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.

Migros M

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.

Bilingual street sign

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

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.

Landsgemeinde vote

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.









11 Comments on "10 things every Swiss person knows"

  1. Paul Duthoit Wednesday March 11th, 2015 at 06:31 PM · Reply

    To that list you must add cervelat. No self respecting Swiss (apart from a handful of vegetarians) would forget these!

  2. Lina from Lithuania Wednesday March 11th, 2015 at 10:42 PM · Reply

    We’ve heard of DJ Bobo even here in Lithuania;)

  3. Gayle Thursday March 12th, 2015 at 05:59 PM · Reply

    Rabeliechtli and ..




  4. George Friday March 13th, 2015 at 01:24 AM · Reply

    No mention of Swiss clocks, the SBB, the Matterhorn … well, it was a good attempt for a list. I have shared it with my prospective exchange students to Switzerland.

    • Diccon Bewes Sunday March 15th, 2015 at 09:26 PM · Reply

      Sorry but the point of the list was things that the Swiss take for granted that are NOT known outside the country. Clocks, trains and the Matterhorn are definitely known by lots of foreigners so they wouldn’t fit into this at all. the same goes for cheese, chocolate, Heidi, William Tell, etc etc

  5. mathieu Friday March 13th, 2015 at 04:23 PM · Reply

    You got it wrong for Rivella: it is indeed made of milk serum, and is a sweet drink (similar to sparkling Apple juice). Australian “Marmite” is similar to the other Swiss typically “Cenovis”: a brown sticky-salty paste made of beer yeast, to be put typically on bread.

    • Diccon Bewes Sunday March 15th, 2015 at 09:25 PM · Reply

      I think you missed the point. I was not saying Rivella was like Marmite in terms of what it is but in terms of loving it or hating it. Of course I know that Cenovis is the Swiss version of Marmite, except it doesn’t taste nearly as nice

  6. TJ Martin Wednesday April 1st, 2015 at 09:29 PM · Reply

    In addition I would tack on ;

    Patrick Moraz – CH’s only genuinely global rock superstar
    Peter Zumthor – Is there anyone in CH that does not know the works of its reclusive architect/genius Peter Zumthor ?
    Giovanna Pesi – Truly one of CH’s absolute musical gems
    Rosti – Need i say more ?

    • Rock'n'Roland Friday April 24th, 2015 at 01:38 PM · Reply

      “Patrick Moraz – CH’s only genuinely global rock superstar” – What?! – Outside of a few (near) retirement age prog nerds / Yes & Moody Blues fans nobody knows who Patrick Moraz. Nobody in Switzerland knows who Patrick Moraz is anymore.

      The only Swiss rock musicians blessed with global stardom (albeit limited) would be Krokus, the only Swiss act to ever get a gold record in the United States (their 80’s arena days are long gone by now), and the very influential Tom G. Warrior, aka Thomas Gabriel Fischer, one of the godfathers of extreme metal (death, black and gothic death metal) via his 80’s bands Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and the current leader of the equally dark, heavy and disturbing Triptykon. Tom is the only Swiss musician to make the occasional international magazine cover these days.

      Pretty much the only other Swiss act that’s ever made a splash globally were electronic avantgarde duo Yello.

    • Pier Tuesday November 17th, 2015 at 03:31 PM · Reply

      Giovanna Pesi? Never heard of.

  7. Pier Tuesday November 17th, 2015 at 03:30 PM · Reply

    Globi is basically unknown outside of German Switzerland. My fathe is a Swiss citizen who has spent all of his life in Switzerland and he has never heard of Globi. Myself I heard of it for the first time when I was studying in Zurich. In italian Switzerland no child has ever read its stories, excpet maybe for the children of German speaking immigrants. Speaking about Globi, I think there is a confusion between Switzerland and German Switzerland.

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