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More than most other areas of the country, Appenzell has clung on to its many rural traditions as modern, living elements of local culture: although you may be tempted to dismiss demonstrations of local crafts or evenings of folkloric music as phoney touristic kitsch, in fact such events are put on as much for the benefit of locals as for visitors. Weddings, dances and celebrations of all kinds count as excuses for locals to don traditional dress, with the women in stiff-winged caps and lace-edged dresses, and the men in elaborate embroidered scarlet waistcoats, with tight black trousers and a silver earring dangling from their right ear.
It seems as if everything Appenzell does is just plain different: up until 1988, the Appenzell school year began in the spring, instead of in the autumn as everywhere else. The village of Urnäsch, 10km west of Appenzell, celebrates New Year’s Eve twice, once on December 31 and again, in order to keep faith with the long-abandoned Julian calendar, on January 13. Even the ornate silver pipes smoked by Appenzeller old-timers are idiosyncratic, curving down at the end instead of up, with the tobacco kept in place by a little sliding lid.
In politics, too, Appenzell stands alone. It was only in 1990 that the men of Ausserrhoden finally, and reluctantly, allowed women to have the vote in cantonal affairs. Innerrhoden held out for another year until the federal supreme court ruled its exclusion of women to be unconstitutional. (Curiously, it was a substantial proportion of Innerrhoden’s women who were siding with the men to exclude themselves: in a poll on whether to extend suffrage, it was only those women aged roughly thirty to fifty who overwhelmingly voted in favour.)
Then, in 1998, Ausserrhoden controversially voted to end centuries of tradition by abolishing the Landsgemeinde – the ancient embodiment of Swiss direct democracy in which citizens gathered in traditional dress once a year in the town square of the cantonal capital to vote by brandishing a short sword (the badge of citizenship) in response to a series of shouted yay-or-nay questions – in favour of introducing a secret written ballot. Innerrhoden, though, will have none of this, and remains one of the last Swiss cantons, along with Glarus, to use the Landsgemeinde, which takes place on the last Sunday in April and is a nationally televised event. What the Eurocentric city-types of Geneva or Basel think of it all is anyone’s guess.
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