Friday, August 12, 2011

Switzerland: The Prologue

So. Switzerland. Brian and I have been here for more than two weeks now. But let's back up a little. Why Switzerland? Brian got offered a job with Google and they gave him the choice of staying in Seattle or going to their office in Zurich, Switzerland. After talking to the different groups, it seemed that the Zurich office was a better fit for what Brian is interested in, and I was (more than) willing to take the steps necessary to move to Europe.

We also figured: hey, we don't own a house or a car and don't have kids or pets to worry about moving. This is not to say that moving to Switzerland was all cheese and chocolate. Luckily, Google took care of a lot of the details in terms of getting the entry visas in process. He also has a relocation package that has taken care of moving our things from Seattle to Zurich, setting us up with a temporary apartment in Zurich, and helping us find a permanent apartment in the tough Zurich rental market. However, we still had to deal with paring down our things, moving out of our old apartment, finishing up our respective job/graduate school, saying goodbye to our friends in Seattle, and leaving Seattle and specifically Ballard, our lovely neighborhood in Seattle for the last two years. In addition, moving to another country comes with its own challenges: different cultural norms and different language being foremost among them. I'm sure we will expound more on those challenges and our experiences in the future.

But let's just talk the facts for now. Switzerland. What's up with Switzerland?
  • Switzerland is about the size of West Virginia, but with more than four times the population.
  • Switzerland is officially the "Swiss Confederation" or Confoederatio Helvetica, so the country is often abbreviated to CH (and its domain extension is .ch).
  • Switzerland is a federal republic made up of 26 cantons; we are in the Zurich canton. Each canton has its own constitution, government, and parliament. Sort of like a state, but smaller.
  • Zurich is not the capital of Switzerland. To be specific, Switzerland does not have a capital - Bern is the de facto capital, as it is the federal seat of all the cantons.
  • There is not an individual head of state like in other countries - instead, there is a federal council made up of seven people that are elected by the legislative body. The federal council members rotate the presidency of the council between themselves, but they, as a body, are the head of state. Confusing, huh?
  • Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Romansh is a Latin-based language spoken by approximately 70,000 people in southwestern Switzerland. The NYTimes had an interesting article on the language and its speakers last year.
  • German is the most common language, spoken by about 70% of the country, generally in the northern and eastern parts. However, Swiss German is what is spoken in common usage, while standard German, or high German, is what is written and what is spoken in formal settings. Swiss German is a fairly different language that is mostly not intelligible to those who just speak standard German - there are different pronunciations and different words. In addition, the Swiss German dialect varies across cantons.
  • You can watch all of Rick Steves's episodes on Switzerland on, which is pretty much all the exposure Brian and I had to Switzerland before we landed a few weeks ago. :)
Alright, enough knowledge for now. We'll get to the "omg, why is this like that" in future posts, I'm sure.

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