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French-speaking Swiss are believed to be different from German-speaking Swiss because the former have something of France and the latter have something of Germany. The people of Uri differ from the people of Ticino, so it’s said, because the first live on the shady slopes of their mountains and the others live on the sunny shores of their lakes. But what do they share, apart from their Swiss passports? C.F. Ramuz, one of Switzerland’s best known francophone authors, describes the situation as follows: “it’s an overwhelming task to try to describe a people, especially when they don’t exist. For those of us who are, we know very well that we are not Swiss. We come from Neuchatel, like you, or the Vaud, like me, or from Valais, or Zurich, meaning that we are citizens of our own mini countries...”
The only uniformity in Switzerland lies in our mailboxes and our army uniforms. Everywhere else, we carefully distinguish ourselves from one another. And the greatest irony of it all is that in the end, these precautionary measures lead to us to being asked when traveling abroad: “Hey, you’re Swiss? How is it that you speak French so well?” When asked what they love about their country, the majority of Swiss will first mention the beautiful landscape. They think of a hilly countryside dotted with isolated farms or sleepy little villages, forests dressed in autumn colors and majestic mountains. To be sure, the mountains play a vital part in the image the Swiss have of themselves and their country.
The Swiss population is said to have a “rural” mentality, rural being understood as a certain love of the land, nature and traditions—characteristics considered to be rural, even though sixty percent of the population works in the service industry and the majority are purely urban. In the harsh life of earlier times, people had no choice but to think things through and plan ahead. Nothing grew on its own, the soil needed to be worked constantly, diligently. The heedless were rewarded in kind, for the soil was not rich in natural resources. Since arable land was limited between the mountains, people had to measure carefully, economize, partition off and distribute. The mountains and hills made contact difficult: the people stayed amongst themselves and depended on one another for help. Time has long past since the Swiss were so dependent on the climate, nature and the topography of the land. Mountains are no longer obstacles. But the ability to anticipate and plan ahead is considered a virtue among the Swiss to this day. Hard work is still appreciated and the people are apt to cling to what is near, to what seems useful, nurturing and perfecting what they have and ensuring that everything is in good order.
The Swiss like everything to remain within reasonable proportions. No blade of grain ought to stick out above the rest: that’s the rule. It is best to be serious and reliable rather than brilliant and original. They aren’t particularly keen on extravagance. They seek out a consensus, compromise. The results of a recent survey conducted on young people associated the following characteristics with the Swiss: serious, rich and sincere (75%); fair (66%), social (40%); satisfied, optimistic (40%); lively, imaginative (20%); generous (12%).
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