Fact: The oldest National Park in the U.S. is located
Ah Switzerland, land of snow-capped mountains, chocolate, luxury watches, and banks with a shady past. These are the most readily available clichés about this landlocked Western European country, but there’s so much more to know.
1. Official name: Switzerland is known as the Confoederatio Helvetica, which is the Latin term for “Swiss Confederation.” The Latin term appears on official documents, which explains why the country’s abbreviation is CH.
2. Four Official languages: The majority of the population (aroune 70%) speaks Swiss German exclusively. French, Italian, and Romansh are also recognized officially. English is also on the rise.
3. Neutral country: Switzerland’s beloved saint, Nicholas of Flue, famously advised, “Don’t get involved in other people’s affairs.” This lasting sentiment has influenced Swiss policy for centuries. The country has remained a neutral (maintaining non-participation in conflicts between other states) during wartimes since 1515.
4: International peacekeepers: Swiss neutrality has been somewhat redefined since the end of the Cold War. As late as 1999, unarmed volunteers were dispatched to war-torn nations like Kosovo. In 2001, the Swiss allowed its army to be armed when engaging in such missions. This issue remains a subject of political contention.
5: Currency: The euro is not the Swiss Currency. The country uses the Swiss franc instead.
6. Chocolate: Swiss chocolate is one of the nation’s most lucrative exports, thanks to its excellent reputation for high quality. The total volume of chocolate exports increases almost every year. In 2013, 109,662 metric tons sold abroad .. to the tune of $894 million.
7. Standard of living: Swiss cities are known for their high quality of life. Zurich, Bern, and Geneva almost always rank amongst the top 10 livable cities in the entire world.
8. Hadron Collider: Geneva (and the underworld beneath the city) hosts CERN, which is the world’s largest particle physics lab. Swiss physicists captured the 2013 Nobel prize after their work at the Large Hadron Collider unearthed a new particle of mass under the Higgs boson theory.
9. Watches: Switzerland is famous for its production of half the world’s supply of luxury watches. Leading brands include Rolex, TAG Heur, Longines, Patek Phillipe, and Tissot.
10. Swiss Army knife: This indispensible, insanely compact set of tools emerged in the late 1880s. The Swiss Army desired a multi-purpose knife that could function as a can opener and a screwdriver useful to disassemble Swiss service rifles. The Swiss Army knife went through many incarnations, including a version containing 125 different tools.
11. The Alps: Switzerland is ground central for the Alp mountain range that runs through Europe. The country contains 208 mountains over 9000 feet and 24 over 12,000 feet. The most well-known mountain in Switzerland is the Matterhorn, which stands 14,692 feet tall.
12. Freshwater lakes: Switzerland boasts over 1500 lakes, which contain about 6% of fresh water stocks in Europe. The biggest ones are Lake Geneva, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Constance.
13. Sporting: Favorite leisure activities in Switzerland include winter sports such as skiing and mountaineering. The strong ski resort industry fuels the Swiss economy, and a hefty mountain biking culture takes over in the summers. Also strangely popular? Wrestling.
14. Anti-immigration policies: Foreigners have always enjoyed a high percentage of the population. All of this could soon change, as voters passed a controversial anti-immigration initiative in February 2014. The initiative’s narrow passage and worldwide criticism will likely slow its implementation.
15. Low crime rate: Although the country’s population is heavily armed (roughly 4 million guns for a 8 million population), the crime rate is surprisingly low for an industrialized country. The 2010 census reflects a gun murder rate of only 0.5 per 100,000 people (as opposed to 5 per 100,000 in the US).
16. Marijuana: The Swiss are one of the “highest” people in the world with around 600,000 users of hash and marijuana. In 2013, Switzerland decriminalized possession of marijuana. Intent to distribute is still discouraged with nominal fines for those holding over 10 grams. Tobacco use is still widespread (about 20% of adults) despite education of associated risks.
17. Women’s rights: Swiss women gained the right to vote in 1971 but are underrepresented in government. Most married women do not work due to the lack of available childcare. Women who do work experience an average gender pay gap of 17%.