Switzerland is a unique country on many levels. It is small but rather wealthy, one of the most beautiful and breath-taking places in the whole world and at the same time a centre for banking and insurance companies. It is politically neutral and not a part of European Union but still doing great, which nowadays seems like a phenomenon. Most people know it for its watches, chocolate and cheese. But here is a list of some things that might really surprise you:
4 national languages
I had always been aware there was more than one official language in Switzerland. However, I thought that everyone speaks German and then there are some small parts where people also speak French. Saying I was wrong would be an understatement. The four official languages are German, French, Italian and Romansh (not commonly used). Once you leave the German speaking region do not expect people to speak German. It just takes 2 hours on the train from Zurich to come to Lugano and you find yourself in a completely different world. It is so hard to believe it is not Italy and when I went there with my mum, I had to constantly correct her. It is a bit confusing but at the same time it feels like you’re getting 3 countries in one!
It is always hard to move to another country. Everything seems completely different, odd and difficult to understand. Being surrounded by locals doesn’t help, you just feel like you don’t belong since you’re the only newbie in sight. If that feeling is what frightens you, come to Switzerland as most people here are foreigners just like you! The population of Switzerland is around 8 million – it’s pretty much the same as London and 25% of those people are foreigners. Sometimes you’re more likely to hear English than German on the street, which makes you feel a bit more at home.
The second day after I moved I had to make a compulsory trip to Kreisburo- a place where you register yourself as a foreigner living in Switzerland. I was surprised about how nice and quick that visit was. The end of the visit was quite unexpected though- a smiling official handed me a small piece of paper. It was a prescription for drugs that have to be taken in case of a failure of one of many atomic reactors just 80 km away from Zurich. Don’t be fooled by all the nature surrounding you! The rectors are not as far away as you may think!
Swiss political system is very specific to Switzerland. I guarantee you, it would not work anywhere else.
First thing-direct democracy. How it works is that they organise referendums regarding most “important” current issues. I used the brackets because some of them are very serious (the relationship with the EU and the sovereignty of Switzerland) whereas others are rather…funny for example the vote about whether the cows should keep their horns or not.
Secondly- their government has to represent all the political parties and somehow they manage to make it work!
Thirdly-the judges not only are but also should be members of political parties. That came as a huge surprise to me since judicial independence constitutes foundation to every democracy. But again, somehow they make it work and never experience any pressure or lobbying.
Those are just a few aspects but you get the gist- all the solutions that seem impossible work here perfectly.
Before moving to Switzerland I spent a considerable number of years learning German. I love this language hence coming to a German speaking country seemed like an amazing idea to polish my language skills. You can imagine the shock I encountered when I approached a Swiss person and asked a question. All those years, all certificates and exams and I stood there having no idea what was happening. Did I approach a foreigner? Are my ears blocked from the flight? Why does that sound like Portuguese to me? But no, that was my first encounter with Swiss German. And I am not going to lie, not much has changed since then. Rule number one in Switzerland when it comes to speaking German: ask them to speak Hochdeutsch (‘high German’ meaning the official and most sophisticated version of the language) or be prepared for your confidence to be crushed!
Certain things have not changed in Switzerland in ages. Hence, everyone expects you to know stuff, since it’s common knowledge. Well, for everyone except for you. That’s why one of my neighbours gave me a rather judgemental look when I asked her about the Milchkasten (literally ‘milk box’)It seemed a bit confusing to me would anyone would tell me that my parcel was placed in one of them. Also, where can those milk boxes be found?
In retrospect, I could have guessed but at same time… it was not that obvious at all. The Milchkastenare the big mail boxes that are found under your normal mailbox for your letters. This is where the mailman leaves all the parcels. The name comes from a long time ago when the mailman was also bringing milk and putting it in the said boxes.
I hope you found those facts just as surprising as I did when I first came here. Switzerland is a rather interesting little country that somehow manages to astonish me every single day. All the people I know would not have picked another one for their study abroad year. So if you found this article interesting and you want to learn more, perhaps Switzerland should be your first choice!