So Swiss: 10 Things I’m Loving About Switzerland Now

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How ironic it is for me that I haven’t written anything much in detail about my stay in Switzerland for the past 11 months since I arrived. Yes, few more days to go and it’s going to be my first year. There are supposed to be so many stories to tell, as a matter of fact, but then again, the daily run of my life couldn’t seem to accommodate this another new idea in mind.

Until one day, someone asked me this question, “Do you feel your Swissness growing in you?” I couldn’t say the magic word that I ended up replying, “Maybe I’m getting there.”

It could be nice to look back, reflect and write about the events and experiences so I can better appreciate the life I have here and assimilate well into the Swiss culture (before it’s too late?).

I won’t be painting a rosy picture for Switzerland all the time because I’m equally eager to share the rest of the Swiss quirks too! Everything that is Swiss from a Pinay POV, and that Pinay must be, me.

For now though, it’s better to create a good impression first. So here are the ten things I like about Switzerland.

1. Swiss time is really gold.
What time is it, Swiss?

Switzerland is well-known as a watchmaking country. Most of the top-of-the-line, luxurious watch brands in the world originated from here. The Swiss are legendaries for their dedication to detail and accuracy. A luxurious watch for one, comprises of more than 300 precision parts and long hours of meticulous craftsmanship. As Switzerland has a reputation to uphold, it appears to me that everything here has to be in sync and everyone’s wired to be on-time.

Public transportation is one good example. I have always been an avid commuter ever since in the Philippines. Most of the time, I find pleasure in going through the Amazon-like traffic of Manila. Of course, since Manila traffic is very unpredictable, making (valid?) excuses for being late had become a part of the morning routine.

On a side note, I couldn’t entirely blame Christopher Lao for speaking out loud that he should have been informed (that the flooded road is impassable for a car like his) but when you particularly drive around Manila in torrential downpour that day, common sense is a must; and unfortunately his lack thereof, as well as his lame excuses, being seen on national TV has made him become a laughing matter (and lately, an Internet quick sensation).  However here in Switzerland, it’s au contraire. Waking up late can be the only reason for being so, and should foreseen circumstances ever occur, believe me, the Swiss will also inform you beforehand.

Unless there’s a traffic jam, technical problems, bad weather, life emergencies or any uncontrollable situations along the way, which also seldom happen, the buses, trams and trains in Switzerland arrive on-the-dot, and even earlier than usual.  Undoubtedly it’s good I left my Filipino time behind.
A very funny, creative satire on Lao, but, WTH is Christopher Lao? Here’s one for you in YouTube. This ain’t funny if you can’t read/understand Tagalog, so better skip this video. Definitely, in German, Hitler’s expressing seriousness here.

2. The hills are alive.
Click on the image to see some Valais pictures and more.

Seeing Mont Blanc from afar in my morning run, passing by the Swiss Alps in Valais, dipping in a thermal pool at the mountain ridges in Leukerbad, hiking at Mont Vevey, and day-camping in the greensides of Jura are just some of the many nature trips and leisures I’ve enjoyed so far. I am more of a beach traveler in the Philippines so getting into these activities like hiking, camping, mountain biking or snow skiing are pretty new for me.  As it is surrounded by the Swiss Alps on the south and Jura mountains up north, Switzerland is the most fitting place to get into these activities. For one, I find Switzerland the least polluted country I’ve ever been and because of that my health has improved. In the Phils, I’m used to getting sick with cough, colds, fever/flu or a (deadly) combination of both every 3-4 months, but since I stayed here I’ve never gotten ill.

