I knew in the abstract that Switzerland was composed of over a dozen (turns out it’s 26) cantons, and that different parts of the country were and are greatly influenced by their neighboring sovereign states. What I didn’t expect was how drastically different the country feels, depending on where you are.
Our first stay was in Lucerne, which is heavily German-influenced. There’s French and Italian on many if not most signage, but German is what’s first and what you hear the most. Many of the buildings in the old town have a (to my eye) German look, etc.
But then you head southwest about 150mi (driving – it’s shorter as the crow flies) to Martigny, a French area. Again, other languages can be found, but the dominant one is French. The square near one of the churches we passed has buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Les Mis. And this is one hundred and fifty miles away, in the same country. I drive that far just to get to Austin, and the biggest cultural change is the political party in charge (assuming I happen to be in Travis and not Williamson county).
As of today we’re in Lugano, not far from the Italian border. You can guess where I’m going with this. It’s about a 115mi drive to the SSE from Lucerne.
And yet, there’s a whole lot of national pride (the good kind) in the Swiss, or so I’ve read. Given how much countries value their culture, it was eye-opening to see how different areas of Switzerland could feel while still being in the same country.
I suppose you could say it’s like visiting an area of an American town that has a heavy East Asian, Indian, or other non-American presence. But that doesn’t match the scale here. We’re talking whole cities, even if they’re smaller cities by American standards. And I can pretty much cross the street from Lai Lai in Houston and find signs all in English. Martigny’s official signage had multiple languages, but many shops seemed to be French only.
I had a proper ending for this, but it’s escaped me. I’ll just say every Swiss place we’ve visited has been interesting, scenic, and friendly.