage of historical and contemporary architecture. Its central position in Europe, its neutrality and shared languages with neighbouring countries, made Switzerland attractive for artists and intellectuals who took refuge from political upheaval in their own country from the 19th century onward.

Art is part of our everyday life. In their leisure time, many Swiss pursue their artistic hobbies with fellow aficionados once a week in groups - from painting to carving, sewing to pottery, sing in a choir or play an instrument. From public installations to prominent art collections in approximately 980 museums, we are surrounded by outstanding works of art produced by a wide variety of artists.

Arts and culture programs are actively supported and promoted by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss arts council, and a foundation under public law.

The diversity of our country is also reflected in literature which is influenced by the four national languages as well as the vernacular literature in Swiss German. There are a number of internationally acclaimed authors with works translated into many languages - such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jeremias Gottfried Keller Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Germaine de Staël, Robert Walser, Alain de Botton, Zoë Jenny and others - though the most famous author is probably Johanna Spyri who wrote the two children's novels Heidi, translated into more than 50 languages. Another children's book, "A Bell for Ursli" (Schällenursli) by the author Selina Chönz has been translated into nine languages and made the painter Alois Carigiet famous. He was awarded the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustrating children's books.

And despite that many associate Switzerland with folk music, Swiss musicians have more to offer: everything from classical, jazz to lively rock, pop and chansons and everything in-between.

Living Traditions

Living traditions are part of our cultural diversity and identity. They are our intangible cultural heritage, and officially summarized in the List of Swiss Living Heritage Practices which contains an abundance of local customs, cultural events and traditions - from music, dance to art, from folklore to typical Swiss sport events, craftsmanship, healing arts and literature.

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