Although these countries in the southpart of Europe like Italy and Greece can indulge the sun lover like me ( it’s underrated, a worshiper I mean!), I find the climate just right to enjoy winter, spring, summer and fall. Switzerland is generally temperate. In summer and spring, lush greens and beautiful flowers grow in bounty. Cooler breeze starts in autumn and almost the entire surroundings change in colors with various hues of browns, yellows, reds. And in winter of course, it’s all white at the Central Plateau on several days. Snow storms and temperature dropping way below zero seldom happen here. While up there in the Swiss Alps, there’s a generous amount of snow. Just like any other country, however, weather’s becoming harder to predict nowadays. This year, I was expecting a hot, dry summer in Switzerland but surprisingly, the weather’s been behaving like it is still spring. Autumn months are getting near so it appears that summer is shorter than usual. In any case, I’m looking forward to enjoy the winter activities.  Fondue, anyone?

3. There’s always a place for green thumbs.

I can never do gardening. Ever. I tried to spark an interest a couple of times since my mother’s been into it for so long. I remember she would plant different kinds of vegetables and fruits in every empty lot she could find near the house. The corn and the watermelon planting at our backyard I think, were the most ambitious planting projects she has ever done because no kidding, she did it all by herself. After awhile though, she slowed down, taking care only some potted plants like orchids (but still, lots of them). But today, as we’ve moved to our new home, she is reuniting to her old passion once more since we’ve got a good parcel of lot to plant on. I’m encouraging her to do it because as I stay here in Switzerland, I begin to appreciate the gardens more and more. Except that, I still won’t be gardening! *grin*

It seems to me that every house in Switzerland has to have a garden; or a potted plant for the very least, in every apartment. A Swiss garden is a living art form. I have seen a masterpiece just right at our neighbor’s huge backyard. I have gotten ideas from the garden exposition in Coppet. Since then I couldn’t stop myself from admiring someone else’s backyard whenever I find one, and pointing my finger to say, “I want this. I want that…for my garden.” If it weren’t been my mom’s interest, I’ll definitely ask her to hire a (hot) gardener.

Despite the limited land area in Switzerland (only 41,285 square kilometers or about the size of North Luzon, Ilocos and Cagayan Valley combined), it seems to be that every parcel of it is highly utilised; if not for industrial, it must be for agricultural purpose. 70% of the country’s total land area is comprised of the rugged terrains of Jura and the Swiss Alps while 11% (only around 4,440 sq. km.) is under seasonal or permanent crops (potatoes, wheat, sugar beets, barley, maize, oats, rye, fruits). From which only 150 sq. km. are vineyards. The Lavaux vineyard terraces, which can be traced back to the 11th century, is a perfect example of how the Swiss optimize their local resources to produce something that is valuable for their culture and their economy.

4. Chocolates, cheeses and wines are my new lovers.

I found the deadly trio in Switzerland.

Each already has its own cunning ways to let one give in. Chocolates, in particular, contain the same chemical the brain produces when we feel in love. But having them all at once is definitely an ecstatic, ooh-lala experience. I feel very lucky to be in the place where I can enjoy the best chocolates, cheeses and wines in the world today. No exaggeration needed, really. No pun intended.

Swiss chocolates are known for high quality all over the world. No doubt about it. It was the Swiss who: created the Toblerone, of which its shape is an inspiration from the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps; and invented the milk cholocate and the conche, a surface and scraping mixer and agitator that evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate and may act as polisher of the particles (thanks wikipedia!). Some famous Swiss chocolate brands are: Tobler, Cailler, Lindt, Suchard, Sprüngli, Maestrani, Klaus, Peter, Frey, Chocolat de Villars, Camille Bloch, Bernrain, Chocolats Halba, among others.

We imagine Swiss cheese as this block of cheese riddled with holes known as “eyes,” but the truth is, this has become a generic name for these cheese varieties outside of Switzerland which resemble the Swiss Emmental. But this is not their one and only cheese.  Switzerland would not be known as a cheese country in the first place without the 450 varieties of cheese they created in high quality, naturalness and good taste.

