Switzerland Fun Facts That Will Blow Your Mind
Ah, Switzerland. With a reputation for being one of the most idyllic countries in Europe and one of the richest countries on Earth, you can bet that it’s a place unlike any other. Switzerland has a long, proud history of doing things its own way, as exemplified by its famed neutrality. A banking haven and an economist’s dream, it enjoys warm relations with other nations in Europe while not being part of the European Union, instead carving out its own unique relationship with the European bloc via hundreds of treaties.
However, there’s a lot more to the Swiss than just a spreadsheet’s worth of banking facts and figures, as these ten facts about Switzerland show.
Switzerland interesting facts #1
The Country’s Name Is Pretty Unique
What many of us now know as Switzerland traces its history back to the Confoederatio Helvetica, a confederacy of Swiss states which came together between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A notable symbol of the growing nation-state at this time was Helvetia, who gained popularity from the 1580s onward. She is akin to Columbia or the Statue of Liberty in America, or the trident-bearing Britannia in Britain – a female symbol of national identity and pride.
Confoederatio Helvetica remains the country’s official name in Latin, and Helvetia remains a prominent symbol of Switzerland, including her continued appearance on currency.
So where do we English speakers get the name Switzerland? “Swiss” comes from “Switzer,” an obsolete term applied to the Swiss stemming from “Suisse,” which has been used since the sixteenth century and, like so many English loan words, comes from French.
Fun Switzerland facts #2
Switzerland Has Four Official Languages
Speaking of French, it’s one of four official languages spoken in Switzerland, along with German, Italian, and Romansch.
Nearly two-thirds of Swiss citizens speak German, with Swiss French being primarily spoken in the west, which is geographically closer to France and has historical and cultural ties which in some ways bind it closer to France.
Fun facts about Switzerland #3
Switzerland Has A Square-Shaped Flag
Switzerland is one of only two countries in the world to have a square-shaped flag, the other being Vatican City.
The familiar white cross on a red field stretches back far further than the flag’s adoption for the modern Swiss state in 1841, but the exact dimensions of the flag were only codified in 2017.
Interesting Switzerland facts #4
Swiss Chocolate Is World’s Famous
Besides banks and the Alps, few things are more internationally associated with Switzerland than its world-renowned chocolate, and with good reason. The Swiss are the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world, beating out Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom as the next runners up, with 19.8 lbs of chocolate being consumed per capita in Switzerland each year.
Swiss chocolate has a reputation for being among the richest and best in the world, Switzerland is also the top producer of chocolate in the world, pumping out more than 180,000 tons of chocolatey goodness each year, of which more than 60% is sold abroad.
A final chocolate-filled fact about Switzerland – we have Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter to thank for chocolate milk, with the two first concocting the sweet beverage around 1875.
Fun Switzerland facts #5
The Country Is Fiercely Neutral
Switzerland’s neutrality is legendary, but it wasn’t always the peace-loving chocolate-making bank-booming country we know it as today. Throughout the Renaissance and Early Modern Europe, Swiss mercenaries were among the most sought-after soldiers-for-hire in Europe. One lasting legacy of those centuries of excellence in the field is the Vatican’s famous continued use of Swiss Guards to patrol its territory. George Bernard Shaw features a Swiss mercenary who falls in love with a Serbian girl (after she feeds him chocolate, of course) in one of his early masterworks, Arms and the Man, an eerily-prescient play about nationalism and war in a fictional conflict between Serbia and Bulgaria written decades before the First World War.
Despite its past as a hotbed for fierce mercenary fighters, the past couple centuries have given rise to Switzerland’s dedication to neutrality. The last time Switzerland invaded another country was in 1815 during the waning months of the Napoleonic Wars, when it invaded France, and the last time the Swiss army fought in active combat was 1867 during a brief civil war.
That doesn’t mean that Switzerland isn’t prepared for conflict, however. The main access roads into the country are wired to explode in the event of an invasion. What’s more, Swiss laws regulating that everyone have shelter in the event of a nuclear war means that there are enough fallout shelters there to house its entire population.
