Skip to main content

The Cantons of Switzerland

Americans and Brits are familiar with the division of a country into smaller parts such as states and counties. In the US, the different states may differ in their legislation, the accent of its inhabitants, the climate and the landscapes. Mississippi and New Jersey for example are very different places on many levels.

The segmentation of a country for administrative purposes makes sense especially in one as big as the USA. However, in a small country like Switzerland its benefits are somewhat obscure. Do we really need to split the country into smaller parts to be able to manage it?

Today, Switzerland consists of 26 cantons which are more or less the equivalent of states in the US. The reason for this division is mainly historical. The Swiss Federation or Helvetic Federation started with just four cantons that united in 1291 against their common enemy, the Lords of the House of Habsburg. They were the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden. Over the next 500 years another 21 cantons joined the federation as allies (e.g. the canton of Berne in 1353) or were given the opportunity to join the Swiss after major wars (e.g. the canton of Ticino in 1803 after Napoleon conquered Switzerland). The last canton, namely the canton of Jura, joined Switzerland in 1979.

26 Cantons of Switzerland

Let us have a look at how Switzerland is divided into regions and parts. There are 26 cantons in total. Six out of these 26 cantons are not considered full cantons but "half-cantons" because historically they once were a single canton but have now split up.

The Half-Cantons of Switzerland are:
Basel-Stadt (Basel City)
Baselland (Basel Country)
Obwalden
Nidwalden
Appenzell Innerrhoden
Appenzell Ausserrhoden

The full Cantons of Switzerland are:
Zürich
Bern
Luzern
Uri
Schwyz
Glarus
Zug
Freiburg
Solothurn
Schaffhausen
St. Gallen
Graubünden
Aargau
Thurgau
Tessin / Ticino
Waadt / Vaud
Wallis / Valais
Genf / Genève
Jura
Map of Swiss Cantons

Most cantons have their own tax and civil laws, education systems and policies. Of course, none of these should contradict the common federal constitution. Each canton has one or more official languages, depending mainly on it's geographical location inside Switzerland. Each canton in the German part of Switzerland also has its distinct dialect. A Swiss person can recognize from which canton somebody is only by the dialect someone is speaking!

Each canton has its own typical foods and traditions. There are also certain character traits and funny customs that we Swiss associate with the different cantons. People from the canton of Berne, for example, are said to be slow in thinking and doing pretty much everything, especially driving! People from Zurich on the other hand, are fast drivers but considered rude by many Swiss.

In Swiss German there is a word for this tendency of each canton to trying to make its own little kingdom: "Kantönli-Geischt" (= spirit of cantons). At times, it looks like every canton likes to do things its own way and different from the rest. Yet, somehow this seems to be working fine in Switzerland!




© 2011 IRENE WYRSCH "A HUMOROUS GUIDE TO SWITZERLAND" ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Spot a Swiss Person

As an expat one usually spots fellow expats right away. It's not only the language or the looks of people but rather the little peculiarities of life that seem so normal at home that give us away while abroad. Obviously, it's a cliche that all people from the same place (country, city, continent) behave in the same way and I am far from making that claim. However, growing up in a certain surrounding does rub off on people's behavior and some similarities can certainly be observed.

This is also true for Swiss people. According to the Swiss stereotype, we are a clean, punctual and strictly organized people. However, there are many exceptions like my Swiss friend who is always late or my brother whose room was a total mess while growing up. Yet, although they do not fit the description of a typical Swiss person, they still have some traits that give them away as Swiss. The same is probably true for myself - if I like it or not.
10 Signs you are dealing with a Swiss Person So,…

10 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Switzerland

The weather has been so so these last few days and will remain rainy and rather cold. No swimming in one of the many lakes of Switzerland, going on a nice bike trip or playing soccer outside unless you are willing to endure some heavy rain.
10 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Switzerland However, there are plenty of fun things to do in Switzerland even on rainy days. Here's the list of my current favorite rainy day activities:
Alpamare: Biggest water park of Switzerland with dozens of water slides and pools. It's open all year round since most of the baths and slides are indoors. It is perfect for a rainy day since there are usually less people than on a sunny day.Zoo Zurich: The famous zoo in Zurich features bears, elephants, monkeys, tigers and the mazoala hall (a tropical glass house). Many animals can be visited in their houses.Swiss National Museum: The Swiss National Museum in Zurich gives an overview over the cultural history of Switzerland. Swiss Museum of Transport:…

Schätzli, Schnüggel and Müüsli - Terms of Endearment in Swiss German

If you've ever been invited to the home of a Swiss couple, you are probably familiar with the most popular Swiss German term of endearment "Schätzli" (little treasure) or one of it's many varieties like e.g. "Schatz" or "Schätzeli". Obviously, this is not the only pet name used by Swiss couples (or parents for that matter). Like many other languages, Swiss German offers a wide variety of words and phrases that you can use to address your loved one.

What most of these pet names have in common is the ending "-li" which basically turns the thing or person a word refers to into something small. For example "Haus" means house and "Hüüsli" means small house. This ending "-li" can also be added to first names as a means of endearment, e.g. Benjaminli, Estherli or Fabienneli.

I tried to come up with a collection of Swiss German pet names but realized I only know a handful. However, after combing through the interne…