Switzerland (German: die Schweiz, French: la Suisse, Italian: Svizzera and Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked Alpine country in Central Europe. A male native of Switzerland is said to be a Schweizer and a female is a Schweizerin in German; Suisse (male) or Suissesse (female) in Swiss French and svizzero (male) or svizzera (female) in Swiss Italian.
The country, which borders Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, was historically a confederation, and has been a federation since 1848. Switzerland has a strong economy in finance and banking, and a long and strong tradition of political and military neutrality. This background allows Switzerland various international co-operations and organisations.
Confoederatio Helvetica, the country's official Latin name, means Helvetic Confederation. The use of Latin avoids having to favour one of the four national languages. The abbreviation (CH) is used for the same reason. The titles commonly used in French (Confédération suisse), Italian (Confederazione Svizzera) and Romansh (Confederaziun svizra) translate as "Swiss Confederation", while the German name of Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft translates literally as "Swiss Oath Fellowship" or "Swiss Commonwealth of the Covenant".
With an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi), Switzerland is a relatively small country. The population is about 7.4 million, resulting in a population density of 182 people per square kilometre (472/sq mi).
Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau, and the Jura mountains.The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country. Among the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, the highest of which is the Dufour Peak at 4,634 metres (15,203 ft), are found countless valleys, some with glaciers. From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, the Rhône, the Inn, the Aare or the Ticino, flow down into lakes such as Lake Geneva, Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.
The northern, more populous part of the country is more open, but can still be mountainous, for example, in the Jura Mountains, a smaller range in the northwest. The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from harsh conditions on the high mountains to the often pleasant Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip.
Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has four official languages: German (64%) in the north and centre; French (19%) to the west; Italian (8%) in the south; and Romansh (a Romance language), that is spoken locally by a small minority (< 1%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden. (Some dialects of Franco-Provençal have speakers in rural communities in the region where French is spoken. This language has no legal status.) The federal government is obliged to communicate in the four official languages. In the federal parliament, German, French, Italian and Romansh are the official languages and simultaneous translation is provided. The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication and broadcasts typically use standard German. Swiss French and Swiss Italian differ far less from their counterparts in France and Italy, respectively. Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so most Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual.
Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 21% of the population. Most of these are from European Union countries (Italians being the largest group, at 4%), with smaller numbers from the rest of the world, including refugees from the former Yugoslavia (5%) and Turks (1%).
The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours, but over the years a distinctive culture with strong regional differences has developed.
A number of culturally active Swiss have chosen to move abroad, probably given the limited opportunities in their homeland. At the same time, the neutrality of Switzerland and the low taxes have attracted many creative people from all over the world. In war times the tradition of political asylum helped to attract artists, whilst recently low taxes seem predominant.
Strong regionalism in Switzerland makes it difficult to speak of a homogeneous Swiss culture. The influence of German, French and Italian culture on their neighbouring parts and the influence of Anglo-American culture cannot be denied. The Rhaeto-Romanic culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is robust.
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