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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Why is Switzerland called Switzerland?

“Switzerland” is an anglicised version of the country’s original name in German (Schweiz). Where did this originate?

The origin of Switzerland’s multilingual name is rooted in history.
Switzerland has several names but only one flag, here in Geneva’s Old Town. Photo by Philipp Potocnik on Unsplash

The English name for Switzerland comes from the German ‘Schweiz’, which is also known as Suisse in French, Svizzera in Italian and Svizra in Romansh – the other official languages of Switzerland. 

But where did that name come from? As far as we know, has its origins in events that shaped its history throughout many centuries. Is it possible that Helvetic tribes that inhabited this land long ago picked the name at random and then voted on it in a referendum?

We cannot know that for sure (especially the referendum part, as direct democracy is a more recent development), but here is what we do know: this name wasn’t just picked out of a helmet.

The theories are many and varied, with nobody quite sure exactly where the name came from. 

Where did Switzerland get its name?

It appears that there are as many theories about the origin of Switzerland’s name as there are names for the country. 

As Wikipedia tells us, the name might have derived from the Celtic word “Sveit” as early as in year 972. The name ‘Schweiz’ was first mentioned in a legal document in 1415

Another version has it that the country’s Germanic name, Schweiz, is based on Schwyz, one of the three cantons that in 1291 formed the nucleus of modern-day Switzerland (and remains a canton to this day). 

The thirteen cantons which formerly made up the Swiss Confederacy. Image: Wikicommons

But that’s not all. Documents from the 15th and 16th centuries suggest a link with Suit / Swit / Schwyt / Switer,  a leader of a tribe that migrated here from Sweden — which could explain why some people think Sweden and Switzerland are the same country (spoiler alert: they are not).

However, yet another historical record suggests that the name originates from “Switzer”, an “obsolete term for a Swiss person which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries”.

In the very least, this explanation would give the English-language version of the name, Switzer-land, some credibility. 

Historians have given perhaps the most credence to this explanation, with some arguing that the term Swiz or Switz was actually an insult for the armies which came from the regions of modern day Switzerland used by armies from modern day Germany and Austria. 

Initially, the frequently victorious Swiss armies – remember this was long before Swiss neutrality – hated this word, but began to call themselves Swiss out of spite. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

Over time, the name caught on and the insult value diminished, until 1803 when the Helvetic Republic was officially named the Swiss Confederation. 

Let this be a lesson to anyone who doesn’t like their nickname or feels insulted by what someone calls them – you can embrace it and use it against them, like a clever judo move. 

One country, many names

What about the French, Italian and Romansh names for Switzerland?

Since German (or a form thereof) was the only language spoken in the country in the early days, Switzerland  has been called “Schweiz” the longest.

As French and Italian-speaking regions began to join the confederation over the next centuries, they brought their own linguistic versions of the country’s name: Soisses and Suysses were the early French names (which eventually evolved into Suisse), while Sviceri / Suyzeri morphed into Svizzera in Italian.

READ MORE: How did Switzerland become a country with four languages?

However, throughout many centuries, the country that is now Switzerland / Schweiz / Suisse / Svizzera / Svizra had been known simply as the Helvetic Confederation, or Helvetia.

The abbreviation of its original Latin version, Confœderatio Helvetica — CH — is still commonly used in Swiss postal codes, stamps, car stickers, and internet addresses.

This is also reflected in other languages, such as Romanian, where Switzerland is known as Elveția. 

 Image: Wikicommons.

Few foreigners are aware that Helvetia / Helvetic Confederation and Switzerland are one and the same country, though hopefully many more know that Switzerland and Sweden are not.

READ MORE: Why does Switzerland use ‘CH’ and what does it mean?

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For members

QUALITY OF LIFE

ANALYSIS: Is the quality of life really that high in Switzerland?

Switzerland, as well as some of its cities, regularly appear in international surveys among the nations with the highest quality of life. Why is this so?

ANALYSIS: Is the quality of life really that high in Switzerland?

In its annual ranking of 85 nations, US News & World Report has placed Switzerland in top position, based on 73 different criteria.

