35 facts about Switzerland
This mix of informative and interesting facts will prepare you for life in Switzerland, or test yourself on how well you know the Swiss!
- Switzerland's climate is not all about snowy mountains – there's no excessive heat, cold or humidity, and varies according to region. In the north, the climate is moderate, with cold winters and warm summers; temperatures drop in the mountainous east; the west has a mild climate; while in the south it's so warm that palm trees line the shore of Lake Lugano. As a guide, expect daytime temperatures from 18–28°C (65–85°F) during July and August, in January and February -2–7°C (28-45°F) and in spring and autumn/fall 8–15°C (46–59°F).
- Switzerland is also known as Confoederatio Helvetica – which explains the abbreviation CH.
- Switzerland has 26 cantons – the federal states of the Swiss confederation. They vary greatly in size, population and character: the canton of Geneva comprises just one city; the canton of Uri is entirely mountains and valleys; the population of the Zurich canton is over a million while the people of Appenzell Inner-Rhodes would fit into a football stadium.
- The Swiss currency is not the euro – Switzerland uses the Swiss franc (CHF). As at October 2013, one Swiss franc is worth around EUR 0.81/USD 1.10/GBP 0.68.
- Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates of all industrialised countries – despite having liberal gun laws (2.3–4.5 million guns in a population of 8 million). In 2010, there were only 0.5 gun murders per 100,000 people compared to 5 per 100,000 in the US.
- Switzerland has a population of about 8 million – about 5 million of them live in the Swiss Plateau in between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Alps. All the larger Swiss cities lie on the plateau, including the city of Zurich, which is Switzerland's largest with a population of 376,990. The canton (federal state) of Zurich is the most densely populated canton in Switzerland, with 1,242,000 inhabitants in total.
- Foreigners account for around 23 percent of the population – however, in February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly passed through a controversial anti-immigration initiative. It aims to impose limits on the number of foreigners allowed into Switzerland and may signal an end to the country’s free movement accord with the European Union. However, international criticism means it may have difficulties in implementation.
- The number of elderly people is increasing – in 2012, 17 percent of the population was 65 or over. As at 2012, life expectancy at birth is 80.5 years for men and 84.7 years for women.
- Around 6 percent of the population over 65 years old or more live in a care or nursing home.
- People marry relatively late in Switzerland – men at 31.8 years and women at 29.5 years. The divorce rate is around 43 percent.
- The average number of children per woman is around 1.5.
- In 2013, around 79 percent of the population aged 15 to 64 had a paid job.
- Switzerland lags behind most Western European countries in many aspects of sex equality – less than 20 percent of all national decision-taking posts are held by women and despite a commitment to equal pay for men and women, there is a gender pay gap of 17 percent.
- There are large differences between men and women in the labour market – as at 2013, 85 percent of men and only 41 percent of women work full-time.
- Women did not gain the vote at federal level until 1971 – and they are still underrepresented in political life.
- Swiss women are among the oldest in Europe when they have their first child – at an average of 30.4 years old.
- The Swiss are an educated population – in 2013, 86 per cent of adults aged 25–64 had the equivalent of a high school diploma.
- Once married, many women do not work – childcare is not readily available, children come home from school for lunch, shops close at 6pm, and in 2013, voters rejected an amendment which would make it easier for parents to combine work and family.
- Living space per person is generous – the 2000 census showed the average figure to be 44sqm (474 sq ft).
- Tobacco consumption is widespread – in 2010, 21 percent of men and 17 percent of women smoked every day. However, it is in decline due to an awareness of health risks and rising prices.
- Switzerland has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world – along with the US and Britain. It's estimated that about 600,000 users get through 100 tonnes of hash and marijuana each year.
- The Swiss enjoy a leisurely drink – in 2012, the Swiss downed 56.5 litres of beer and 36 litres of wine per person. A lot of the latter is homegrown – only about 2 percent of Swiss wine leaves the country.
- Switzerland has four national languages – including French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romantsch. The latter has Latin roots.
- English is becoming increasingly popular in Switzerland – English-speaking foreigners will be pleased to know that proficiency in the national languages is decreasing in favour of English.
- Most people in Switzerland are Christian – including 42 percent Roman Catholic and 35 percent Protestant, and 4 percent of the population are Muslim, 0.3 percent are Buddhist, 0.2 percent are Jewish, and 11 percent have no religious affiliation at all.
- Switzerland was the birthplace of Le Corbusier – born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.
- Switzerland is widely recognised as an international research centre – with the private and public sector strongly promoting science and technology.
- Switzerland's economy is based on highly skilled workers – in specialist areas such as microtechnology, hi-tech, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, as well as banking and insurance.
- Switzerland is the best place in the world to be born – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) 2013 Quality of Life Index, a survey which takes 11 statistically significant factors into account, e.g. how happy people say they are, crime levels, trust in public institutions, climate, employment, gender equality, quality of family life and material well-being.
- As from October 2013, the possession of marijuana has been decriminalised – anyone over 18 caught with up to 10g of the drug will pay an on-the-spot fine of CHF 100 but there won't be any formal legal proceedings.
- There are 208 mountains over 3,000m high – with 24 of them over 4,000m. The highest is Monte Rosa (Dufoursptiz) at 4,634m, situated on the Swiss/Italian border.
- In 2013, Volkswagen and Audi were the top-selling car manufacturers in Switzerland – with the VW Golf the most popular model.
- Chocolate is a major Swiss export – just 18 Swiss chocolate companies made 172,376 tonnes of chocolate in 2012.
- More than half of Swiss domestic electricity is produced by 556 hydroelectric power plants – some 19 million gigawatt hours a year. Hydropower is the country's most important renewable energy.
- CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) is the world's largest particle physics laboratory – based in Geneva and straddling the Swiss/French border. Physicists won the 2013 Nobel prize in physics for their work on the theory of the Higgs boson, one of the building blocks of the universe, which was finally discovered at CERN's Large Hadron Collider in 2012.
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