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Switzerland flag

Country Overview
The Federal Republic of Switzerland occupies 41,295 square kilometers in the heart of Europe. It is bordered by France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Italy.

Because of its location, Switzerland has three official languages. Its 7 million residents speak German (74%), French (20%), and Italian (4%). A small minority (1%) speak an ancient native language called Romansch.

People from Switzerland are Swiss.

Switzerland is divided into 26 states, or Cantons. It is a republic; its people vote for representatives, and hold referendums on important issues.

Switzerland is governed by a 7-member Federal Council or Bundesrat, and a Federal Assembly.

The Federal Assembly has two houses. These is a 46-member Council of States called the Ständrat, and a 200-member National Council called the Nationalrat.

The Federal Assembly elects a president from the Federal Council who serves a one-year term.

Switzerland's capital is Bern, however Zurich is its most populous city. The Swiss Franc is the chief unit of currency.

Switzerland is famous for the Alps, which run through the central and southern areas of the country. The smaller Jura mountains take up the northeast border with France. The Bernese Mittelland is an area of hills, rivers, and valleys, which runs between the two mountain ranges. Most Swiss live in this area.

Because of its mountainous terrain, Switzerland experiences regional microclimates, but generally has moderate weather in the lowlands and snow in the mountains.

Switzerland is known for dependability, fine craftsmanship, and neutrality.

Famous Swiss products are cheese, chocolate, watches and clocks.

Confidentiality and reliability in Swiss banking have made Switzerland the world's leading banking center.

Switzerland has remained a neutral country for centuries, and that has given the country the privilege of being the sight for many political meetings.

Over 200 international organizations are headquartered in Switzerland, mostly in Geneva. Among these are the Red Cross and the World Health Organization. It is no wonder that Switzerland has the highest number of Nobel Prizes per capita than any other country in the world.

Switzerland has a thriving economy, and its citizens enjoy the highest standard of living in Europe, if not the world.

Though neutral, Switzerland maintains a military force. All men must train for 5 months at age 19, and then for 1-3 weeks each year until they turn 45.

Women have the option of serving. Switzerland does not have an army, instead those serving keep uniforms, weapons, and equipment in their homes, so an army could be mobilized within 48 hours.

Famous Swiss artists are Paul Klee and Jean-Luc Godard. Many artists and writers from other countries made their homes in Switzerland. They include Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, Joyce, Hesse, Charlie Chaplin and Tina Turner.

Yodeling, the Alp horn, and Swiss wrestling are all products of Swiss folk culture.

A typical Swiss diet includes a variety of meat, fresh vegetables, bread, pasta, cheese and other dairy products.

Traditional Swiss cooking has strong French, Italian, and German influences. The most famous Swiss dish is fondue, cubed bread dipped in a mixture of melted Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses and white wine.

The Swiss school system is very rigorous. Students normally have 6 to 8 classes per day, followed by another 2 hours of homework. Homework is often not counted in the final grade.

A typical class size is about 20 students. Students and teachers usually have a good relationship, based on respect.

When Swiss students change classes, the whole class stays together. Swiss students meet fewer of their peers than American students, but often develop very close friendships as the same students will stay together for years.

Swiss children attend pre-school at age four, then proceed to 6 years of primary school. After primary school, they enter secondary school (high school). There are three levels of secondary school; students are placed based on their academic achievements.

After secondary school, students may work, find an apprenticeship, or attend a specialized (business, engineering, etc.) school. Only students who have attended the Gymnasium, the highest level of secondary school, can apply to university.
Swiss universities have very difficult entrance exams and requirements so, 20-30% of students attend.

Most Swiss teens participate in sports clubs and play musical instruments. Music classes are often required during the first seven years of school. The most popular instruments are piano and guitar. The most popular sports are soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and skiing.

Teenagers around the world dress similarly -- Swiss teens wear jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Swiss teens start dating around the age of 14. Dating in Switzerland is very similar to dating in the U.S.

Sex, birth control, and AIDS are openly discussed among Swiss teenagers. Sex education takes place in school, as well as through printed ads and other media.

Curfews vary from family to family. Most Swiss teens have an early curfew on weeknights, but on weekends are allowed to stay out later.

The drinking age in Switzerland is 18 for beverages containing more than 12% alcohol. For drinks with less than 12% alcohol, the age is 16. These laws are not strictly enforced, and many Swiss teens drink before they reach the legal age.

You must be 18 to drive a car in Switzerland. Most teens get a driver's license, but fewer than 5 have their own cars. Switzerland has an excellent public transportation system, and cars can be very expensive.

Most Swiss families have cable TV and can receive 20-30 stations in German, French, and Italian. They also receive English-language networks like BBC and CNN.

Most Swiss teens watch 7-8 hours of television per week. It is generally thought that American teens watch more TV.

Typical business hours in Switzerland are Monday through Saturday, 8am to 5pm. Most places close for lunch from 12pm to 1pm and are closed on Sundays.

Recycling is very prevalent in Switzerland.

The Family A typical Swiss family has two children, and both parents work. The divorce rate is approximately 30%.

After high school, many students will continue to live with their parents. This depends on where the students choose to continue their education, and how well they are doing financially.
Except for in the mountain regions, it is uncommon for elderly people to live with their grown children.

When strangers in Switzerland meet for the first time, they usually exchange a handshake. Friends will exchange hugs and/or kisses, and men will shake hands. On the telephone, the common greeting is to say hello and introduce oneself.

The Swiss eat 'continental style', with the fork in the left hand, and the knife in the right. They actively use both utensils throughout the meal, and hands remain above the table. Meals are usually eaten with the whole family at the dinner table.

Standards of hygiene are the same as in the United States. Swiss people like things neat, tidy, and organized. It is common, however, to wear clothes more than once before they are washed.

Switzerland's population is 49% Catholic and 48% Protestant. Only about 10% of people, usually older people, attend church services regularly.

Some major holidays in Switzerland are:

National Day (August 1) -- very much like an American Fourth of July, complete with fireworks.

St. Nicholas' Day (December 6) -- children receive candy and gifts from St. Nicholas, the predecessor to our Santa Claus.

Sechseluten -- The parade of guilds in Zurich. The chiefs of each guild burn a snowman filled with explosives to determine how long and hot the summer will be.

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