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Getting to know our country: Switzerland

The jaw dropping summer mountains, with their beautiful snow caps and carpets of green meadow running down their slopes, and the magical winter mountains, crisp white and gigantic against the blue sky, dripping with endless winter sport activities. The aqua blue lakes, the charming little villages. This is Switzerland. And we get to live here. Pinch meeeeee!

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If you would have told me two years ago that I’d grow to love this country so much, I wouldn’t have believed you. There are so many places I’d love to live. Switzerland was never really on my radar. Until, you know, Marc was offered a project here. And then suddenly it was very much on my radar. It consumed my radar. And now, here we are, 20 months into our journey here as expats, and the love we have for this country is huge. And the people we’ve met? We have grown to love them. I know, it’s just been 20 months. But you bond quickly when you’re living away from home. And these people, they are the greatest friends you could ever wish for. We feel so grateful to have this family away from home.

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Here in Switzerland, the Swiss refer to their country by many different names: Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian) and Svizra (Romansh). All are acceptable!

Switzerland is bordered by many countries, each influencing Swiss culture. You have Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Liechtenstein and Austria to the east. Each country has influenced Swiss culture in that region. And Switzerland has influenced those countries, as well.

Switzerland is a complicated country. It is made up of 26 unique cantons, which, to us Americans, are like little states. There are four official national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. The German spoken here in our canton is not traditional, high German but rather Schweizerdeutsch (Swiss German), a dialect unique to Switzerland. This can be tricky for expats. We learn high German in our language classes, but when it comes time to communicate with the locals, we are lost. Why? Because Schweizerdeutsch sounds pretty different than high German. The Swiss use a lot of different words and definitely different sounds. In fact, people in Germany cannot understand Swiss German. I read that when an interview is shown on German TV of a Swiss people speaking Schweizerdeutsch, they need to use subtitles. To complicate things further, there are regional dialects within Schweizerdeutsch. And, there’s no standardized written rules, since Schweizerdeutsch isn’t really an “official” language, but more of a dialect the Swiss use. Anyway…you get the point. We manage to communicate, speaking mostly high German, but we’re learning some of the nuances of the Swiss language.

And how ’bout Romansh? Romansh is a romance language closely related to Latin. It’s spoken mainly in the Graubunden area of the southeastern Alps. Within this area, there are actually five dialects of Romansh itself, each found in the various valleys. Driving through the spectacular Romansch area in the southeast, with its unique language and beautiful mountains, is awe inspiring. This is the area I think of when I think of the old fashioned, hard working Swiss. It is very rural. Whenever a team from Graubunden comes to play hockey against our team, the locals here always say, “They grow them big and strong in Graubunden.” And sure enough, the boys all look like Paul Bunyon. Big and strong.

The southwest of Switzerland is pretty glitzy, with it’s French language and glamorous towns like Montreaux, Zermatt, and St. Moritz. Here, the skiing is world-renowned. They have the Matterhorn, which is even more beautiful than you can imagine.

The Italian area is completely different. You have the charming Ticino canton, with Lugano and Locarno, which beautifully blend Swiss and Italian culture. It feels like the perfect mix of Italian warmth and the beauty of the Alps. Might be my favorite area of Switzerland. The food, the lakes, the mountains, the locals. Ahhhh.

Central Switzerland is spectacular, to me. I mean, the Bernese Oberland! Grindelwald, Wengen, Murren! Lucerne, too. Hmmm. I know I said I loved Ticino, but I think Grindelwald wins for my favorite area of Switzerland. Most impressive mountain views I’ve ever seen.

And, of course, the northern, very Swiss German area that we live in, with our gems like Stein am Rhein and Saint Gallen. Appenzell is the quintessenial Swiss post card area, with cowbells ringing in the air and the cutest farms you’ve ever seen, high up in the mountains. And our friends here. The greatest. We feel so at home here.

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A few things we find most interesting about Switzerland:

  1. Everything is closed on Sunday. Sunday is considered a family day, and a day of leisure. It is sacred to the Swiss. You cannot shop, mow your lawn, or run to the recycling center on a Sunday. You should hike or ski, relax and enjoy your family.
  2. There are no right turns on a red light in Switzerland.
  3. Milton Hershey was a descendant of Swiss Mennonites. Our American chocolate has Swiss roots.
  4. Switzerland has a square flag. The only other square flag is the Vatican’s.
  5. Emmentaler cheese is what we call Swiss cheese in the US.
  6. Swiss chocolate maker Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate in 1875.
  7. The official name of Switzerland is Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin. That’s why the Swiss abbreviate their country as “CH.”
  8. Switzerland makes half of the world’s luxury watches. We’re partial to IWC!
  9. The Swiss Guards at the Vatican are really Swiss.
  10. Freddie Mercury and Queen loved Switzerland so much, they had a recording studio here. We’ve visited the Freddie Mercury memorial in Montreux. 7 Queen albums were recorded in Switzerland.
  11. Roger Federer, the world’s most successful male tennis player of all time, is Swiss.
  12. The mountains in Switzerland look more impressive and bigger than at home in the U.S. because the Swiss built most of their villages at much lower altitudes than many U.S. villages in, for example, the Rockies. It therefore gives more of a “wow” factor when looking up at the Eiger or Matterhorn from down below.

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