European country which is a federation of 26 cantons dating back to 1291 and has multiple languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansch. (Dann was kind enough to give me the details:
'Switzerland has 3 "official" languages (French, German, and Italian), and 4 "National" languages (add Romansch to the list). Government documents aren't printed in Romansch -- Those who speak Romansch natively are required to learn one of the official languages
in school. Incidentally, All students in
Switzerland have to learn at least one
of the "big three" (other than their
native tongue).') Switzerland borders France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Italy. Most of the Alps mountains are in Switzerland. The country has done its best to remain neutral in the wars affecting surrounding countries for centuries and has a very stable government. And Sylvar provides this info: 'Switzerland has the .ch TLD because it's the Helvetic Confederation, or "confederatio helvetica" in Latin. Ergo, "CH". '

Switzerland has the .ch TLD because it's the Helvetic Confederation, or "confederatio helvetica" in Latin. Ergo, "CH". This sounds complicated but, ceteris paribus, it isn't.

While German, French, Italian, and Romansch are all "official" languages of Switzerland, different regions favor different languages. The following table shows the names of the cantons in English and Switzerland's languages, in order of entry to the federation. Hardlinked entries indicate the dominant language(s) in that canton.

Year                                                                                                                              Area
 of                                                                                                                                in
Entry Abbr. English                  German                  French                        Italian             Romansch           km2  
1291   UR   Uri                      Uri                     Uri                           Uri                 Uri                1077
1291   SZ   Schwyz                   Schwyz                  Schwyz                        Svitto              Sviz               908
1291   OW   Obwalden                 Obwalden                Obwald                        Obwaldo             Sursilvania        491
1291   NW   Nidwalden                Nidwalden               Nidwald                       Nidwaldo            Sutsilvania        276
1332   LU   Lucerne                  Luzern                  Lucerne                       Lucerna             Lucerna            1494
1351   ZH   Zurich                   Zürich                  Zurich                        Zurigo              Turitg             1729
1352   GL   Glarus                   Glarus                  Glaris                        Glarona             Glaruna            685
1352   ZG   Zug                      Zug                     Zoug                          Zugo                Zug                239
1353   BE   Berne                    Bern                    Berne                         Berna               Berna              5961
1481   FR   Fribourg                 Freiburg                Fribourg                      Friburgo            Friburg            1671
1481   SO   Solothurn                Solothurn               Soleure                       Soletta             Soloturn           791
1501   BS   Basle-Town               Basel-Stadt             Bâle-Ville                    Basilea-Città       Basilea-Citad      37
1501   BL   Basle-Country            Basel-Land              Bâle-Campagne                 Basilea-Campagna    Basilea-Champagna  517
1501   SH   Schaffhausen             Schaffhausen            Schaffhouse                   Sciaffusa           Schaffusa          298
1513   AR   Appenzell Outer-Rhodes   Appenzell-Ausserrhoden  Appenzell Rhodes-Extérieures  Appenzello Esterno  Appenzell dadens   243
1513   AI   Appenzell Inner-Rhodes   Appenzell-Innerrhoden   Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures  Appenzello Interno  Appenzell dador    173
1803   SG   St. Gall                 St. Gallen              St-Gall                       San Gallo           San Gagl           2026
1803   GR   Grisons                  Graubünden              Grisons                       Grigione            Grischun           7105
1803   AG   Argovia                  Aargau                  Argovie                       Argovia             Argovia            1404
1803   TG   Thurgovia                Thurgau                 Thurgovie                     Turgovia            Turgovia           991
1803   TI   Ticino                   Tessin                  Tessin                        Ticino              Tessin             2812
1803   VD   Vaud                     Waadt                   Vaud                          Vaud                Vad                3212
1815   VS   Valais                   Wallis                  Valais                        Vallese             Vallais            5224
1815   NE   Neuchâtel                Neuenburg               Neuchâtel                     Neuchâtel           Neuchâtel          803
1815   GE   Geneva                   Genf                    Genève                        Ginevra             Genevra            282
1979   JU   Jura                     Jura                    Jura                          Giura               Giura              836  
       CH   Switzerland              Schweiz                 Suisse                        Svizzera            Svizra             41285

Geopolitical subdivisions of cantons are called communes.

Many thanks to Siobhan, who provided the info to expand and refine what was originally a simple list of canton names.

In the CIA world factbook entry about Switzerland there are several glaring errors in the part about the executive branch. It is written there that the Federal Council (Bundesrat) is the cabinet of the Federal President (Bundespräsident). That is incorrect. Whoever wrote that factbook entry was probably heavily influenced by the way the US government system is structured and thus attributed far too much power to the president.


Let me explain

The Bundesrat is the highest office of the executive branch of the Swiss government. It consists of seven members who are elected from and by the United Federal Assembly for a four-year term.

The really strange thing about this is that the composition by party is a long-standing convention that has been in effect since 1959. There always are two members from the CVP (christian conservative), two from the FDP (liberal), two from the SP (social democrat) and one from the SVP (populist right) in the Federal Council. This is called the "Magic Formula" (Zauberformel). That might strike one as horribly undemocratic, but compare that to the US where there are only two parties that hold almost all of the political power.

The government system in Switzerland is called a Concordance Democracy because there is no ruling party in the executive branch. Instead it is shared between several parties just as the legislative branch.

Nowadays the composition of the Federal Council does no longer accurately reflect the political landscape. The CVP has lost popularity while the SVP is now the most popular party. Still the Zauberformel will not be changed in the near future, because the SVP is close-minded, shortsighted, conservative and isolationist which is why all the others prevent a readjustment of the Magic Formula. In fact, the CVP lost one of its seats to the SVP in the 2003 elections, ending the era of the magic formula after 44 years.

