Switzerland is a landlocked nation in Western Europe, a federal republic made up of 26 provinces known as cantons. A mountainous nation dominated by the Alps, Switzerland shares a border with Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. The distinctive native of the cantons makes Switzerland a nation with strong regional influences that, combined with the official use of the languages of French, German and Italian means that Swiss culture is not a homogenous one, and the culture of Switzerland is, in fact, remarkably diverse.
Perhaps the most distinctive cultural aspect of Switzerland is its long-standing neutrality – the nation has not been involved in armed conflict for two centuries, although it does maintain national service for its youth and plays a key role in peace-building organisations such as the Red Cross and United Nations.
The united nation of Switzerland has only existed in its present form since 1848, with the cantons that now make up modern Switzerland each calling upon their own traditions and customs. The diversity of the nation is reflected in a popular expression of the Swiss: “Unity but not uniformity.”
Swiss culture has been strongly influenced and defined by Switzerland’s neighbours, and also by the geography of the country itself. While there is no official Swiss language, the Romansh culture and language of eastern Switzerland does survive in the remote upper valleys of the Rhine. Elsewhere, French, German and Italian are spoken depending on that canton’s proximity to the border.
The most recognisable aspect of culture in Switzerland is that of the Alps and Alpine symbolism, of farmers and goatherds, the alphorn and yodelling, cowbells and cheese – epitomised by the classic children’s story, Heidi. Traditional Swiss music is reflected in yodelling and also in the accordion.
Independence of spirit
Determinedly neutral throughout all the major conflicts of the last two centuries, Switzerland has always resisted stronger, more powerful neighbours. And Swiss national identity is inextricably tied up with a strong sense of Switzerland being a special case, different from the rest of the herd. Swiss culture remains avowedly diverse and yet somehow instantly recognisable while the Swiss people themselves continue to be impossible to stereotype.