Swiss Culture

Switzerland has always been viewed through the prism of stereotypes, such as neutrality, industriousness, thriftiness, and an ability to produce valuable, rare items. However, the Swiss culture is something more than a culture of one country. Considering the geography of this country, the Swiss culture basically represents the mix of the Germanic and Roman cultures. Actually, the country is located in the center of Roman-Germanic and North-South routes, which resulted in the fact that Switzerland absorbed many habits and traditions of the other countries.

The country’s confederation, which consists of the culturally diverse regions called cantons, and it just shows how diverse those regions are in all terms.

How the Swiss state was founded

Actually, formation of the Swiss Confederation lasted 6 centuries, which commenced in 1291 when three cantons – Unterwald, Schwyz, and Uri – had formed a union. The newly created state was heavily influenced by the Germans, and this can be noticed in the Swiss culture even nowadays.

After the initial union, different cantons had been joining the union, but the word “nation” did not appear in the lexicon of the Swiss people. Basically, the Swiss people imagined this state as a kind of a union of the equal states. The status quo was changed in 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte tried to centralize the power after conquering the country and created the Helvetian Republic, which existed from 1798 up to 1803. By the way, the word “Helvetica”, which is typically applied to the Swiss state, derives from a tribe of Celts who called themselves “Helvetians.” That tribe arrived to the lands of the modern-day Switzerland in the 2nd century B.C. As a matter of fact, they are considered to be the ancestors of the present-day Swiss people.

In 1803, however, it became obvious that a centralized system of power did not work in Switzerland and so Napoleon abandoned that idea, reforming the country’s governance once again. Once Napoleon was conquered in 1814, the 22 cantons signed a new agreement (federal pact) to form a country, declaring the neutrality of Switzerland. That neutrality had been recognized by the major European countries of that time and has remained valid up to our days. This way, Switzerland somehow reminds a hedgehog, which might be situated among possible foes (like before and during the Second World War), yet does not attack others in any case.

The richness of the Swiss culture one may notice by paying attention even to the number of the official languages in the Swiss state: Italian, French, German, and Romansh. Though, one may surely say that the German language prevails in the majority of the cantons. The capital of Switzerland is Bern, which was chosen over Lugano and Zürich due to their closeness to the Italian and German borders respectively.

Architecture and painting

Without any doubt, architecture occupies an important place in the Swiss culture, and one may easily notice it while strolling through the cities like Bern, Zürich, Geneva, or Lugano. In particular, the cathedrals of such cities like Lausanne, Geneva, Chur, Sion, and Basel let the spectators relish their perfectly preserved Romanesque style of the 12th century.

swiss culture

Architecture occupies an important place in the Swiss culture

If you prefer to take a look at some edifices built in a Gothic style (like the famous cathedral in the German city of Cologne), then you might need to visit cathedrals in such cities like Zürich, Zug, and Schaffhausen. After all, one might encounter quite an impressive number of edifices (across the whole country) designed in Baroque style. However, the country is not that rich in edifices built in the style of the Renaissance, because the majority of the Swiss architects of that time headed to work to Italy or France.

Regarding the visual arts, one should pay attention to the works of Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794), whose views and masterpieces were strongly influenced by Protestantism that was gaining popularity at that time. Later, during the epoch of the Renaissance, the country was not represented by distinguished artists.

culture of switzerland

The paintings of Samuel Hieronymus are, perhaps, the most outstanding piece of Swiss visual arts

It was the 20th century, when extraordinary Swiss painters, such as Alberto Giacometti, Jean Tinguely, and Paul Klee, became world-known. At the same time, the Dada movement started to emerge in Switzerland and later became popular in such countries like Germany and Austria as well.

Literature and music

The Swiss culture has also enriched the world heritage in literature and music as well. The prominent philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Switzerland. The building of Germaine de Staёl, a prominent opponent of Napoleon Bonaparte, served as a center of the cultural life of that time. Also, the Swiss culture was represented by such writers like Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, Jeremias Gotthelf, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, and Gottfried Keller. Such prominent writers and poets as Carl Spitteler and Herman Hesse received a Nobel Prize in literature.

switzerland culture

The prominent philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Switzerland

The music was impacted by the Swiss masters even more, as the country was represented by such talented composers like Frank Martin, Othmar Schoeck, and Arthur Honegger. As for the present time, composer Andreas Vollenweider became world-known after receiving a Grammy Award. Such Swiss cities like Lucerne and Verbier became the centers of classical music thanks to the annually organized Verbier Festival and Lucerne Festival.

Stereotypes about the Swiss people

Apart from tolerance and industriousness, what else do we know about the Swiss people? First of all, they like small things (and it is – perhaps – not connected with the production of wristwatches). Just the thinking that something must be necessarily small for being beautiful is deeply rooted in the Swiss culture. Perhaps any person heard about Müesli – that ending “-li” appeared in Switzerland. In German language, it meant same as “little” in English. So you will be aware about this fact when you will hear the words like Guetzli or Chuchichäschtli.

Considering that the Swiss lands had been heavily influenced by the Germanic tribes even during the times of the Roman Empire, it shouldn’t be a surprise that thriftiness, punctuatity, and precision are the key qualities of the Swiss people. Apart from it, perfectionism is also deeply rooted in the Swiss culture. Sometimes, however, it turns into pedantry and impatience, which might cause some troubles when dealing with the Swiss people.

Useful sources for discovering the Swiss culture

Information about the Swiss culture and traditions

Stereotypes about the Swiss people

A little bit information about the history of the Swiss state

Mentality of Swiss People
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