While it did not come up tops in all of the categories, Switzerland did sufficiently well in others to get an overall high score, as well as high scores in several individual categories.

In terms of quality of life, Switzerland ranks fourth, but it got high scores across nearly all the sub-categories. This is where the country ranks best — and not so good.

READ MORE: Switzerland ranked ‘best country’ in the world

Political stability (100 points out of 100)

Nobody can argue that Switzerland merits to get such high marks in this category.

The country has not been involved in any wars, unrests or upheavals in recent history, protected in large part by its neutrality and pacifism.

It is also politically stable from within, with well established democratic processes — such as referendums — providing security against abuses of power.

Economically stable  (100)

Switzerland’s economy has withstood the Covid crisis far better than many other countries, and continues to be strong, partly due to an inflation rate that is far lower than in eurozone nations.

The reason is that Switzerland “combines world class governance with high levels of social capital and high social resilience. It also had strong financial systems, manageable debt levels and good health system resilience”. 

READ MORE: Swiss post-Covid economic recovery ‘fourth best in the world’

Safety

Various surveys have shown that Switzerland is among the top-10 safest countries in the world, and one even rated it the safest in 2022.

This is not to say that there is no crime in Switzerland, but the rate, especially of violent infractions, is relatively low in comparison to other countries.

Even large cities, though more risky than small towns and rural areas, are not crime-ridden.

READ MORE: Switzerland ranked one of the world’s ‘safest countries’

A good job market (92.2)

Switzerland’s unemployment rate has been lower than in many other countries for decades, and it recovered quicker than others from the slowdown that occurred during the pandemic.

Currently, the unemployment is 2.1 percent, versus 6.6 percent across the EU.

There are now 15.6 percent more job vacancies in most industries than at the same time in 2021.

Family-friendly (85.4)

Parents of small children who are trying to find affordable daycare in Switzerland may disagree with this assessment, as these services are expensive and good facilities may be hard to find.

However, there are plenty plenty of benefits for children and families as well.

According to The Local’s reader survey, Switzerland offers an abundance of outdoor activities, the children are safe — whether playing outside or walking to school — and both good healthcare and education system are a plus as well.

Income equality (85.2)

In this category, Switzerland is in the 5th place in the US News & World Report survey, right after the Scandinavian countries.

While there is data showing that  gender gap exists when it comes to pay, a study by the Federal Statistical Office shows that income distribution (between the highest and lowest earners) is fairer in Switzerland than in many other nations.

Public health system (84.7)

Although very expensive with costs increasing each year, in terms of quality and access to care Switzerland’s system is among the best in the world.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system. However, The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

The system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists. Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

READ MORE: How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Public education system

Switzerland has 12 publicly funded universities (10 cantonal universities and two federal institutes of technology), and a number of public Universities of Applied Sciences.

According to The QS World University Rankings, “Switzerland has the “third best university system in the world”.

The country also excels in vocational training —a three-year, dual-track programme that includes two days in a vocational school and three days getting an on-the-job training in their chosen sector (the so-called apprenticeships).

It includes a variety of fields such as business and commercial, administration, retail, tourism, construction, information technology, arts, wellness services, as well as various trades — in all, 230 professions.

This programme  “enjoys very strong support from Swiss employers, who credit it with being a major contributor to the continuing vitality and strength of the Swiss economy”

READ MORE: Why is vocational training so popular in Switzerland and how much can I earn?

These aspects all contribute to the high score Switzerland obtained for its quality of living.

Not great for affordability

However, there is one negative category in the ranking as well, and it is not difficult to guess what it is: affordability, in which Switzerland’s score is…2.7.

It comes as no surprise to anyone living here (and a shock to tourists and new arrivals) that Switzerland’s cost of living is among the highest in the world, and especially in the country’s two largest cities, Zurich and Geneva.

Everything from food and clothing to housing and public transportation is more expensive than in the EU, with the exception of electronics and lower taxes.

However, there is also another way to look at this phenomenon: that Swiss salaries, which are higher here than in the eurozone, and low inflation rate, offset the prices.

READ MORE: Do wages in Switzerland make up for the high cost of living?
 
 
 

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