Switzerland is the little country that could. The tiny, alpine nation is an economic powerhouse with the world’s 20th largest economy. Not bad for a country with the same population as New York City.
It always scores in the top 10 in quality-of-life surveys and it has a wealth of geographical features, from staggering mountains to bucolic valleys. Its cities all seem to be the proper size and everything in the country runs like clockwork, which it should since the Swiss watch industry is one of its largest business sectors.
It’s incredibly diverse and well educated. It also can be quite confusing. It borders France, Italy, Germany, and Lichtenstein. While Swiss-German is the official language, French, Italian, English, and even Romansh, an old regional language that no one seems to understand, are all prominent. Outsiders marvel at the Swiss command of multiple languages but those inside the country say they have a hard time understanding one another. Even the Swiss-German language can be totally different from one region to the next.
Cheese with holes
The Swiss are known for their ingenious ability to make money. It sells expensive cheese filled with holes. It sells expensive cheese soup (fondue) to tourists. It’s known for its chocolate even though the main ingredient, cacao, is grown in tropical climates. Their banks are famous for taking dirty money, making it clean, and then hiding it. Sophie considers Switzerland her second home and she is always amused at its contradictions.
Neutral Switzerland has invaded Lichtenstein
For example, the Swiss are famously neutral but it has an army that unbelievably invaded the tiny neighboring nation of Lichtenstein … by accident. And it wasn’t the first time. The top officials in Lichtenstein, which doesn’t have a military and doesn’t protect its border with Switzerland, just shrugged.
This neutrality has served the country well as it home to many international organizations, such as the International Red Cross, the Olympics and the World Health Organization. While it is neutral it is extremely active as a mediator in world affairs. It’s also the home of FIFA, the most corrupt organization in the history of mankind. The Swiss never touched the top officials of the organizations. U.S. agents had to come into Switzerland to arrest seven FIFA executives. The Swiss government was never directly involved.
Switzerland recognized for high-quality
With all of this in mind, Sophie flies into Zurich and visits Karen and Anette at the headquarters of LUC8K. The leather handbags are handmade Southeast of Paris. Other parts and accessories are made in Italy and Germany, but it is Switzerland that is internationally recognized for high-quality. After all, Swiss cheese and chocolate are incredibly delicious.
After sharing a bottle of Swiss sparkling wine (yes Switzerland makes sparkling wine) Sophie stocks up on LUC8K goods, including a leather shopper, tote and wallet in new colors; and two leather belts in new colors. Sophie wanted a colorful LUC8K bead bag charm in her likeness. Only 88 of these charms handmade in Johannesburg are available exclusively for LUC8K customers. After a bit of negotiating Sophie received a special one made just for her. Soon Sophie had to move on and Karen and Anette returned to work.
Sophie in Switzerland & the secret sauce
How is such a small, landlocked country able to do so much? We may never know the true answer to this question but on this trip Sophie is trying to unlock the secret sauce. Sophie heads to Bern, the nation’s capital, by train. The highly efficient and comfortable trains are the best way to get around Switzerland. You get a real taste of what it’s like living in this country. Then there’s the scenery. Valleys of perfectly manicured farms and small towns pass below as the train rises up the mountains.
In Bern, Sophie soon learns that the government is arranged as a representative democracy, similar to many nations, but with unique aspects. Power is shared between the federal government, the cantonal governments and the country’s more than 2,000 communes, each with its own jurisdictions. On the federal level there are two government bodies: The lower house, the National Council, represents the Swiss population as a whole; and the Senate, which represents the Cantons (states) within Switzerland. Again, all of this is typical in many democracies.
One thing that makes the Swiss government unique is that the Federal Council, which implements the laws, is elected by the government. This includes the Swiss president. You may not know the name, Ulrich “Ueli” Maurer, but he is the current president. This is in stark contrast to that guy in the United States. As Sophie likes to say, everyone knows his name but no one likes him.
The final aspect that makes this system of government unique is its true democracy component, as first envisioned by the Greeks. It’s the most famous part of the Swiss government. It requires that any amendment to the constitution be put before the people in a referendum. To pass it requires a double majority – meaning the consent of the majority of the people and a majority of the cantons.
It can appear like a recipe for chaos but somehow the Swiss people make it work. This is the elusive secret sauce to the success of the Swiss as a government and as an economic powerhouse. Switzerland isn’t perfect but it’s about as close as it gets. It is a place for the world’s wealthy while it services people from all walks of life. Its countryside is pristine and productive. Its cities may not have the nightlife of its international counterparts but they are clean and efficient. Everywhere you look there’s constant beauty. Karen calls it a paradise and Sophie agrees.