Thursday, April 5, 2012


Switzerland is known for the Alps, fine watches, delicious chocolates and its banks.  Switzerland, actually the Swiss Confederation, is a federal republic of 26 cantons.  It is almost twice the size of New Jersey.  Bern is the country's capital.

The Swiss flag is actually square
The Swiss Confederation, Confoederatio Helvetica, was established in 1291 among three cantons for defense.  In 1499 it was able to gain independence from the Holy Roman Empire.  A centralized federal government was implemented in 1874.

The Swiss Federal Council is a seven-member executive council which serves as the collective head of state.  Each member heads one of seven federal executive departments.  Each year one of the councilors is also elected President of the Confederation.    Each member is elected for a four-year term by both chambers of the Federal Assembly.  This all sounds really complicated to me but if it works for the Swiss then good for them.

Switzerland has had a long policy of armed neutrality.  The country has not been in a state of war since 1815 and was not involved in either world war.  All Swiss males from the age of 19 must serve at least 260 days in the military.  After 18 weeks of basic training, there are seven 3-week training deployments over a ten-year period.  People are excused from work during their mandatory service and the employers pay the normal salary.  Soldiers keep all of their army-issued equipment at home.

Switzerland is so neutral that it didn't even join the United Nations until 2002.  In 2011 it did join the Schengen zone but it is not part of the European Union.  It is in a customs and monetary union with Liechtenstein.

There are four official languages – German, French, Italian and Romansch.  Switzerland has about 8 million people and about ⅔ speak German.  Roughly 20% speak French, 6.5% speak Italian and only 65,000 people speak Romansch.  Students are required to know at least two of the four national languages and then normally must choose between learning either a third national language or English.  Now here's the thing about German here.  While the schools teach standard high-German (Hochdeutsch) that's not what the people actually speak.  Here it's all Swiss German (Schwyzerdütsch).  And it's about damn difficult to understand.  To me it sounds like someone speaking German with a mouth full of marbles.  No offense intended...just sayin'.

Switzerland is not a cheap place to visit.  Swiss salaries are quite high so there is a high cost of living which means that everything is expensive.  In 2012, Geneva, Zürich and Bern were ranked as the 5th, 6th and 14th most expensive cities in the world.

With all of the madness in the Eurozone the Swiss Franc kept getting stronger because investors were looking for a safe haven currency.  This caused major problems for countries like Hungary and Poland where homeowners took out mortgages based in Swiss Francs and suddenly found their monthly payments to be way more expensive.  This also meant that Swiss exports became too expensive and demand dropped so the government put in measures to weaken the currency.  The current exchange rate to the $ and the has stabilized but things are still super expensive.  It will be interesting to find out how much this little road trip through Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland ends up costing us.

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