The Swiss Gestalt

The Best of Switzerland’s Customs and Traditions

By Claude Huber -
Editorial Credit: eugeniek /

In the most distinct fashion yet, Switzerland introduced itself to the World Exposition at Seville in 1992 as La suisse n'existe pas. Most certainly a message not taken out of your standard marketing text books they proclaimed “Switzerland does not exist!”. More likely it was a message that sort to extract the most subtle, true and inherent description of Switzerland’s millennium old culture. Switzerland does not have a national culture, but is much better understood as the sum of its parts. It is the varied, disparate and often inconsistent culture that is found within small towns and cities that gives Switzerland the undercurrent of its cultural expressions. In the one nationality there is great variety as it is home to four national languages and numerous more dialects. Geographically there are large differences in culture from traditions found in the mountains and those in the central plateau, while the big cities are all together different again. So while there is very little that unites all of Switzerland in national customs, it is still very much a vibrant cacophony of regional traditions, rituals and ceremonies.


I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Switzerland on many occasions and have travelled the lengths and breadths from its Alpine heights to its low lying valleys and these are probably just a few of my favourite Swiss customs and traditions.


Experience Alpine Culture like a Local

To really experience the best of Alpine culture, like exploring the best of any culture, you have to do it like a local. That means not only sleeping on the Alps, but working on a farm in the Alps by  making hay, mucking stalls, milking cows, or cultivating cheese. Then finally sitting down amongst family and friends sharing a scrumptious rustic meal of fresh local ingredients. Now, that’s how you do it!


Fortunately for you and I and others who do not hail from Switzerland’s Alps, the owners of Alp  Dürrenwald  offer guests such opportunities on their unique ‘Adventure Day’. Guests from all over the world get to learn about what life is like as an alpine farmer by getting their hands dirty and helping out with a lot of these “chores”. Yet for those who would like to keep their hands a little more sterile than wrapping them around a cow’s udders, there is also the option to visit a dairy show, learn about animal husbandry, visit farmsteads, go camping and taking guided hiking tours. Most certainly ensuring that there is something for everyone. If you can, time your Switzerland vacation in mid-October to coincide with the Alpine Culture Day Festival. This a  traditional festival ideal for the whole family which includes Alpine games such as the Hornussen tournament (a ball game), the election of Miss Lenk (the most beautiful cow), and the somewhat unusual Alpine cattle descent (can’t help but just wonder: Why?).


The Sound of Music

Switzerland regional music is a combination of soft tones from instruments such as the "Schwyzerörgeli" (accordion), the violin, clarinet and in some cases the Trümpi (Jew's harp).

Swiss music has been cultivated over many centuries past down from one generation to the next and has morphed many times in the transfer of skills and compositions. One of the most famous Swiss instruments the Alphorn that was initially used as a tool to signal herdsman out on the mountain slopes. Overtime the sound it made was cultivated and gradually recognised for its enjoyable tones. Likewise yodelling was also used as a means to communicate between herdsman from alp to alp. Probably used way back in the Stone Ages, it was found that the pitch resonates strongly through the wide open spaces. If you love to sing, but can never remember the lyrics to songs, than yodelling is for you, as the melody is really more about repeated changes in the pitch. With small amateur yodelling and Alphorn choirs dotted all over Switzerland, guests can listen and even join choirs for an invigorating time harnessing vocal tunes outside amongst beautiful natural settings.


The Hustle and Bustle of Swiss Sports

Perhaps not as well known as the yodel, the most popular Swiss sports include Wrestling, flag throwing and Hornussen. Albeit Hornussen is a somewhat unusual sport originating out of Emmental, Bern, Solothurn and Aargau, it is said to have its origins in the 16th century. In a comparison to modern day sports, you could say it is a combination of golf and baseball, where a Nouss (or a puck) is hit by a batsman and the opponents have to stop the Nouss at the earliest chance with a shingle or a catch board. Unusual? Perhaps, but it’s exceptionally fun.


Another popular regional sport is that of Swiss Wrestling that has gained in popularity over more recent years. In typical Swiss orderly decorum a five day festival of wrestling takes place. Athletic and beefed up opponents take great pleasure at the rare chance where it is finally socially encouraged to plunge another man’s head into the ground.  It’s most commonly head to head as each region’s most sturdy boulder throwers and strong Hornussen players have it out on a sandy pit. Yet in particular Swiss fashion, it all happens with the accompaniment of a melodic orchestra and yodelling choirs. There is nothing that touches the nerves like a punch up to the sound of sweet melodies.

While hopefully some of these Swiss cultural traditions have piqued your interest, there is still so much more to be explored in Switzerland’s cities, amidst its cheese making and other culinary delights. Participate in Switzerland’s summer festivals, winter festivals and understand the character of its religious traditions that add further colour and meaning to it all. Hire a Luxury car in Switzerland and make sure to see it for yourself, up close, raw, real and endearingly personal.

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