Facts about Switzerland


Switzerland has a population of 7,100,100 (1998 estimate). This averages out to 172 inhabitants per square kilometre - compare that to The Netherlands at 459 / sq km. German speakers account for 64% of the population, French 19%, Italian 8% and Romansch under 1%.

Rubbish and Recycling

Photograph of a pile of newspapers left for recycling
A pile of newspapers left for recycling

Photograph of a pre-paid rubbish bag
A pre-paid rubbish bag

Cantons have introduced specially marked bags that must be used for all rubbish that is not recycled. These bags are extremely expensive so they are used only when necessary, and as much is crammed in as possible. The high price covers incineration costs (rubbish is not buried as it is here in the UK), and this has been effective in reducing the quantity of refuse thrown away. If rubbish is disposed of in an inappropriate container, or a large amount is disposed of in a public waste bin then the authorities will try to work out who disposed of it by looking through it for information about the original owner. It is frowned upon to dispose of refuse in a public bin. The photograph above whows a 110 lite refuse bag full of rubbish. This is a large bag found oustide a shop.

Transport and Vehicles

Photograph of a double-decker Swiss train
A double-decker Swiss train

Trains in Switzerland are almost always exactly on time, and double decker trains are a common sight. These trains set off and stop very smoothly. The platform level is much nearer to the tracks than in England. Some platforms which have not been modified for these new trains have a long unsightly metal box section step secured to the edge of the platform to aid people getting into the carriages.

Photograph of electric busses in Luzern
Electric busses in Luzern

Trams are very common in Switzerland. This picture though shows some electric busses I saw in Luzern. I was trying to work out what would happen to the pantograph if the driver turned the wrong way at a junction. I understand that you can buy a ticket for your journey and then use whatever mode of public transport is available to make that journey, be it boat, train tram or bus - the ticket is valid on all of these vehicles.

Photograph of a Swiss drain-clearing vehicle (spotlessly clean)
A Swiss drain-clearing vehicle (spotlessly clean)

This is a drain cleaning vehicle I found in Luzern, one of a team of vehicles out that day and typical of the ones I saw. It was spotlessly clean, I stood up right next to it and looked at the gleam off its orange bodywork. I even ran my finger along the front bonnet - no dirt or dust at all - shocking.

Defense and Military Service

Able bodied men in Switzerland start national service at the age of 20. They are required to undertake an initial period of 15 weeks training and then they are released, but still assigned to a unit and eligible for call up until the age of 32. From the age of 33 to 42 they remain in the military reserves and have to attend a three week refresher course every two years. Throughout this period they keep any firearms, ammunition and kit that they have been given (including clothes and gas mask) at home and have to attend target practise sessions. There are now alternatives, and work within the 'civil service' is possible instead.

Europe and The United Nations

Switzerland is not part of the European Union, but sits in the middle of the continent, surrounded by countries that are (and that now use the Euro). Switzerland was also not a member of the United Nations until the Sunday during my visit when a vote just swung in favour of the country joining.

© Copyright  Piers Pettman - This page last updated 08 July 2006
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