Born and raised in Switzerland, I came to America in my mid-twenties. The culture of Switzerland has settled into my DNA, and today forms an integral part of my identity. Most people know this small country by its exquisite chocolates, vast selection of outstanding cheeses, precision watches, skiing in the majestic Alps, or its pharmaceutical industry. Many have also heard of Switzerland’s banking system which has drawn the good and the bad from all over the world. In my view, Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with a rich cultural history and strong traditions proudly worn by its citizens.
I learned in school that Switzerland is a constitutionally strong, forward thinking, progressive and determined democracy. It is also a philanthropic, peace loving, environmentally responsible, independent country. Growing up there, I have learned to appreciate the people’s insistence on punctuality, cleanliness, and their desire to maintain its pristine, natural state.
Switzerland’s neutrality in world politics and alliances has contributed to its fame and success. Geneva is the home of the United Nations headquarters, providing a neutral ground for world decisions to be debated, negotiated and implemented. When I was a teenager, many of us participated in the Student United Nations sessions each year. For a few days, we were allowed to use the auditoriums where countries united and we were given some challenges that the world was facing at the time. Using the same format, we practiced resolving the conflicts at hand and formed mock alliances. I also remember quite a bit of distractions going on, as one might anticipate with a room-full of teenagers.
For its size, Switzerland enjoys a rich linguistic mix. Four languages are spoken over a relatively small territory – French, Swiss German, Italian and Romansch. When you buy your groceries, everything is written in three languages – from product content to instructions.
The Switzerland I remember as a child is one of enduring friendships, endless outdoor exploration, wide open spaces, and a sense of safety rarely questioned. I also recall a strict academic education, rich in traditions which included specific skills such as knitting, sewing and cooking. I will never forget the exciting school or family ski trips and spring hiking field-trips to majestic glaciers with my class. We would climb along the pastures and stop at the farms along the way, where farmers were churning the milk to make cheese, butter or cream. I also loved the annual visits to the chocolate factory where samples were distributed generously to the delight of all of us. I vividly remember the cleanliness of the Swiss cities, and the abundance of flowers meticulously groomed, on the streets or the window sills. Whenever I visit again, I am immediately afforded a feeling of peace and tranquility deep in my bones.
Switzerland is healing medicine for the soul to many who have flocked there and I strongly recommend it to those who are seeking new destinations.
If you are planning a trip to Switzerland or simply reading up on the country, I recommend the following books:
Swiss Watching, by Diccon Bewes
Whether or not you are traveling to Switzerland, you will enjoy this book. It is not a guide book – it is informative, interesting, and humorous. Bewes lives in Switzerland and his book is engaging and blends facts with playfulness. This is a well-rounded, must read “inside Europe’s landlocked Island.” I love it!
Rick Steve’s Switzerland, by Rick Steve
The book offers interesting insights – however, often based on subjective preferences – visiting tips to places such as the beautiful Berner Oberland and quoting unexpected venues. His description of Glacier Express and Bernina Express are particularly detailed and enjoyable, if you are looking to visit some specific, very scenic countryside – of which there are many more than mentioned. I am a bit biased, as Geneva is not mentioned much, or referred to as “boring.” Otherwise, Rick Steve’s has some valuable suggestions.
Fodor’s Switzerland, by Fodor
The book is divided into 14 sections, including the final section, “Understanding Switzerland.” The first section is a general introduction to the country: it covers the geography, the various classes of lodging in Switzerland, the top experiences, the best hikes, several itineraries (first time visitor to castles and catherals), and scenic train and car trips. The other sections deal with the cantons and major cities. Fodor’s Switzerland is thorough and will provide a multitude of choices to visit, shop, eat, and sleep. Many pictures too! Great resource!
This book includes solid sections on Geneva and Lausanne, important towns which Rick Steve ommitted . Geneva is dear to me, and so I find this book a useful resource. The format is different than Fodor’s and Rick Steve’s guides, therefore offering an additional angle to discovering Switzerland.
For a historical read, Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland, and History of the Red Cross, by Carol Moorehead
This is a lucid, compassionate and well-written book. Morehead’s research is scholarly, and her documentation is very meticulous. She examines the historical record and the ethical dilemnas of the organization which was founded on Swiss principles of neutrality and quiet diplomacy which was then faced with atrocities in its own territory. The author addresses the failures and the multidinous successes of the Red Cross, covering the WWII Holocaust. Dunant’s Dream is said to be an “extraordinarily readable” book.
As for DVDs, the following ones will take you on a virtual tour and will certainly entice you to travel there – in addition, they are delightful:
Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown,Germany, Switzerland, & Austria
I very much enjoy this DVD because it successfully conveys an atmosphere that is unique to Switzerland. When I get homesick, it will definitely take me to a place of childhood. Please note that though the holiday or folkloric scenes appear “made-up,” this is not so: Switzerland feels like it has been left into a time of its own – while still benefitting from the highest technology and science.
We also have a couple of fun VHS films on Switzerland to watch, if you still have a machine!