Switzerland, a landlocked country in central Europe, was formed as a confederation in 1291 specifically to protect its borders — which speaks even today to its famous ‘studied neutrality’ / non-involvement and independence / isolationism. The nation is not part of the EU nor Eurozone, and only joined the UN in 2002. Its population of 8.6 million has one of the world’s highest GDPs, 2nd-highest HDI, very low unemployment, high life expectancy — and in 2015 was #1 on the World Happiness Report.
Some of the shared values of Swiss culture include cleanliness, honesty, hard work and material goods, independence, sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality, responsibility, rationality, conservatism — and freedom, and a joie de vivre. The culture scores 100% linear-active on the Lewis dimensions of cultural behaviour — logical, rational, fact-oriented, methodical, intellect over emotion.
Switzerland has a political system of direct democracy unlike any other, which both reflects and further shapes the cultural psyche. A 7-member Federal Council collectively serves as head-of-state, its members replaced infrequently and therefore exceptionally stable; citizens vote several times a year on referenda and people’s initiatives. The system is highly decentralised and many decisions are made at canton (provincial) and especially commune (local) levels.
For a small country, Switzerland is highly diverse, as represented by its 4 official languages and 26 cantons; unity is highly valued, while uniformity is not. The stained glass dome of Parliament depicts the 26 canton flags; folk heroes William Tell and Helvetica symbolise independence and freedom, and unity and harmony, respectively. This is not without its challenges: a 2019 poll found that 59% identify racism as a major problem, and just 55% think migrants are moderately to well integrated; one-third feel uncomfortable in the presence of someone they perceive as ‘different’, while 28% have been victims of discrimination or violence.
Surprisingly, in such a highly developed country, gender equality remains problematic. Income inequity is nearly 20% in private corporations, 17% in public, and 23% at the executive level, while the average is just 13.6% among OECD nations. Though youth unemployment is relatively low at 7.9%, it is higher for females than males. In 2019, UNICEF identified Switzerland as “the least family-friendly nation in Europe” with the shortest maternity leave and one of the lowest paid, with no paternity leave. Gender-based violence and harassment are high; women’s representation in government is at 43% federal, 32% national, and 15% state. (As of last year, with a woman elected to an open seat on the Federal Council, the balance tipped to a majority of women — for the first time in history.) Global Gender Gap [WEF] currently ranks Switzerland 18th , up from 20th last year — but down from 8th in 2015; it’s also worth noting that the Swiss woman was not able to vote until 1971 — and not until 1985 to hold a bank account in her own name.
Famously, Switzerland introduced itself at a 1992 world fair by saying, “Switzerland does not exist.” The nation resists being quantified as one culture, and rightly so; however, it does have a national identity, albeit one of a patchwork of small and diverse regions that formed an alliance to ensure independence from its neighbors. The nation is both a model of diversity and lacking clear identity as a result. The mountainous nature of its topography further reinforces this sense of isolation, giving an impression to the world of a quiet, peaceful, serious, people who value solitude — and prefer to defy explanation.
Hofstede Cultural Dimensions rank Switzerland as high on individualism, masculinity (competitive, success-focused, merit-based) and long-term orientation, moderately high on indulgence and risk avoidance, and egalitarian / nonhierarchical. As its official languages indicate a possible correlation to neighboring Germany, Italy, and France, a comparison is also useful; Switzerland is very similar to all 3 on individualism, and to Germany and Italy for masculinity (France much lower than the others), egalitarianism (France much more hierarchical, Italy somewhat more), and long-term orientation (France lower than others) — and, perhaps surprisingly, Switzerland is much higher than all 3 for indulgence.