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Student's Frequently Asked Questions about Switzerland

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Table of contents:

General - Geography - Economy - Every day's life - other sites


Q1: Where comes the name Switzerland from ?
A1: It is derived from the name of one of the founding cantons, Schwyz.

Q2: Is there another name for Switzerland ?
A2: Yes, it is also called "Confoederatio Helvetica", therefore the abbreviation "CH".

Q3: What is the meaning of the cross and the colors of the Swiss flag ?
A3: Both have a religious background. The white cross is a symbol for the cross Jesus was put on. The red color is a symbol for his blood.

Q4: What are the official languages of Switzerland ?
A4: German, French, Italian and Romantsch. However, official documents and declarations on goods have to be provided in German, French and Italian only.

Q5: What is the national flower or animal of Switzerland ?
A5: There is no such thing. However, the "Edelweiss" (leontopodium alpinum) has the status of an inoffical national flower.

Q6: What is the national motto of Switzerland ?
A6: There is no such thing either.

Q7: What is the national anthem of Switzerland ?
A7: "Trittst im Morgenrot daher", see Swiss Anthem

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Q1: Where is Switzerland located ?
A1: It is located in the center of Europe in the northern hemisphere. It belongs to the Middle European Time zone (MET), which is one hour ahead of GMT (two hours during daylight saving time).
Latitude: Between N 45° 49' 08" and N 47° 48' 35" (about the same latitude as Montreal, Canada or Seattle, USA)
Longitude: Between E 5° 57' 24" and E 10° 29' 36"
More details ...

Q2: How big is Switzerland ?
A2: It covers an area of 41'285 km² (approx. 10'201'746 acres or 15'940 square miles), which is about twice as much as Massachusetts (20'262 km² or 7'826 square miles) or a tenth of California (404'653 km² or 156'297 square miles).

Q3: What are the largest cities in Switzerland ?
A3: The numbers below are taken from the census 2000:
1. Zürich, ZH (population 343'000)
2. Basel, BS (population 176'000)
3. Geneva, GE (population 172'000)
4. Bern, BE (population 129'000)
5. Lausanne, VD (population 117'000)

Q4: What is the name of the highest mountain in Switzerland and what is its elevation ?
A4: Monte Rosa ("Dufourspitze") on the border between Switzerland and Italy, elevation 4634 m (15'203 feet). More details about mountains ...

Q5: What is the name of the largest lake in Switzerland and what is its size ?
A5: There is no simple answer to this question, because the two largest lakes are only partially located within the border of Switzerland. The largest lake with international borders is Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), which covers an area of 584 km² (225 square miles). The largest lake which is located completely within Switzerland is the Neuenburgersee, which covers an area of 218 km² (84 square miles). More details about lakes ...

Q6: What is the climate like in Switzerland ?
A6: The alps divide Switzerland in two different zones: North of the alps, the climate is almost continental, but the area still receives a lot of precipitation from the Atlantic ocean; south of the alps, the climate is more Mediterranean. Also the elevation has a great impact on the climate, especially on the temperature. Springtime is usually wet and cool, towards April, the weather conditions change very frequently. It may be rainy, then sunny and then some snowfall, all within one hour. July and August are usually dry and hot (30°C and more, which corresponds to the higher eighties in Fahrenheit). Fall is dry but much cooler than summer, its the best time to go to the mountains, at least as long as there is no snow yet. At higher elevations (above 1000 m or 3000 feet), they get the first snow usually in October, the roads in the mountains have to be closed in November or December the latest. Winter is supposed to be cold and dry with the lowest temperatures in January or February. More details about the climate ...

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Q1: What is the name of the Swiss currency ?
A1: Swiss Francs ("Schweizer Franken"), its ISO symbol is CHF. "CH" derives from Switzerland's other name "Confoederatio Helvetica". More details about the Swiss currency ...

Q2: What are the main exported goods of Switzerland ?
A2: The list below shows the most important categories of exported goods (the numbers in brackets show the value of exported goods of that category in percent of all exported goods):
1. Chemicals (30%)
2. Machinery, electronics (29%)
3. High precision instruments, watches, jewelry (15%)
4. Metals (8%)
5. Agricultural and forestry products (4%)
6. Textiles, clothing, shoes (3%)
7. Vehicles (3%)

Q3: What are the main imported goods of Switzerland ?
A3: The list below shows the most important categories of exported goods (the numbers in brackets show the value of imported goods of that category in percent of all imported goods):
1. Machinery, electronics (24%)
2. Chemicals (17%)
3. Vehicles (13%)
4. Agricultural and forestry products (8%)
5. Metals (8%)
6. Textiles, clothing, shoes (3%)
7. High precision instruments, watches, jewelry (6%)
See also Foreign trade.

Q4: How many unemployed people are there in Switzerland ?
A4: The rate of unemployed people in Switzerland used to be real low before 1990 (below 1%). Then, it started to grow to almost 4% in 1998. It is now on the decline again (2.7% in 1999, 1.7% in September 2000). More details about unemployment in Switzeland ...

Q5: How high is the inflation in Switzerland ?
A5: The inflation in Switzerland is currently very low. Since 1996 it is below 1%. More details about the inflation in Switzerland ...

