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Switzerland - Introduction
Located in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is the second oldest federal state in the world after the United States of America. The confederation is divided into 26 cantons. For historical and geographical reasons they differ widely in size and character. Their high degree of autonomy has always been respected and still remains strong. Berne is the capital city of the Swiss Confederation.
The country has an estimated population of 8.2 million, the largest populations can be found in the larger cities such as Zurich, Basel, Geneva and Berne. Switzerland is unique due to its particularly high population of foreigners, which is currently 24% of the resident population. Most of these foreigners come from Europe, especially from the neighboring countries, such as Italy, Germany and Portugal.
Economic Status and Quality of Life
Switzerland is known for its economic status, and it is currently one of the richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita. The main source of Switzerland’s income is from services (71%), and industry (27%) such as machinery manufacture, pharmaceutical production and watchmaking.
Due to its wealth, Switzerland is able to offer its population a high standards of living, and has excellent infrastructure, such as reliable public transport, well looked after public spaces and services and excellent schools. Zurich and Geneva are regularly ranked as being amongst the best cities in the world in which to live.
Even though Switzerland is a small country, its people speak no less than four different languages: German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic. Everything from the list of the ingredients on the package of groceries to official government documents has to be printed in three different languages (German, French and Italian).
The German speaking Swiss speak a different form of German than the Germans or the Austrians, called "Swiss-German" or "Schweizerdeutsch". Each canton has its own dialect and there is no written Swiss-German at all. Fortunately, the Germans, Austrians and Swiss-Germans all use the same written German language, which is close to the so-called "high German", the standard for the German languages.
The French and Italian speaking Swiss also have a unique version of their language that differs from their neighbors, but the difference is mainly in vocabulary and is not as dramatic as in the case of Swiss-German.
The other official language is Rheto-Romanic, a very old language that is spoken within a limited region of Switzerland. Even though there are only a few villages where they still speak this language, there are five different dialects.