Interesting facts about Switzerland #6
Swiss Law Is Pretty Unique
Let’s face it – wherever you live and whatever your political views may be, there are probably times where you really think that whatever law your country has passed is egregiously stupid or harmful. If only you could take on those lawmakers and give them a piece of your mind!
While it may not exactly be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, if you and 50,000 other Swiss citizens agree that something must be done, and you gather those signatures in 100 days, you can take on Zurich and officially challenge the Swiss Parliament. Gathering those 50,000 signatures allows for a national vote to take place on the point of contention, with a simple majority being all that’s necessary to reject or uphold the law.
Fun facts about Switzerland #7
Swiss People Take Animal Welfare Very Seriously
If you are interested in owning a “social” pet in Switzerland, such as a guinea pig, mouse, ferret, or other animal that typically socializes with others as part of its natural routine, you’d better make sure they have company.
It is against the law to own only one of these creatures at a time, as Swiss law determines this to be socially isolating the pet in question, which they hold to be animal abuse. In fact, there are lawyers who specialize in these types of pet welfare cases and pet renting services for providing temporary companionship to your pet in the event that one of your social pets dies before you can find a replacement to keep the remaining one adequately “socialized.”
If you want to own a dog, you’ll need to pay taxes for them, which are determined by their size and weight. In addition, dog owners are required to take training courses to ensure they know how to care for their four-legged friend.
Fun Switzerland facts #8
It’s A World of Happiness
Forget Disneyland – Switzerland regularly ranks as one of the happiest countries on Earth. The country ranked second in the World Happiness Index in 2018 behind just Finland, and Zurich ranked just behind Vienna as the second-happiest city in the 2019 Mercer Report.
Interesting Switzerland facts #9
It’s A World of Wealth
Of course, all that happiness is easier to afford with a country as famously wealthy as Switzerland. The country boasts the second-highest GDP per capita in the world. What’s more, 47% of the world’s total house values are controlled by the richest 1% of Swiss citizens.
That GDP per capita ranking also alludes to one of Switzerland’s long-standing secrets to peace and prosperity – that the majority of its citizens get a share of its enormous wealth. While Switzerland is home to some of the richest people in the world, the average Swiss earner still makes a pretty good living, with 52.1% of the population making $100,000 to 1 million USD.
That distribution of wealth is due in part to a concept that’s somewhat controversial in countries like the United States – a wealth tax. Switzerland has had a wealth tax since 1840. Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, and Norway are the four European states with some form of official wealth tax, and of these, Switzerland’s model has been the most effective. The wealth tax in Switzerland is decentralized and self-reported, but is nevertheless collected, and the revenue it generates has made up 3% or more of the Swiss budget every year since 2000.
Fun Switzerland facts #10
Swiss Army Knives Is World Famous
Let’s conclude this list of Switzerland facts with one of the most useful and iconic of Swiss innovations, Swiss army knives.
That said, the first modern Swiss army knives weren’t Swiss. While Swiss craftsmen designed and refined blades throughout the nineteenth century which would come to influence the final product, the Swiss army contracted the German company Wester and Co. to produce the first Swiss army knives. Since then, the Swiss company Victorinox has produced Swiss army knives for more than 125 years.
The basic design has seen a whole host of additions and innovations on the original theme of a multi-tool pocket knife, with more than a hundred official iterations. Of these, only eight have ever been used by the Swiss army.
Swiss army knives have reached far beyond the boundaries of Switzerland. Swiss army knives are especially popular in the United States, with soldiers using them throughout the Second World War. The United States remains one of the biggest consumers of Swiss army knives, and Presidents such as Lyndon B. Johnson have even given them as gifts. The reach of Swiss knives extends even further – Swiss army knives having been used on NASA missions since the 1970s.
A land of incredible beauty, wealth, and prosperity, Switzerland is truly a gem – chocolate or otherwise.
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