Why The Swiss Love The Red Cross

The Red Cross is one of many international organizations founded and/or headquartered in Geneva.  About 250 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have their seat in Geneva.  They include: the United NationsWorld Health OrganizationWorld Trade OrganizationWorld Economic Forum, and Doctors Without Borders.  Switzerland’s international nature and history of neutrality are two reasons for this.

Henri Dunant and a group of Geneva in Geneva founded the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 (near the spot where this photo was taken).  Switzerland’s lack of land and natural resources forced its young men to go abroad as mercenaries to fight Europe’s wars.  Those that returned home were inevitably affected by what they had seen and experienced.    In 1859, Henri Dunant, moved by the human suffering he saw at the Battle of Solferino (in the Second Italian War of Independence) while on a business trip, wrote a book about what he had seen and began advocating for a neutral organization to care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.  His work led to the First Geneva Convention and the establishment of what became the Red Cross.

Henri Dunant won the first ever Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. This bust of Henri Dunant stands at the edge of Geneva’s old town, near Parc des Bastions.  Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, it sits on the spot where Geneva’s guillotine once stood!    Apparently when Geneva was part of France (annexed as département du Léman), all French cities required to have one (Geneva joined the Swiss Confederation in 1815).

Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross/the ICRC is located in Geneva. Although you can see the outside of the building, the museum is closed for repairs until sometime in 2012. Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to see signs of the Red Cross in Geneva.

By the way, there is a reason the Swiss flag below looks like the Red Cross flag.  It is an inversion of the Swiss flag, which is a square with a white cross on a red background.   The First Geneva Convention in 1864, decided that to protect medical staff and facilities,  they needed a clear neutral sign on the battlefield. They chose the exact reverse of the flag of neutral Switzerland.  It was both easily produced and recognizable at a distance because of its contrasting colors.  A Swiss lady living in the US told me that she often tears with pride when she sees the Red Cross flag.  Being Swiss, she is very conscious and proud of what her countrymen started, its Swiss connections and the good that it has done.  Plus, it makes her think of home.

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Swiss Immigrants

A couple of Swiss immigrants

Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of foreigners of any country in the world.  Tons of famous, and not so famous people (us) have moved to Switzerland.  They have a very, um, generous tax policy.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population (30.6% of the population is either an immigrant or first generation). Famous Swiss immigrants include: *

Courtesy of Top Gear and Hublot

Courtesy of jsp31’s Blog

Courtesy of Why Not? and OWN

For centuries, people have immigrated to Switzerland.  In general, its immigrants have been highly skilled and/or educated.  The Swiss watch industry was fed with French Huguenot’s who fled persecution in France.  Immigrant German professors started Zurich University.  Many Italian immigrants worked on Switzerland’s great engineering projects in the Alps.

courtesy of Leopard Trek

*For you cycling fans, famous cyclists who have lived/trained in Switzerland include: Fabian Cancellara (a Swiss child of Italian immigrants, until recently he was my most popular post), Oscar Freire, Francisco Mancebo, Jan Ullrich, Christophe Moreau, Cadel Evans, Markus Burghardt, Andreas Klöden, Linus Gerdemann, Thor Hushovd, Daniele Nardello, and Thomas Frei.

 

Why CH?

If you have looked at any Swiss websites, you may have noticed that their country abbreviation is “ch”. This is also the country code/abbreviation you see on cars, money and stamps.

What does the CH stand for?  Confederatio Helvetica. Just don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

Switzerland has four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh) that each have their own word for Switzerland.  To not favor any one language, the Swiss use the Latin term for Switzerland, Confederatio Helvetica.  Problem solved.

Who were the Helvetians?  They were a tribe that lived in Switzerland that were beaten by Julius Cesar in 58 B.C.   They lived (more or less) in the borders of modern day Switzerland.  This isn’t terribly surprising as modern day Switzerland follows natural geographic boundaries (the Rhine, the Rhone, the Alps and the Jura).





The Swiss Guard

The Papal Swiss Guard is actually Swiss.  They are mostly from Zurich, Luzern and St. Gallen.  The Swiss Guard has been responsible for the Pope‘s security and the protection of the Vatican for around 500 years.  Back then, Switzerland was a poor country whose citizens worked as mercenaries all over Europe as there weren’t sufficient jobs at home.
The Papal Swiss Guard’s first and deadliest engagement was on May 6, 1527 fighting the forces of Charles V during the sack of Rome.  Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican.

To be a Papal Swiss Guard, you must:

  • Be Swiss
  • Be Catholic
  • Be a man (they aren’t opening it up to women anytime soon)
  • Be at least 185 cm (5 ft 8.5 inches) tall
  • Be between 17 and 30
  • Have a high school diploma or professional degree
  • Have completed basic training in the Swiss army
  • Apply
  • As you can see from the first photo above, you must also be able to rock a uniform

 

Sunday Funday

No work on Sunday, Funday
There are many things that are not permitted on Sundays here in Switzerland. They include:
  • vacuuming
  • Laundry
  • Running a Dishwasher
  • Mowing your lawn
  • Washing your car
  • Pulling weeds in your garden
  • Pretty much all work whatsoever

As a result, most stores and businesses are closed on Sunday.  What are you supposed to do on Sundays in Switzerland?  Here’s a list:

  • Hike (one of the most quintessentially Swiss activities)
  • Ski (the other one)
  • Boat
  • Bike
  • Have a drink at a cafe (the drink is often alcoholic), after church or otherwise
  • Going to church not required or encouraged, but permitted for individuals to choose
  • Spend time with your family
  • Watch a movie
  • Listen to music
  • Enjoy a nice meal
  • Enjoy the weather
  • Enjoy not working

As an American, this is a very foreign concept. The up side, it is remarkably easy to get used to.

 

Monday Was Swiss National Day

Did you work Monday?  He didn’t.  We didn’t.  Monday, August 1st was Swiss National Day (more about what Swiss National Day is in tomorrow’s post). If you didn’t get it off, make sure your boss gives you next August 1st off to celebrate. Here are ways to celebrate it:

  • Fireworks (bonus points if you have them over a lake)
  • Bonfires (preferably on a hill, mountaintop or other elevated spot)*
  • Decorate busses with flags
  • Put out special trash bags
  • Bakers produce special bread rolls with a small Swiss flag on top.  What is a holiday without a special pastry?
  • Dress up in traditional Swiss costumes
* Bonfires on hills and other elevated spot, commemorate the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the fourteenth century.  They spread their news by bonfire in those days.