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Culture, Society and Religion

Switzerland - Culture, Society and Religion

Switzerland remains a place of tradition and respect for values of family, religion and homeland. This is particularly evident in more rural areas, where attitudes can seem old-fashioned to the foreigner. On the whole, there is a strong sense of community among residents and ties to Swiss history and culture are celebrated.

Social rules govern behaviour, promoting a society that is, generally speaking, conformist rather than individualist and that is respectful of others. There can be low tolerance of any behaviour that is considered disruptive or contrary to the good of the community.

This need to fit in extends as far as personal names, with baby names chosen from an official 'approved list' for Swiss residents, and even foreign nationals being required to choose names considered 'normal' in their own culture. Names that are 'absurd' are forbidden and the name must also match the gender of a child. Names which may apply to either gender (e.g. Andrea, Claude, Kay, Sasha) not permitted except where used following an official first name that can be considered clearly male or female.

To the outsider, Switzerland has a reputation as an efficient and well-ordered society. The country is held up as an example of pristine cleanliness, a place of healthy outdoor pursuits, somewhat insulated from the social ills that plague other countries. As with all stereotypes, there is an element of truth but also some exceptions. Public transport does, as a rule, run strictly to time. While glacial lakes and snowy landscapes help to promote the image of a clean, unspoilt land, there remains a pride in the community that ensures high standards even in the towns and cities, though anyone expecting to completely avoid graffiti or dog's mess will be disappointed. Villages in the alpine areas in particular can appear picture-postcard perfect, but inner cities in Switzerland face similar problems to those found elsewhere in Europe.

On the whole, however, Switzerland feels safer than many countries, again particularly in more rural areas. That said, it is not considered by residents to be as safe now as once it was. In terms of standards of living, Switzerland is near the top (rated number 13 in the Human Development Index for 2010). In line with this, Switzerland has high life-expectancy. Zurich and Geneva are ranked respectively numbers 2 and 3 (number 1 being Vienna) in the top cities worldwide for quality of living, as published by Mercer in 2010. Bern also has a place in the top 10 globally at number 9.

From watches to chocolate, "Swiss-made" remains a mark of quality. Other nations are prepared to pay a premium for Swiss goods thanks to Switzerland's reputation for high standards.

Switzerland is a largely Christian country in which Roman Catholicism (41.8%) and Protestantism (35.3%) are the main religions. This division dates from the European Reformation when early Protestant preacher John Calvin led reforms in Geneva. The religious face of Switzerland is changing, however, with 11.1% of the population now reporting as having no religion, and 4.3% reporting to be Muslim. Catholic areas of Switzerland (for the most part the central cantons) observe a number of religious festivals throughout the year. Easter and Christmas are observed throughout Switzerland. Businesses are closed on religious holidays but public transport continues to run. Sundays are observed as a day of rest and worship. Even for non-churchgoers Sunday is valued as a family day and with very few exceptions shops are closed on Sundays throughout the year. Religion is, however, considered a personal matter that has its place in private rather than public life.

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