Switzerland’s official name for itself is Confoederatio Helvetica, abbreviated CH. So the symbol for the Swiss franc is CHF. “Helvetica” refers to a group of Celts called the Helvetii that lived in the territory which became Switzerland. They were driven west by the Alemanni, a Germanic tribe, and by the Romans. The Swiss-German dialect grew out of Alemannic.
Swiss women got the right to vote at the national level in 1971. In one canton, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, they had to wait until 1990 before they could vote in cantonal elections.
Switzerland isn’t run by president or a prime minister, but by a seven-member council. The title President of the Swiss Confederation moves from one councilor to the next over a seven-year period before starting over. At present there are three women and four men on the federal council; five are native Swiss-German speakers, two, French and one, Italian. They belong to four political parties that span the spectrum from right to left.
The most famous mountain in Switzerland is the Matternhorn (14,692 feet), but the tallest is the Dufourspitz (15,203 feet), the second tallest mountain in the Alps. The tallest is French: Mont Blanc.
Switzerland has 8.6 million people. New York City has 8.7 million.
As their main language, 62% of the people living in Switzerland speak some form of German, 23% French, 8% Italian and 0.5% Romansh. The rest use non-Swiss languages: English, Portuguese and Albanian are the main ones. Trying to understand the relationship of the Swiss to different languages is complex, since so many of the country’s residents are multilingual.
The number of municipalities in Switzerland is steadily sinking, as more and more small political entities fuse. At present there are 2202 of these Gemeinden.
Switzerland has only had its current 26 cantons since 1979, when a large part of French-speaking Bern voted to break away and form its own canton, Jura, named after the mountain range running through it. Just this year, Moutier, a small Bernese town on the border to the newest canton voted to become part of Canton Jura. Imagine Saint Louis, Missouri, voting to join Illinois!
An increasing number of Swiss say they belong to no religious group: at present, that’s 28%. The rest are divided into 35% Roman Catholic, 23% Swiss Protestant (somewhat similar to Lutheran), and 5% Muslim. Almost 9% either profess other religions or their beliefs are unknown. There are more Buddhists or Hindus in Switzerland than Jews.
Over 25% of the people living in Switzerland are foreigners. Of that group, however, at least half were born in the country—being born here does not give you citizenship, as it does in the US.
At least 300,000 people in Switzerland were once citizens of an ex-Yugoslavian country: Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, or Slovenia. Another 200,000 or more have ex-Yugoslavian roots. After this group of over half a million come the Italians (not to be confused with the Italian-speaking Swiss), Germans and Portuguese.
Switzerland is the only country with a square flag, except for the Vatican.