Swiss Culture or do you understand Swissness?

Switzerland has four linguistic regions: the Swiss-German, the French, the Italian and
the Raeto-romanic speaking parts (in order of population). This particularity influences
the Swiss traditions and values to a great extent. It is a popular misconception that the 4
language areas have culturally less in common with each other than with their respective
linguistic neighbour. In reality Swiss cultural values prevail in all 4 regions.
The Swiss Confederation (Confederatio Helvetica) was founded in 1291 when men of 3
cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden met at the Rütli Wiese. According to legend, the
oath of allegiance was taken on August 1st, 1291. This has become the Swiss National
Day. The initials CH used as the country code for Switzerland are derived from
Confederatio Helvetica.

The strongest Swiss value is no doubt democracy. The preservation of democratic rights
forms the cohesion between the linguistic groups. Switzerland has 26 cantons. Each
canton is a federal state with its own constitution, laws, and tax system. Direct
democracy means that Swiss citizens influence political decisions by their direct vote
through an ‘initiative’ or a ‘referendum’. Swiss are democratic in daily life too. The right
to speak up starts at early age and is part of Swiss education at home and at school.
Swiss have a strong sense for equal rights of the individual. In the mountains for
instance, no hierarchies exist, everybody is on a first name basis. First names or the
informal you (‘Du’) are used among family and friends. Neighbors and colleagues often
introduce themselves with their first names, do the same and remember their names. In
a working environment, hierarchy is respected when proposing first names or it is applied
to everybody within a department as a general rule.

Switzerland has a so-called coconut culture. The hard shell of the coconut has to be
broken up before eating the coconut flesh and drinking the milk. Similarly, it takes time
to break the ice before making social contacts with the Swiss. By contrast, Anglo-Saxon
countries are said to have a peach culture. The soft flesh of the peach is accessible to
everybody: it is public life. The hard pit represents private life and is reserved to family
and very close friends. To peach cultures, the Swiss can seem formalistic and reserved.
When you are invited to a Swiss home, you enter their coconut. Learning the language
also plays an important role, in making friends with the Swiss.

Which Swiss products do you know? Switzerland has a worldwide reputation for its
cows and mountains and beautiful landscapes, for its chocolate and cheese, but also for
its Swiss knives and its watches, for its pharmaceuticals and luxury goods, for its banks
and its banking secrecy and many more premium products. The label ‘Made in
Switzerland’ is associated with high-quality goods and fills the hard-working Swiss with
pride. They have come a long way to develop a highly successful industry in a rough
environment, in which mountains cover 60% of the territory.

Nature has a high impact on Swiss values. The mountainous landscape with its
particular dangers has taught the Swiss a healthy respect for their natural surroundings.
Environment and preservation of nature are important to the population. Garbage
recycling is part of daily life. Outdoor leisure is practised by all ages. The Swiss are a
sportive nation that loves the beauty of their country. This, paired with the pride in their
economic achievements, explains their patriotism and conservative character.
Last but not least: this article gives you an overview of some aspects of Swissness. As a
new arrival to Switzerland, we highly encourage you to dig into the Swiss way of life and
Swiss customs and values. Cultural seminars, books, trips and a good portion of social
competence help you on your way to integration. Also, you will find out about your own
culture and understand your cultural heritage. It is enriching and rewarding to do so to
establish a long-lasting happy life here. Welcome to Switzerland!

Submitted by Brigitte Gredt Vogel, Rainbow Cultures cross-cultural consulting.
Please consult
Rainbow Cultures  cross-cultural consulting to find out who we are
and what we offer to make the most of your stay in Switzerland. We want to help you
with establishing your Swiss life. We hope to hear from you!