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SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

REVEALED: What the Swiss like and dislike about their country… and each other

Neither the Swiss nor foreign residents are neutral about living in Switzerland — in fact, they have some strong opinions about the pros and cons of living here.

REVEALED: What the Swiss like and dislike about their country... and each other
People in Switzerland have strong opinions of their country. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

As The Local recently reported, generally speaking the Swiss have a high opinion of themselves and their country.

They tend to think they are better than others, believing other nations are to blame for anything that is out of whack in Switzerland, according to surveys.

For instance, the Germans and Italians are blamed for the lack of punctuality of their Swiss-bound trains, and the French are blamed for just about everything else.
 
READ ALSO:  Why do the Swiss think they are superior to everyone else? 

At times, the Swiss even point accusing fingers at each other, mostly along the Rösti- and Polentagraben lines: the German speakers say their French and Italian speaking counterparts lack discipline and meticulous organisational skills prevalent in the Swiss German part, while the French and Italian speakers say Swiss Germans are too persnickety.

READ ALSO: Röstigraben: The invisible barrier separating Switzerland

But all the linguistic groups are usually unanimous in blaming the foreigners in Switzerland for the country’s troubles.

But what do the people Switzerland really think of their country and each other?

The answer comes from a new large-scale survey of 50,000 residents from all linguistic regions carried out by Tamedia, Switzerland’s largest media organisation.

Here are the main findings:

Happy population

Not only are  people in Switzerland happy in general, but this feeling is spread evenly regardless of gender, age, place of residence, or political beliefs.

Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said they are ‘happy’ or ‘rather happy’.

And while you might think happiness wanes as we get older, this is not the case here: the proportion of people over 65 who say they are satisfied with their lives is 91 percent.

This percentage is, however, lower among foreigners — 77 percent say they are happy, which is below the 88-percent national average.

And  low-income individuals are understandably not quite as happy: only 69 percent say they are, which is less than the national average, but still a relatively high number, all things considered.

While this survey does not look into why an overwhelming majority of Swiss residents feel happy, other evidence points to longevity, high per-capita GDP, democracy and political stability, as well as social support, as the primary reasons.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland is one of the world’s ‘happiest countries’ 

The Swiss love their country

Ninety-one percent of study participants answered ‘yes’ when asked whether they liked Switzerland; the proportion is even higher — 94 percent —among people over the age of 65.

What exactly do they like most about the country?

The majority of respondents (73 percent) said they most appreciate the country’s beauty and 63 percent like the safety and security in Switzerland.

Next is the healthcare system (61 percent), followed by direct democracy and cleanliness (55 percent), and a well-developed public transport system (51 percent).

Surprisingly (as Switzerland is known for its high wages), only 26 percent cited salaries.

The least appreciated aspect of living in Switzerland (18 percent): its lack of ‘internationalism’.

This refers to the way Switzerland’s policy of neutrality keeps it from joining international alliances like the EU or NATO — though the country has gotten closer to the latter in recent months.

READ ALSO: Why is Switzerland trying to get closer to NATO?

Despite their feeling superior (as mentioned above), the Swiss are also capable of seeing the less attractive side of their country.

Top among them is the cost of health insurance premium, which is a major concern for 71 percent of respondents.

There is a good reason for that: not only have the premiums increased significantly in 2023, but they will likely soar further next year as well.

READ ALSO: Why is Swiss health insurance set to get more expensive? 

Next is the high cost of housing and rents (56 percent) and high cost of living in general (52 percent).

Fewer respondents (35 percent) are worried about immigration, and only one in five thinks Switzerland has too many rules and regulations.

What do the people in Switzerland think of each other?

As stated above, at times people judge each other along the linguistic lines, but the survey revealed other interesting facts as well — and some of them align with general perceptions foreign nationals have about the Swiss people.

For instance, 61 percent of respondents find the Swiss to be aloof; among foreigners, this proportion is a bit higher — 68 percent.

Overall, the self-analysis is not very flattering: 61 percent believe the Swiss are stingy and the same proportion sees them as and tense; pedantic (43 percent), and boring (41 percent).

Only 26 percent say the Swiss are funny, which may be an unfair assessment, as many Swiss have a biting sense of humour:

READ ALSO: Swiss wit: Jokes that prove the Swiss are actually funny 

How easy (or not) is it to make friends in Switzerland?

This is a much-discussed topic among foreigners living in Switzerland, and the predominant opinion is that it is a difficult and lengthy process.

READ ALSO: ‘Five years to make friends’: The ups and downs of life in a Swiss village

In fact, one foreign resident once jokingly (or perhaps seriously) said he is thinking of writing a book titled ‘Making friends in Switzerland in 300 steps.’

So what does the survey show?

This question was put only to foreign residents, the majority of whom (60 percent) said, predictably, that making friends here is ‘not easy’ or ‘mostly not easy.’

