10 things every Swiss person knows
March 11, 2015, 11 Comments
Rivella and Röstigraben, Globi and 1291. All of them instantly recognisable. At least they are to almost any Swiss adult, but foreigners might struggle to understand them. Every country has its common cultural reference points, which are taken for granted by those who use them but which have to be learnt by outsiders.
Mastering such cultural markers can take a while because it is often assumed you know what they are. Things that are seen as more difficult or more specific are usually patiently explained but terms that are in use almost every day are thrown into conversations and the listener is left to sink or swim.
So while Heidi and fondue are known all around the globe, here are ten taken-for-granted things that don’t need explaining to the Swiss but the rest of the world will be left wondering what they are talking about.
Globi: a blue parrot that can walk and talk, and does both all over the world. He’s been around for 85 years and there’s barely a child in Switzerland who hasn’t read at least one of his books.
Rivella: the national drink that only the Swiss truly love. It’s made from milk serum (no, really) and comes various guises, all equally unpalatable. It’s the Swiss equivalent of Marmite – love it or loathe it.
The Orange M: almost every town has a shop with a giant orange M on it, standing for Migros, the largest retailer in Switzerland. One M means a small Migros, a double MM is normal size and MMM the biggest of all.
Betty Bossi: a fictional chef created in 1956 to make cooking easier for thousands of Swiss women (and back then it was mainly women in the kitchen). Now a bestselling series of cookbooks, magazines and ready meals.
Röstigraben: the invisible divide between the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, which appears not only when talking about language but about wider political and cultural differences.
Circus Knie: Switzerland has a national circus (and has had since 1919), which makes it sound rather Soviet and centralised. In fact it’s a jolly annual circus that tours the whole country every summer, with animals in tow.
Curry sauce: a glutinous ubiquitous yellow sauce that has little to do with curry but appears on many menus. Whatever you do, don’t ask what type of curry it is. The answer is never tikka masala or korma but simply ‘curry’.
1291: the founding date of Switzerland, if you believe the legend. There’s no real evidence that three men stood in Rütli meadow on 1 August 1291 and swore to be friends forever, but everyone knows the date.
Direct democracy: citizens in most countries are lucky if they get to vote every four years; the Swiss get asked every four months, and think that is normal. Referendums are a way of life, possibly even the best way.
DJ Bobo: Switzerland’s attempt at a global rock star. And as almost no-one outside the country has heard of him, you can guess how successful that was.