September 22, 2010

In Switzerland...
Anniversary of the Peace of Basel – 1499

In keeping with yesterday's Peace Day, today we honor a peace treaty. After months of fighting between the House of Habsburg and the Old Swiss Confederacy, the Swiss emerged triumphant, and Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had to sign a treaty that made Switzerland quite independent of the Roman Empire.

(It remained nominally a part of the empire until the mid-1600s, but after the Peace of Basel, Swiss were exempt from jurisdiction and taxes. In other words, for all practical purposes, Switzerland was independent.)

Switzerland is a small landlocked country in Europe. It is known for its natural beauties, especially the beautiful Alps, banking and watches, chocolate and cheese, and peace and neutrality.

Swiss speak

Nestled between Germany, Italy, and France, Switzerland has populations who speak German, those who speak Italian, and those who speak French. But it's not enough for Switzerland to have three official languages—it has four, since there are 30 or 40 thousand people who speak Romansh as their mother tongue!

Swiss money

The only time I've been to Switzerland, in 1999, I had a mix of monies from the various countries I had visited on that trip: German Deutsche marks, Italian lira, and Austrian schillings. I still had a few U. S. dollars in my wallet, too, but of course no Swiss francs. I sighed as I realized that I would have to go to a bank to convert all these sorts of money to Swiss francs—it's a bit of trouble to do so, but more importantly, you lose money in transaction fees every time you convert it.

Naturally, it was a Sunday, so the banks were closed.

I wanted an ice cream cone, and I wasn't sure I could pay for it. We had paid for our hotel room with a credit card, but back then, people didn't accept credit cards for small amounts.

At least, most people in the world didn't, but I soon found that the Swiss were different. Shop owners and even street vendors took EVERYTHING – money from other countries, credit cards (even for dollar purchases), debit cards, traveler's checks – everything! I was so happy as I traded my now-useless lira and schillings for a double scoop of ice cream.

Swiss neutrality

In keeping with its unprecedented independence within the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland has maintained a neutral stance in world affairs since 1815. This country has diplomatic relations with almost all countries, and it was able to stay above the fray even during the two World Wars. (Hitler drew up plans to attack Switzerland but never did.)

Partly because of the strong stance of neutrality, many international organizations are located in Switzerland. These include the international Olympics headquarters, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and many others.

Celebrate Switzerland!

  • Read Heidi, by Johanna Spyri (available free online). Or watch one of the movie versions of the story.
  • Eat some Nestle's chocolate. (Henri Nestle was Swiss, and his company made the first milk-chocolate.) 
  • Here is a puzzle of the Swiss flag (which has been adopted as the sign of the Red Cross). 

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