I recently returned from a trip to the Alpine region of Europe. Anyone who has set foot in this area knows of its beauty. When one mentions Switzerland, you may think of chalets on high slopes and bell-laden grazing animals, or if you are more business-minded, of a thriving financial center and a maker of fine watches. All of these thoughts are a correct observation of this marvelous country.
Switzerland is one of the world’s most prosperous countries, having one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. The country has a very low unemployment rate and a balanced budget (can the U.S. only dream on that one?). The service sector has come to play a significant economic role, comprising about 70% of the economy. On the highways between Zurich, Bern, Geneva and Lucerne, one sees few industrial developments; however, I know they are present given that just over 27% of the economy is from manufacturing. Global companies such as food giant Nestle and chemical and pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche call Switzerland home. The agricultural sector, while highly subsidized, produces about 60% of the country’s own food.
As a visitor to the country, I mainly observed the tourist areas. About 3% of Switzerland’s gross domestic product is from tourism (compared to about 2.5% in the U.S.). Of course, I went on the “Cheese and Chocolates” tour, sampling these staples of Switzerland along with some local wines. The Rösti dish (potatoes smothered in cheese) and cheese fondue were the favorite meals. Not to worry; all the walking counteracted the calories!
Some things that I learned about the Swiss people from our local tour guides and hotel operators are that the Swiss are very proud nationalists, but also each Canton (state) is full of pride for its unique heritage. They have no issue with paying their taxes, as they considered this a national duty. They favor settling disputes by negotiation and compromise, even in their daily lives. However, as our server told me one afternoon, they do not like to be taken advantage of!
Switzerland is a very expensive place to visit. The Swiss declined to be part of the European Union and hence still use the Swiss Franc as the country currency. I was quite surprised at even the high price of a postcard! While I purchased many postcards in the hopes of preserving the captivating scenery and quaint city streets of Switzerland, nothing can do it justice like just being there.
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