7 Oktober 2021
At age 54 my wife and I really never thought we would find ourselves selling almost everything we owned and putting down roots in a country where we did not even speak the language. Yet, here we are two years later. Our initial thought was that we would spend a couple of years touring Europe every weekend, but of course Covid and the pandemic put a HUGE crimp in those plans. We have had the chance to explore in Switzerland. Even after two years, here are some of the things I still just do not fully understand.
Why does switzerland not have a capital and why is it really bern?
In most European countries the capital city is also the most “important” city in the country. Whether that means population size, or industrial might, there was something that caused that city to become the capital city. In Switzerland Bern is only the sixth largest city. When the Confederation of Helvitica was started in 1291 until 1798 the capital city was wherever the Federal Diet chose to meet. This rotated between the cantons. After Napoleon invaded in order to centralize the government he initially set the capital in Aarau and then Luzern. In 1803 the Diet then began rotating between six of the cantons. This system lasted until 1848.
In 1848 parliament voted to seat the federal government in Bern. The feeling at the time seemed to be that Bern is located centrally in the country, and it was already a large enough city to handle the growth that seating the government would bring. Here is the important part. In all of the laws that set the federal government to meet in Bern, none of the laws call Bern the capital. The laws simply state The Federal Assembly meets in Bern and The official seat of the Council, Departments, and Chancellery is the City of Bern. Not one law officially calls Bern the Capital. The old wives tale is that this goes back to the days of the initial federation. Not one city or canton is supposed to be more important than any other.
For all practical purposes though, Bern is the capital of Switzerland.
when is toast not toast?
Which of these is Toast? As someone from North America, I would say the picture above this text is bread, and the picture to the right of this text is toast. To me toast is made when the bread goes through the chemical reaction caused by applying heat to bread.
In Switzerland though, the “bread” in the top picture is called toast, and as near as I can tell there is not another word for the careful burning of the bread. So my english speaking mind gets confused when a breakfast place asks if I want my toast toasted. 🙂
The bread Switzerland seems best known for is Zopf. It is made from white flour, salt, sugar, butter, yeast, and milk. Before baking the dough is rolled out in 4 long strings and then braided. The Swiss traditionally eat Zopf on Sunday mornings, but Julie and I have found it makes wonderful “French Toast” and also really good sandwiches!
I found some amazing arguments online between people arguing about toast, and when bread becomes toast, but I have never found any explanations as to how the square bread came to be called toast. I think it may be because real brot (bread) is probably never put in a toaster. At one point it seemed someone was going to report me to the local authorities when I made the mistake of saying online that I made french toast with Zopf! I think I made the mistake of admitting to a mortal sin here in Switzerland.
Where can I find swiss cheese in switzerland?
People in the US know all about Swiss Cheese. It is a very mild flavored cheese. It is white in color. Some times there are more holes in a slice than actual cheese. Well over here the vast majority of the cheese is “Swiss” cheese. This is only because the majority of the cheese you find in Switzerland is made in Switzerland. Unfortunately, we have never been able to find the exact cheese we are looking for.
What North Americans think of as swiss cheese is basically a knockoff of a true swiss cheese called emmantaler. A true emmantaler is much harder than the cheese we were looking for and it has a stronger taste. It turns out the cheese that tastes most like the swiss cheese we were used to is actually Dutch!
I thought for the last 25 years I was living in the cheese capital of the world, Wisconsin. Sorry Cheeseheads…. There is really no comparison. The styles and varieties of cheese you find everywhere are leaps and bounds above anything I ever found in Wisconsin. Even in the smallest grocery you will find varieties of cheese that could only be found in specialty stores in the US.
The only cheese product I have found missing in Switzerland are cheese curds. I really miss that squeaky goodness that is only found in a fresh cheese curd. Oh well, in about 6 weeks I will be back in Wisconsin for deer hunting, and I will be looking for that first Kwik Trip across the border from Illinois so I can buy a bag.
how did a country this small not develop one common language?
Language is normally the one thing that every citizen in a country shares. Sure there might be dialect differences, but the base language is the same. This never happened in Switzerland. The best explanation I found for this is that Switzerland is a country of “will” not of shared culture. The 26 cantons were originally separate sovereign states that agreed to work together because they were stronger together than by themselves. Each one had it’s own customs, army, and language. When the 26 cantons agreed to work together and forge a federal government there were agreements that each canton could keep the language they were using.
Here is the breakdown by language. About 68% of the country speaks German. (This is even more fragmented, because there are multiple dialects of German through the country.) 23% of the country speaks French. 8% speaks Italian. Less than 1% of the country speaks Romansh. I do not think I have ever heard Romansh being spoken, but I have read it is a combination of Latin and Italian.
Outsiders view having four languages strange. I admit, it does make reading instructions on packages more difficult. The print has to be a LOT smaller than normal, because instructions are always written in German, French, and Italian. (The Romansh speakers get the short end.) Sometimes it can be frustrating, but in any tourist related operation English is always spoken, and the only places I have had to rely totally on my limited German are grocery stores and gas stations. Even in those places, if we are completely unable to communicate the employee always goes to find one person that speaks English. 🙂 I think the Swiss take great pride in the fact that language is not a part of what makes them Swiss. When I think about the language barriers in the country, I always think about an article I was reading during the European Soccer Cup this past summer. The Swiss team did very well, and for a couple of weeks the soccer team was the main thing in the news. The article asked how fans of the team interact with other fans from a different part of the country. The answer was simply “We yell and cheer in our native languages, and then when we need to really say something, we all talk in English.”
A final thought
This weekend is one of those times living far away from family is tough. My Mom’s side of the family is getting together to celebrate the life of my Uncle Jerry Sadek. My Uncle Jerry came into my life when I was a very young boy. One of my most vivid memories of Jerry, was the look of concern on his face after I woke up in the first aid room at the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort. Jerry and I thought it would be a good idea to go skiing the morning after I drove straight through from Indiana. I got about 200 yards from the ski lift and passed out from a combination of altitude and exhaustion. Jerry skied down the mountain behind the ski patrol sled and waited for me to wake up!
Jerry was a man that loved hard and played hard. He was the life of every party he attended. He could sometimes be gruff and annoying, but in the end you knew he always had your back. That he would do his very best to protect and defend the ones he loved. We had a lot of good times on the slopes of Breckenridge, and the beaches of Hilton Head. Family get together s will not quite have that same spark for a while. I am sure the rangers on heaven’s golf course will be kept pretty busy for the rest of eternity.