Cheesemaking has been a tradition for many centuries all across the Swiss landscape. Swiss cheeses have come with different types: extra hard and hard cheeses like Sbrinz, Emmentaler, Le Gruyère, L’Etivaz, Berner Alpkäse, Schabziger; semi-hard cheeses like raclette cheese, Walliser raclette, Appenzeller, Tilsiter, Tête de Moine, Vacherin fribourgeois, Bündner Bergkäse, Mutschli; soft cheeses such as Swiss Brie, Swiss Camembert, Tomme, Reblochon, Limburger, Münster, Vacherin Mont-d’Or, Gala; cream cheese such as Quark, cottage cheese, Formaggini, Mozzarella, Petit Suisse; and goat’s and sheep’s cheeses.

While swishing the wine in the glass, you might hear a Swiss joking, “We drink our own wines alone, but we share a few drops with the Germans.” Seriously, wines from Switzerland only constitute less than one per cent of world wine production (110,800 liters) and nearly all wines are drunk within the country. From this production, only 2% (2,200 liters) are exported mainly to Germany. So when you see a Swiss wine in a wine store/cellar outside Switzerland or Europe, there’s this feeling you’ve got a very valuable gem. With such rarity of this wine, I somewhat feel the exclusiveness and the privilege, even if it’s just an everyday drink we take after meals!

I will attempt to feature some, if not all, of the known chocolates, cheeses, and wines in Switzerland.

5. Welcome to Swiss suburbs.
Welcome to my new neighborhood, Gland!

I was hesitant at first but suddenly I missed the hour-long travel of going to work and living outside the metro. I was also a bit fed up of living in Geneva, so at the time I found a place in Gland I took it right away. Then, I fell in love with my newfound home.

I will try to tour you around the Gland neighborhood on my next blog post.

6. Pardon my French.

Pinoy meets French. French, Pinoy.

A REPOST: Around two years ago, perhaps out of boredom, I decided to take French classes at Alliance Française de Manille, without any plan as to where and how I can apply what I’d learn. Little did I know that it is going to be a starting point to a rather bigger purpose.

I can’t take away the sly grin after reading my first blog post for the Apprendre la langue Française series. Goal A (write an essay in French) will always entail a battle between character accents and phonetic sounds. I was able to do Goal B (watch a full-length French film) and the film I watched, well, was to vivid for kids to enjoy. I’d just faint on the floor if I couldn’t keep up with Goal C (engage into long conversations in French).

When I’m too lazy, I nonchalantly talk back, “Est-ce que vous parlez anglais, s’il vous (super) plâit?” English is still sticking out, apparently.

I will try to go back to school and improve my French.

7. How united are the colors of Switzerland?

I’m still hanging on for my dear life in the French side of the country. The truth is, most Swiss speak German, while 20% of the population speaks French and the rest Italian (7%) and Romansh (1%). My French is not yet really that good, so I feel relieved that most people can speak English, particularly here in Geneva.

Oh, c’est Genève, here’s a snapshot (via wikipedia):

Geneva has been described as the third European financial centre after London and Zurich, and the world’s eighth most important financial centre by the Global Financial Centres Index, ahead of Frankfurt, and a 2009 survey by Mercer found Geneva to have the third-highest quality of life of any city in the world (narrowly outranked by Zürich). The city has been referred to as the world’s most compact metropolis and the “Peace Capital.” In 2009, Geneva was ranked as the fourth most expensive city in the world.

Geneva has been inhabited with successive waves of immigrants for over 3000 years. Today 40% of its inhabitants come from other countries, understandably because over 125 multinational companies, 24 international organizations, 300 international NGOs, and 200 diplomatic missions and consulates operate in this Swiss canton. French and English may have been the prominent languages used in Geneva, but taking a bus ride for example, sounds like experiencing a meeting at the UN. You’ll overhear people speaking in their own languages, may it be Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, or Tagalog (and any other Filipino dialects as well).