Q6: What does Switzerland grow ?
A6: These are the most important agricultural products:
1. Crop, mainly wheat (to produce flour), barley and corn (for animal feed)
2. Sugar beets
3. Rapeseed
4. Potatoes
5. Vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, onion, salad)
6. Fruits (apples, pears, berries)
7. Grapes (there are some small but famous wineries in Switzerland)
8. Forests

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Every day's life:

Q1: How do people greet each other (shake hands, bow, embrace, other) ?
A1: Business: Shake hands (perhaps nod)
Family/friends: Embrace, kiss (recently, people started to kiss three times on the cheek (left, right, left)).

Q2: As a visitor to Switzerland, would you exchange gifts at the first meeting ?
What gifts are considered appropriate? If flowers, what kind? (Some have special meanings) ?

A2: Some people bring a gift, depending on the occasion.
Business: Something small, e.g. a pen with a company logo or similar.
Family/friends: Flowers (roses mean love, so choose carefully) or sweets (chocolate, cookies etc) for adults, a small book or toy for kids (of course, they love sweets too). I wouldn't give white flowers at all, some might associate white flowers with death.

Q3: How are children educated ?
At what age do they begin school ?
Do boys and girls generally go to separate schools, or are they separated by sex in the same school ?
What is the age that kids finish with their schooling, if they do not go on to further their education ?
Also, I've read that from canton to canton school systems differ. How so ?

A3: Usually, kids start Kindergarten at five, they attend 2 years. Then they start primary school at age of seven, it takes 6 years. Secondary school takes another 3 years. Some kids go to a higher school, either after primary school for 6..5 years or after secondary school for 4..5 years. After this, they may go to university. Those who do not go to university usually start an apprenticeship which takes between 2 and 4 years. During apprenticeship, they can attend additional classes as a preparation for the so called technical collage (another 3 years after finishing apprenticeship). A diploma from a technical collage is similar to a diploma from a university, but one cannot get a doctor title. Boys and girls attend the same classes; they are not separated except for gym at secondary school and universities.
Kids are done with school if they chose to be at age 16. If they can't find a job for their apprenticeship, they can attend an extra 10th year at public school. It is true that the cantons are responsible for schooling. Maybe 20 years ago, schools were even more different, but they started to "harmonize" education more and more. E.g. some cantons started the school year in spring, others in fall. Now they all start after summer break. Also the introduction of the first and second foreign language was different. Some started at 4th grad, others at 7th grad. In the canton Zürich, they soon start the first foreign language at 2nd grad and the second foreign language at 4th grad. Up to now, the first foreign language had to be one of the official languages of our country (French for the German speaking students, German for the French and Italian speaking students), now the first foreign language will be English. This is only true for the canton Zürich, some other cantons do not agree with this curriculum at all. But to be honest, it does not make sense at all to learn German as your first foreign language. It is quite difficult to learn and close to 0% of the world's population speak German ...
For more information, please see the chapter Education.

Q4: What is the literacy rate for Switzerland ?
A4: The literacy rate for Switzerland is close to 100%. However, there is a phenomena called "secondary illiteracy" which means, people can read a text (they know the letters), but they do not understand what they read (not because of the language, but because of their limited intellectual capabilities).

Q5: How is garbage collection dealt with ? Do you have Garbagemen or Waste Management systems set up ? Who in the community does this ?
A5: Garbage is separated into non-recyclables and recyclables (glass, metal, paper, PET (plastic bottles, not animals), batteries, decomposable kitchen garbage and other garbage). We take recyclables (glass, plastic, paper) to dedicated collection points and dump the rest of the garbage in a container. The community empties the container once a week. Garbagemen pick up the waste once a week. Most municipalities joined other municipalities and they operate waste management together. We have to buy stickers that we attach to the garbage bag; the number of stickers depends on the size of the bag. The idea behind this is obvious: The more waste we produce, the more we pay.

Q6: What kind of clothing do people wear in Switzerland ?
A6: We wear the same clothing like most people in the western countries do. It mainly depends on the job and on the occasion: Business men usually wear dark suits and ties, other workers wear jeans (same brands as in the USA) and t-shirts or sweat shirts.

Q7: Could you please give me a list of some famous Swiss people ?
A7: Please see list of some famous Swiss.

Q8: I need to find a game that children in Switzerland would typically play and that would be unique to their country. Any suggestions ?
A8: Of course, there are many common games that kids like to play such as "hide-and-seek" or "play tag". A game that might be more specific to Switzerland is (literally translated) called "don't look back, the fox walks around !" Any number of kids sit down in a circle facing each other. One kid plays the fox and walks around the circle behind the other children's back. The fox carries a kind of a token (a piece of fabrics, a small rock or whatever). The fox drops the token behind of one of the kids sitting in the circle. As soon as this kid realizes that the token was dropped behind her or him, she or he gets up and tries to catch the fox. The fox, on the other hand, tries to get around the circle and to sit down on the spot that became vacant. If the fox manages to do the full circle and sit down, the other kid becomes the fox. If the fox get caught, she or he has to be the fox again. There is a variant of that game: If the kid does not realize that the token is behind him or her and the fox can do a full circle after dropping the token, that kid is called a "lazy egg" and has to sit inside the circle until another kid becomes the "lazy egg".

Q9: What are the most popular sports in Switzerland ?
A9: Popular sports include football (also known as soccer), handball, biking, hiking, tennis, swimming, orienteering, street hockey, ice hockey, skiing, snow board riding and many more.

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