Relaxed and entertaining read. Learned a lot about the peculiarities of the country I’m living in. Every country should have an accessible handbook like this one.


Switzerland’s official name is the Latin Confœderatio Helvetia.

There can’t be many modern countries that have a Latin name, but then again there aren’t many countries like Switzerland.

  • German speaking — 63% of the population
  • French speaking — 22.7%
  • Italian speaking — 8.1%
  • Romansh — 0.5%

The Swiss love nothing more than the formality of surnames.

Finding a solution acceptable to all is the Swiss way of doing things.


A look at a modern map of Europe and you’ll notice a Switzerland-shaped hole in the middle of the European Union.

There are no world-famous Swiss monuments or buildings: no Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower. Instead there are mountains. The two most famous are the Eiger and the Matterhorn.

The mountains are a challenge rather than a barrier, it’s also a playground to be walked up and skied down. The mountains are, in essence, the soul of the country and the Swiss equivalent of the sea.

The Gotthard pass opened in the thirteenth century.


Each canton has its own constitution, laws, parliament, and sets its own taxes. It has its own police force and education system. The canton is both the basic building block of the country and a balance against the center having too much power.

The cantons are so independently minded that it can seem like there are 26 mini Switzerland’s, all going in roughly the same direction but each doing their own thing.

Graubünden is in many ways like a mini-Switzerland with its different languages and religious divide.

Cities of centers

  • Bern, the site of the federal government, is the political center.
  • Basel, thanks to pharmaceutical companies, the industrial one.
  • Lausanne, home of the Supreme Court, the legal one.
  • Geneva, Head quarter for the United Nations, the international.
  • Zurich, the economic center.


  • The birth of Switzerland was on the 1st of August 1291.
  • There are 65 000 km of hiking paths in Switzerland. Almost as extensive as the national road system.
  • The Swiss federation system was created in 1848. The cantons got reduced power but still acts as a balance to the center.
  • Communication and compromise defines the Swiss attitude in almost every sphere of life.
  • Jura is the newest canton, founded in 1979.


In Switzerland, the people have the power. Collecting signatures is the first step towards a referendum—the basic tool of the direct democracy system.

If you take all the elections that takes place in the world during the course of a year, 50% of them are happening in Switzerland. A very strong feat for its direct democracy system.

The municipality, or the Gemeinde, is the basic building block of Swiss democracy.


Trust is what binds Swiss people together. Shops leave display tables of goods outside unguarded, and there are no surveillance cameras. The Swiss cherish privacy more than anything.

Money can be earned back quickly, trust takes a lot longer.

Switzerland does not have a PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) system for taxes. That would let the government invade people’s privacy.

Instead everyone has to complete a tax return every year.

The Swiss franc was introduced in the 1850’s. Before that, every canton had its own currency.

Most Swiss pay the old-fashioned way, in cash.

One third of Swiss consumers don’t have a credit card at all. And only 17% use it regularly. Credit cards are a means of payment, not a way of life.

Neutrality is seen as the fundamental part of the Swiss identity.

Henry Dunant founded the Red Cross.

Geneva is the physical embodiment of Switzerland’s much-cherished internationalism and neutrality.


If it takes less than three hours, involves negligible height differences (under 400 metres), doesn’t include at least one mountain view and has any part that is asphalted, then sorry but it’s just a walk, even if you are a panting wreck by the end of it. In Switzerland, boots are made for hiking.

Location 619

Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ He must have had Switzerland in mind.

Location 1604

Trust and privacy are paramount in all things Swiss, particularly when it comes to banking.

Location 1679

Just as eye-opening was waiting in my bank in Bern one December, and trying not to stare open-mouthed at the elderly woman in front of me, who had asked for 17,000 Fr in cash. It didn’t take long as the cashier only had to count out 17 notes and pop them in an envelope. The woman picked up her money, put it in her bag and said she was off to do her Christmas shopping. Only in Switzerland.

Location 1884

Swiss notes are rarely tatty or crumpled. They are seldom stuffed into pockets but are treated with care, folded neatly into four or tucked carefully into a wallet. Their bright colours – yellow, red, green, blue, brown and purple – never seem to fade or get dirty; it’s almost as if someone somewhere is washing the money.

Location 1891

To the Swiss mind, it’s illogical to pay on credit when you can pay now in cash and keep control of your finances. And if you can’t pay now, then don’t buy it.

Location 1966