Contrary to the information in the factbook, the office of the president (Bundespräsident) is not very important. It is rotated among the members of the Federal Council so that every year there is a different president and a different vice president. The president keeps his or her department and does not really gain any additional powers, only representative duties.

As you can see, the information from the factbook is rather misleading. I think it's a bit frightening that they got wrong such basic stuff as that. It's not like the organisation of the Swiss government was secret. I got the info from http://www.admin.ch. (and from memory)

Thanks to Siobhan for pointing out a few glaring errors in this writeup.

Switzerland is a small, mountainous, land-locked country at the heart of Europe. It has a long history of neutrality, and is the headquarters of several worldwide organisations, such as the Red Cross, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee. This writeup will look briefly at the geography and history of the country before concluding with a look at some aspects of life in the country today.



Swiss geography

Switzerland is surrounded by Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, Italy to the south, and France to the west. The main towns are Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Basel on the Rhine, and the capital, Berne. The country is very mountainous, with the Alps and Jura mountains, and has four major lakes: Maggiore, Lucerne, Geneva, and Constance. Swiss trees suffer greatly from acid rain from its neighbours.



Swiss history

Conquered by Julius Caesar and subsequently a province of the Roman Empire, Swiss cantons combined in an "Everlasting League" in 1291, growing to a group of 13 by 1513. The protestant Reformation was accepted by some towns 1523-29, but rural areas remained catholic. Independence from the Hapsburgs was gained in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Helvetic Republic was established 1798-1815 during the Napoleonic Wars, and guaranteed neutrality by the Congress of Vienna of 1815, which also expanded Switzerland's territory to 22 cantons. A civil war between the Catholic cantons of the Sonderbund and the Liberals led to a revised constitution in 1848. Another revision in 1874 introduced the principle of the referendum, a key feature of the Swiss federal government. Women only received the vote in federal elections in 1971, and the first female cabinet minister was appointed in 1984. 18-year-olds only gained the right to vote in 1991.



Switzerland today

The Swiss banking system is renowned for its confidentiality, and the Swiss are among the richest nations per capita. Tourism plays a major role in the economy, and exports include watches and precision instruments, electrical goods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and confectionery. Culturally, Switzerland was the home of the Dada artistic and literary movement. Alpine sports such as skiing are very popular.



Sources:
The Hutchinson Encyclopedia (1997 ed.), Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1996
Chronicle of the World, Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1989




The following e2 nodes may prove useful:

Geography

History


Food


Miscellaneous

I live up in the mountains in Switzerland. During the week, I am at university in Lausanne. So most Sunday evenings, you will find me making my way back to my flat. First, taking the little red cogwheel train down to the valley floor, then the normal train from Bex to Vevey.

The little train goes down once an hour, just in time to meet the main line, which runs from Milan to Geneva. Much of the time, it is empty. It is never more than a minute late going down. In the other direction it sometimes has to wait for the mainline train. I have depended on this train for transport for the past ten years; until such time as I buy a car, this will likely remain the state of things.

Yesterday evening, it was rather cold. I notice my watch tick over to 19:44 with slight irritation: the train should have been here a minute ago. A car pulls up. Are you waiting for the train? I'm afraid it broke down, we decided to use my car instead. I got in and commented that it was very kind of them to pick me up. Well, we couldn't cancel the train, could we? Having faced several cancelled trains in other parts of the world, I am sceptical. I mean, if we had cancelled the train, you'd have been stuck out here in the cold and would have had to wait for an hour. We stop at every station. I am the only passenger this evening. If I hadn't been there, it wouldn't have mattered: the train must run and it must run on time.


Three years ago, I bought a laptop and a case to carry it in. The laptop is quite heavy and the case's handle broke. The laptop also broke later but I bought a new one, cheap, so it doesn't matter. I go to see the cobbler in Vevey. Seems a nice guy, quite competent. He quotes me a price half that of a new computer case. Rock on! Unfortunately, I need the case right now. I can use the shoulder-strap for the time being.

I haven't lived in Vevey long, so I have never noticed which shops open when. I go to drop off my bag for repair a few days later and discover that the cobbler's opening hours are a very good match for the hours I wish to attend class. On a whim, I enter the butcher's opposite. Can I leave my bag here for you to take it over to the cobbler's when he opens?. It seems there will be no problem. Just tell him I'll come and pick it up tomorrow.

The following day, I go to the cobbler's, pick up my bag and pay. A different outcome would not have entered my head.


Recently, we had a referendum on making it easier for foreigners and their children to obtain Swiss nationality. Your average Swiss is pretty wary of foreigners as he sees them as a threat to his way of life. It came as no surprise when the motion was rejected.

I am not much of a nationalist. I think patriotism is a load of bullshit. Yes US citizen who wishes God to bless America, I'm looking at you. I think very few countries have any national values which are both real and unique. But in most of Switzerland, we have a safety, a sense of cosiness which is worth having. Here, the idealist which lives in many people has a chance to express himself.

I don't think foreigners are a danger to our way of life. Their children are no more (and no less) likely to grow up with different values from mine than so called "Swiss children". My parents are English, so who am I to talk? But when I realise what we have to lose if our Good Old Swiss Values did happen to change, I find it hard to blame the misguided efforts of Johann Swiss to preserve his way of life at any cost.

I am torn between my desire of preservation and my moral incapacity of bearing this cost.

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