Today is August 1st, the Swiss national day. We call it a national day because it’s a bit complicated, as it often is with countries which were established as pseudo-national identities long before there were actual nationstates.
The first Swiss Confederation came into being around 1315, with a few Swiss cantons banding together in mutual defense and cooperation but not in collective rule. They had fought the Austrian Habsburgs at Morgarten and roundly defeated them, thus earning their independence, for as much as it meant at the time.
I actually live right near the monument for that battlefield. I can see it from our windows.
The Swiss confederation was a different animal entirely from most European states, in that it practiced a form of democracy, and you can see it in effect today. It’s what we call Direct Democracy. Each canton has a vote, people go down to the town hall if they feel like it. Raise the hand for Yay, raise the hand for Nay.
Switzerland became more federal after the French invasion. The French at the time, fresh from their revolution in 1789, were forcibly spreading the virtues of democracy and Republic. After the Battle of Zürich they set up the Helvetic Republic, during which many Swiss progressives sympathized with the French organization.
It was after the French were defeated that the Confederation resumed, but still incorporating particularly practical aspects of the Napoleonic code, not least the ability for the nation as a whole to operate more cohesivey, while still independently administering their own cantons.
Switzerland has four major languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. The latter is a local language from the south-east, loosely derived from Latin, and only some hundred thousands speak it regularly.
It is an amazingly clean country. They really maintain their landscape and their cities. The rail system is excellent, and much of their public transportation is electric powered due to nuclear power being the primary source of electricity.
It is famous for cheese, chocolate, and watches. Regarding chocolate, it’s important to note that the historical reason behind the Swiss reputation is that they were among the first to use milk in the processing of chocolate to improve its flavour. That historical reputation fueled the creation of chocolate business and the famous confectionaries we know today.
People find it hard to nail down what Swiss culture is, specifically. This is because there’s so much variety across the cantons, not least between the different languages. But I’ve been told that an enduring Swiss characteristic is compromise, and a neutral perspective. They will, apparently, generally talk something down to a compromise instead of fighting it out. It’s supposedly a general culture as well as policy of neutrality.
It’s likely that this, and its historical avoidance of major European wars since Napoleon, is why it’s home to the headquarters of lots and lots of international organizations, not least the United Nations.
Oh, and its federal capital is Bern, though I don’t think that many outsiders know it since Geneva and Zürich are much more famous.