Decidedly more a regional than a national culture, the people clustered in their protected pockets of multifaceted Switzerland are strongly bent on showing loyalty to their regional roots and preserving the time-tested culture there. That said, the independence, neutrality and prosperity that helps to define the country rings true with its people, regardless of where they make their home and which of the four national languages they speak.
The traditionally conservative Swiss value honest, hard work and expect people to dress neatly, behave politely and be on time, even in casual social settings. They appreciate the finer things in life, but also know the importance of saving their francs. Overall, they are rather formal. Beyond these traits, expect to find distinctive regional subcultures based on where your travel to Switzerland takes you.
If you speak a foreign language, there's a good chance it may be spoken in a part of Switzerland. The country's four national languages branch out from its borders. While multilingual residents are the norm, you'll hear German in the central and eastern areas, French in the west and Italian in the south. The ancient Romance language of Romansh is spoken in the southeast and throughout the eastern mountains and valleys.
English is widely spoken by the Swiss, especially in the cities. German and French are common as a second language, depending on the area.
The majority of the Swiss are Christians, divided in a fair balance between Catholic and Protestant. The two largest draws are the Roman Catholic church and the Swiss Reformed Church. Other worldwide religions are also represented in smaller numbers.
Manners are essential in Switzerland, where honesty, cleanliness and punctuality are held in high esteem. A firm handshake and direct eye contact are appreciated upon meeting and saying goodbye. Last names are appropriate unless you're among close friends. Even good posture is noted in Switzerland.
Above all, do not litter! This fastidiously clean country frowns upon it in any form.
Art and culture are an everyday part of life in Switzerland, from public art installations and thriving museums in the cities to folk arts still shared in the rural areas. Look for one of the many scheduled concerts, fairs or festivals during your visit to partake as the locals do.
Yodeling, the accordion and the alphorn (a long, wooden wind instrument) are more relics of traditional Swiss music than commonplace cultural elements. Each is limited to select mountain regions that still delight in them.
Do you fondue? The Swiss sure do! Dairy lovers will have a daily celebration over the rich butter, cream and cheese incorporated into so many of the dishes in Switzerland. These ingredients owe their unforgettable flavor to the cows who graze happily in the rolling green pastures blooming with sweet grasses and clover. "Swiss cheese," also known as Emmentaler cheese, originated from Emmental ("Emmen valley") in Canton Bern. Visit Gruyères to see how they make and age the hard yellow cheese, gruyère. Both cheeses often play their own part in a hot pot of fondue.
Potatoes also find their way into many dishes in Switzerland -- a country with a strong agricultural history -- as do apples, onions, chocolate and many varieties of bread. In addition to many simple and hearty Swiss dishes, the nation's cuisine finds tasty influence from classic German, French and Italian cooking. A tour of Switzerland is a delicious whirlwind through some very impressive culinary standouts!
Some menu items that reveal a true taste of Switzerland include muesli cereal for breakfast, fondue, raclette (melted cheese over potatoes and/or bread, usually eaten with small gherkin pickles and onions), rösti (a fried dish of coarsely grated potatoes) and zopf, a special bread typically served on Sundays.