Just over one-third of respondents (37 percent) found friends either ‘easily’ or ‘mostly easily.’

Are the Swiss racist?

Just over 50 percent of respondents answered ‘yes’ to this question, but the number is much higher among the foreigners: 60 percent think the Swiss are indeed racist.

It is not surprising that the proportion of ‘yes’ answers is higher among immigrants, as they are the ones who may feel discriminated against.

READ ALSO: Jobs in Switzerland: Foreigners ‘less likely to be hired than Swiss nationals
 
 
 
 

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SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

The Swiss Federal Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has ruled on some highly contentious issues over the years.

From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

Before we get to actual cases, it is important to understand how Switzerland’s justice system is set up.

There are different court levels.

When people file their cases with the legal system, their first contact are district courts, which group together judiciary authorities by local areas.

Many Swiss towns are too small to have their own courts, so a district court is just that — a court that covers several neighbouring communities.

If, say, you become involved in a civil lawsuit, a divorce case, or any kind of litigation or dispute, the case will be first be heard at the district court.

Most often, its rulings are final.

However, if you are not happy with the verdict of your district court, you can appeal it within 30 days, at which point your case will go to the higher judicial level, that is, the cantonal court.

Each canton has its own high court — Switzerland’s second most important judicial entity hierarchically.

Besides criminal cases, cantonal high courts hear civil claims, and there are also courts on cantonal level for administrative cases.

The next is the Federal court, the highest judicial authority in Switzerland.

Headquartered in Lausanne, it is the final instance on all appeals against decisions of the highest cantonal courts, as well as the three other federal courts, which deal with criminal, administrative and patent cases, respectively.

This chart shows how the judicial system is organised in Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland’s courts

This means that by the time a case (that is to say, the appeal) comes before federal judges, it has already been ruled on by lower courts.

This is what happened in these three recent controversial cases as well.

The condom

You might think that taxpayer-funded federal court should not spend its valuable time (and public money) on a case involving a condom, but it has done so nevertheless.

As Swiss media reported, on September 14th, the highest court ruled on a case that has been heard in the lower courts in Zurich since 2017.

It involved a young man (19 at the time), who took off his condom during sex with an 18-year-old woman, without, however, informing her or asking for her consent to do so.

This practice is called ‘“stealthing’ in English.

The woman filed a complaint in a district court of Bülach (Zurich) and, after a series of rulings and appeals through higher courts (see above), ended up before the federal tribunal.

The case took so long because it had many twists and turns.

Stealthing is not punishable by Swiss law, which is why both the district and cantonal court acquitted the young man

The Federal Court  also acquitted him, but reassessed the case from the perspective of sexual harassment. That ruling had stuck, and the young man must now pay a 2,500-franc fine, in addition to 7,200 francs in court costs.

Forced vaccine

In the most recent case, which The Local reported last week, the Federal Court sided with the man who wanted his ex-wife to be forced to vaccinate their two children against measles.

The mother, an anti-vaxxer, had refused to do so, and the long-winded battle between the parents, which made its way through the lower courts, eventually landed in the federal tribunal.

As it had done in several previous similar cases when parents didn’t see eye to eye about vaccinating their children, the court followed the  public health guidelines, which are clearly in favour of childhood immunisations.

Therefore, judges sided with the father, giving the mother an order to immunise her children against measles.

Parents can be made to vaccinate their children court ruled. Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Assisted suicide

In another recent case, from June, the court acquitted a Swiss doctor, Erika Preisig, who was charged with homicide for helping a mentally ill patient die in a Basel assisted suicide clinic. 

Previously, predominantly people suffering from physical ailments could benefit from voluntary suicide, which is legal but well-regulated in Switzerland.
 
However, Preisig was charged because she had violated the previous Federal Court ruling, from 2006, which required a psychiatric evaluation on the patient before helping them die.

In June, the court overturned its old decision, finding that although Preisig had not obtained a psychiatric report, she had studied the medical records, had intensive discussions with the patient, questioned relatives, and obtained a second opinion. The mentally ill person was understood to have made a well-considered decision and was capable of judgement. 

The Federal Court had therefore confirmed that Preisig could assume, even without a psychiatric expert opinion, that the patient had a permanent wish to die, as she suffered from an incurable, permanent, severe mental impairment.

READ ALSO: What to know about Switzerland’s latest court judgement on assisted suicide

Naturalisation

While obtaining Swiss citizenship is a long and complicated process, and rejections at communal level are often made arbitrarily, the Federal Court had sided with applicants on several occasions.
 
For instance, in 2018, the court ordered the commune of Trimmis in canton Graubünden to grant Swiss citizenship to an Iranian refugee who had lived in the community for 30 years. 

It reversed a ruling made previously by the lower court, which sided with local authorities who denied the man the right to become Swiss.

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