Especially with the recent events that hit the EU, unfortunately, multiculturalism and immigration policies in Europe have been under scrutiny once more. In as much as Switzerland deems to continually model itself as protector of human rights, the current political ball game in Switzerland shows the growing anxieties over its current immigration policies:

One of the world’s oldest democracies is at the center of Western Europe’s most divisive political debate: to embrace an increasingly globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities. – From WashingtonPost.com.

How diverse and multicultural is the Swiss society really? And how safe and comfortable is Geneva to live in for the “internationals” (vis-a-vis local Genevans)? That, my friend, is another side of the coin.  I’ll go chika about it soon, abangan!

8. Swiss politics is unheard of, and that’s good!

Or the government, particularly, I asked a few Genevans but it seems that they had little knowledge about it.  There’s a Swiss I know who enlightened me about their political system, but quite surprised me when he’s unsure of who their current president is.  I couldn’t entirely conclude there’s a disconnect between the audiences and the ones who run the show, but I guess, it is in their political culture that most politicians keep a lower profile than their counterparts in other European countries. Beyond that, Swiss politicians get elected because of their competencies and the platforms of their parties they represent; not just because they are rich, charismatic, or solely popular. Take note of that, my fellow kababayans.

Little did we also know that Switzerland is actually the closest state in the world that exercises direct democracy since 1848:

The politics of Switzerland take place in the framework of a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic, whereby the Federal Council of Switzerland is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government and the federal administration and is not concentrated in any one person. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory; for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested. Through referenda, citizens may challenge any law voted by federal parliament and through initiatives introduce amendments to the federal constitution, making Switzerland the closest state in the world to a direct democracy.  (via wikipedia.org)

One thing’s for sure. The mature, stable and exemplary Swiss political culture is what makes this country successful in so many ways.

9. Death by Swiss food it is!
Swiss guaranteed.

Since Switzerland was historically a country of farmers, most uniquely traditional Swiss dishes tend to be plain and made from simple ingredients, particularly from potatoes and cheese. Yet every region in the country is likewise influenced by either Italian, French, German cuisines or a combination of both.

I’ve always enjoyed the most popular cheese dishes in Switzerland, the fondue and the raclette. Recently, I had a taste of what I called Swiss hash browns and it is called Rösti, a potato dish I enjoyed much. And the dish that I’d consider the most hard-to-find, uniquely regional I have eaten so far, is what they called the malakoff. Call it a Swiss deep-fried cheese sticks, and you can only find it in  the canton of Vaud, where I live now. (An update! Apparently, malakoff is also served at Cafe du Soleil, a resto in Geneva. Not so hard to find now eh? Gotcha?)

Did you know that muesli, the Emmental cheese (yes, the cheese with holes!), Ovomaltine (known in the US as Ovaltine) originate from Switzerland? All kinds of tarts and quiches, you can also find them here. I just love quiches! You can also relish various dried meat dishes and sausages. Cervelas sausage is considered the national sausage; it’s like the size of a Vienna sausage, which we Pinoys are more familiar of. Different kinds of bread, too, they’re quite a handful. And yes of course, Swiss wines, there’s  Riesling X Sylvaner, Chasselas, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.

There’s a lot, lot more actually that I haven’t tried yet. There’s this papet vaudois, carac, Swiss Meringue, Älplermagronen (Alpine herdsman’s macaroni), Pizzoccheri, Polenta, saffron risotto, Bündner Nusstorte, Chur meat pie, Graubünden barley soup, Pizokel, damassine, the controversial absinthe, among many others I’ve never heard of.

Bon appetit!

10. Never underestimate Swiss quality.

“The internationally known traditions of Swiss manufacturers concerning perfection and innovation are proverbial.”

The cantons of Zurich and Geneva won’t be on the second and third slot respectively in the world’s livable cities list (derived from Mercer’s Quality of Living survey) if these two cities don’t live up to their own quality standards.

BUT again, Swiss quality comes with a hefty price and there goes Zurich and Geneva also earning the second and third rank respectively in the world’s expensive cities list. Let me show you the bills.

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