Switzerland

Introduction

Switzerland is the country that brought you Heidi, absinthe and LSD. It is also known for its secret bank accounts, fondues, chalets and chocolates, but there is much more depth to the country than this small list would imply. It is a paradise for skiing fans; there are ski resorts like St.Moritz which is popular with celebrities or the more party-orientated Zermatt.


Besides the skiiers paradise, you’ll find small, idyllic villages with little alleys and tiny shops as well as cities that combine the old and the modern, such as Bern or Zurich.

Places to go in Switzerland

History

Switzerland stayed neutral during WW1 and only became involved in relation to the organisation of Red Cross units during the war. During WW2 however Switzerland's involvement has now become infamous having laundered money for Nazi Germany. It is also now known to have shut its borders to Jewish refugees and forcibly repatriated many of those who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe. In 1998, as some recognition for its acts of quiet anti-Semitism during the war, the Swiss government agreed to pay compensation to relatives of Holocaust victims whose funds were deposited in Swiss banks.


After the war, Switzerland was able to expand further its already powerful commercial, financial and industrial base. Zürich became an international banking and insurance centre, while many international bodies, such as the World Health Organisation, set up their headquarters in Geneva.


Switzerland joined the EEA (European Economic Area) but it declined to become a member of the United Nations or NATO since it was afraid that its neutrality might be compromised. It did join EFTA (the European Free Trade Association).


In 2002 Switzerland finally became a member of the United Nations and a year later Switzerland part of the EU's passport-free zone which pushed Switzerland closer to the EU in matters of crime and asylum. A few months later the country opened its job-market to 10 of the newest EU member countries.

Politics

Despite its diverse society, Switzerland has a rather stable government. The majority of voters support the government in respect of its policy on neutrality, and its foreign and defence policies.


Switzerland’s party landscape is also rich and diverse. Generally, the four parties that are represented in the Federal Council are called the government parties: Free Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party, and Swiss People's Party. In 2005, only the four government parties were represented in the Council of States. The party landscape in the second chamber or National Council is more diverse. Here there are eight non-government parties which have at least one seat each.


Switzerland has a unique form of democracy. Any citizen has the constitutional power to challenge a law that has been passed by parliament as long as they have been able to gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. Where this happens they have the right to call a national vote where whether to accept or reject the law is decided by simple majority.

Geography

Generally mountainous and landlocked, Switzerland is a small country located in the heart of Europe. It covers total area of 41,000km² of which 1,500km² are water. Switzerland is surrounded by Austria and Liechtenstein in the east, France in the west, Italy in the south and Germany inthe north.


In the south and south east there are Switzerland’s well known Alps. North of the Alps, from east to west, there is the so called Swiss plateau, where most of the country’s population lives. North west of the plateau you’ll find the Jura Mountains. A big part of the northern border with Germany follows the Rhine River; the Rhine enters Switzerland near Schaffhausen. In the east, the border with Germany and a part of Austria is drawn through Lake Constance (German: Bodensee). It is the same for a bit of the southwest border with France – there it is Lake Geneva that acts as the natural border.

Economy

Based on international trade and banking, Switzerland’s economy is highly successful. The country’s standard of living, worker productivity, the quality of its education and health care systems are higher than any other European country. As well as this it has low inflation, and unemployment is almost negligible.


Temporary foreign workers represent approximately 20% of the labour force. Less than 5% of the population work in agriculture; the primary agricultural products are cattle and dairy goods. A lot of food and raw materials must be imported since mineral resources are scarce. Tourism is extremely important; it adds significantly to the economy and helps to balance Switzerland's trade deficit.


Switzerland is famous for its export manufactures such as motors, generators, turbines, and diverse high-tech products as well as chemical-pharmaceutical products. There is an enormous amount of international trade which passes through Switzerland, via its banking, insurance, shipping, and freighting industries.

Country Information

CurrencySwiss Franc
LanguagesFrench, German, Italian, Rumantsch
GovernmentFederal parliamentary republic
TimezoneGMT + 1
Population7.4 million
ATM availabilityAvailable
CapitalBern
Dialing code(00) 41
Emergency servicesAmbulance 144 , police 177, fire 118
WeatherThe weather in Switzerland varies greatly depending on where you are. Rochers de Nave, a mountain near Montreux, receives the highest precipitation (approximately 260 cm per year). Generally, precipitation is higher in Switzerland’s west - clouds often come in from the Atlantic coast. If you’re staying somewhere south of the Alps you are also likely to get a bit of rain. Lugano for example receives about 175 cm per year. North of the Alps you usually get dry and warm weather although often combined with heavy winds . Switzerland’s average amount of sunshine per year is approximately 1700 hours, although some villages in the canton Valais claim that they get about 2300 hours of sunshine.
Tourist boardhttp://www.myswitzerland.com
Famous forthe Matterhorn, cheese, clocks
Useful phrasesGruezi (hello), adieu (goodbye), merci (thank you)
Accommodation forIn most of Switzerland’s tourist areas you’ll find a tourist office where you can call and have them book a hotel or hostel for you (for a small fee). Generally, each town has a list of hotels and links to hostels, etc. on their web site. Calling the various hotels/hostels to make a reservation is often easier than making an online reservation. Many hotels will ask you fax or email them your credit card information to secure your reservation. Particularly in popular ski resorts, staying in a hotel in Switzerland can get quite expensive so a hostel would be a cheaper alternative (e.g. via the hostel network for students). Other types of accomodation are also available such as historic/traditional hotels, inns in the countryside, spas as well as bed and breakfasts.
Business hoursBanks are open Monday - Friday 08.00-12.00, and then again from 14.00-17.00. Shops' normal opening hours are Monday - Friday 08.00-12.00, then from 13.30-18.30, Saturday 08.00-12.00, and then 13.30-16.00. Standard shops aren't open on Sundays.
VisasVisas are not required for citizens of the EU. Passport holders of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa do not require a visa for stays up to three months, but must obtain one for longer trips. Other nationalities must obtain passports for all stays.
TippingIn restaurants the menu prices will include a service charge. However, it's quite common to round up amounts when paying the waiter or waitress if you're happy with the service you received e.g. 33.50 may be rounded to 35.00. If you're paying by credit card, you can tip the waiter by giving him/her 5% of the price in cash. In Zurich's taxis the service charge is included in cab fares, however that is not the case in most other parts of the country. Here you can also simply add 5%where you're happy with the service you've received.

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