When thinking of Switzerland, most people think of mountains, banks, chocolate, cheese, watches, and of “Heidi”.
However, Swiss culture is extremely diverse and has been shaped by the country’s geographical position, its multilingualism and a rich diversity of architecture, art, literature, film, music and traditions.
The culture of the different parts of Switzerland has been shaped significantly by its neighboring countries Germany, France, and Italy. In all the three language regions, there are Swiss broadcasting programs and newspapers, but at the same time there is a significant orientation towards the cultural offering of the particular neighboring countries.
Besides multilingualism, the country’s geography has shaped its cultural diversity, and the culture and traditions of the mountain areas differ significantly from the culture and traditions in the midland. And life in large cities such as Zürich is extremely different from life in remote mountain valleys.
Although Swiss people are so diverse in many aspects, they share a common history and have united to form a nation based on liberal, democratic and federal traditions. They often call themselves “a nation of will”.
In general, it is true that the German-speaking part of Switzerland is oriented more towards Germany, the French-speaking part more towards France and the Italian-speaking part more towards Italy while the linguistically isolated region of Rhaeto-Romanic strives to maintain its minority language and cultural traditions.
However, also within the four language groups there are still notable cultural and language differences such as numerous regional dialects.
In addition, the language borders do not always correspond to political or religious borders. There might be a language border between neighboring villages that have shared centuries of traditions, and differences between language regions might be less than differences between the big cities and rural areas. Similarly, the Catholic population of different language regions might share common ideas.
However, Switzerland has more and more integrated into the European market and harmonized its regulations according to European standards in order to stay competitive, to strengthen trade ties and to avoid international isolation.
In Switzerland, language borders and interests have melted.
Cultural Life and Traditions
When it comes to food, art, or music, the cultural differences between Swiss people are less significant: They love to taste food from different countries, listen to foreign music; they are interested in the arts of foreign countries and cultures.
In addition, there are numerous regional traditions for food, folk music, dance, theater, poetry, embroidery, and carving. The textile industry has a long tradition in Switzerland, and embroidery is used to adorn Swiss traditional costumes. Folk music is a major part of Swiss culture as well. Some of the typical instruments include the alphorn, the violin and the clarinet. Yodeling is considered typically Swiss.
Like most things in Switzerland, Swiss cuisine is very diverse and differs from region to region. Traditional dishes from the French part include cheese fondue and raclette, the German speaking part adds sausages and cheese such as Appenzeller and Emmentaler to the Swiss cuisine, and popular dishes in the Italian part include Polenta and Marroni (sweet chestnuts). In addition, Switzerland has a long tradition in the production of sweets and chocolate.
Switzerland has produced many well-known architects, artists, scientists and authors. One of the most famous authors is Johanna Spyri, and the little girl “Heidi” is probably the most popular character of Swiss literature. In addition, famous Swiss authors of the 20th century include Max Frisch (Homo Faber), and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (The Pledge).
Another extraordinary Swiss is undoubtedly Nobel Prize winning physicist Albert Einstein, who discovered the special theory of relativity in 1905. The famous Nobel Prize winning linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was also Swiss.
The geographic situation has shaped Swiss leisure and sports activities. Switzerland is one of the most famous winter sports destinations. Popular activities include skiing and hiking, tennis, golf, ice hockey, paragliding, mountain biking, swimming as well as “steinstossen” (throwing stones) and the national sport “schwingen” (Swiss wrestling).
When it comes to sports, Swiss people are patriotic and stick together, even though the winner might not speak their own mother tongue. The Swiss are big fans of soccer and support their national team; they also have a successful sailing team and many famous winter sports athletes.