Sunday, February 21, 2010

White Cross

Long before I moved to Switzerland I was intrigued with the Swiss flag. I love the simple boldness of a white cross on a bright red background. The Spanish bull is the other symbol I love, although I do feel slightly embarrassed by his large testicle(s). I appreciate the “I Heart NY” logo and I’ll probably buy a tank top and mug when I’m back in The City.

Let’s return to the cross. According to Wikipedia, the cross is one of the most ancient human symbols, used by many religions. It’s frequently a representation of the division of the world into four elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) or cardinal points (N, S, E, W). The cross also combines the concepts of divinity (the vertical line), and the world (the horizontal line). The word cross was introduced to English in the 10th century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Christ. It stems from the Latin crux, via the Old Irish cros. Previously, a cross was called a rood.

The history of Switzerland as a nation began in 1291, when three cantons in central Switzerland decided to help each other in defending their rights against the counts of Habsburg. They formed the Old Swiss Confederacy (1291 – 1515), a loose federation of autonomous regions, with no common field sign, uniforms, or high commander during most of its history. When Swiss troops went to war they carried the flags of their region with them. It was very difficult for the Swiss to recognize their allies on the battlefield. In the battle of Laupen (1339), white stripes forming crosses were fastened on the confederate soldier's breast, back, shoulders, arms, leg, hats or weapons. In the middle of the 15th century, the white cross was integrated into the flags of the member states of the confederacy. Today, Switzerland consists of 26 federal states called Cantons. Each canton still has its own coat of arms or flag.

The Swiss flag was officially introduced on December 12th, 1889 through the Swiss Federal Council. At the same time the dimensions of the cross were formally established, describing the horizontal arms as one sixth longer than the width of the vertical lines. The size of the cross in relation to the red field is not formally established but comes close to the ratio of 5:8. The exact hue of red in the Swiss flag is not defined by law. Various shades of red have been used over time. In 2007, the federal authorities defined “Swiss Red” to be Pantone's PMS 485 (100% magenta and 100% yellow). For web use, this color translates to the hexadecimal value of #F00000. The web safe equivalent is #FF0000. The Vatican City is the only other sovereign-state with a square flag.

Destruction, removal or desecration of a Swiss, cantonal or municipal flag or coat of arms that has been installed by a public authority is punishable by a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to three years. The destruction or desecration of privately owned flags is legal. The use of the Swiss flag or coat of arms on merchandise is technically prohibited by the 1931 Federal Act for the protection of public coats of arms and other public insignia. This prohibition is not enforced. Zürich is overflowing with logos, clothing, home goods, and advertisements using the Swiss flag.

The Red Cross symbol is a reversal of the Swiss national flag. In 1863, the Red Cross was founded by the Swiss merchant Henri Dunant and the Swiss General Dufour. National Red Cross organizations in non-christian countries interpreted the Red Cross as a Christian symbol and replaced it by their own religious symbols. The color red on white background was retained. Today, three official Red Cross symbols are in use: the red cross, the red crescent, and a red crystal which is devoid of any national, political or religious connotation.

What do you think of the Swiss flag? Would you wear it? Would you eat it? Do you have a close tie to the flag of your birth country?

Sources used:
Wikipedia - Cross
Wikipedia - Rood
Wikipedia - Swiss Federal Council
Wikipedia - Swiss flag
Wikipedia - Fahne und Wappen der Schweiz
History of Switzerland's Flag
Red Cross - The history of the emblems

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ich han dich gern

For Valentine's Day, Fabian cooked a delicious dinner with recipes from Jamie Oliver. We devoured rosemary sole wrapped in fine bacon, minted peas, ginger broccoli, and the BEST avocado+ salad I've had in my life. After we finished feasting, he agreed to let me interview him about Love in Switzerland.


Is "Ich han dich gern" the Swiss equivalent to saying “I love you”?

Yes, it’s the equivalent but the direct translation is “I like you a lot”. Everything here is way toned down. When I grew up, I never heard parents say “Ich han dich gern” to a kid. The first time I heard parents tell their kids they love them was in the US.

What about “Ich liebe dich”?
That’s German, Hochdeutsch. I heard it a lot in German movies, but in daily life, I know Germans give compliments sparingly and also say “I love you” sparingly. They want to reserve it for when they really mean it. This is similar to how the Swiss are. Now I hear parents saying “Ich han dich gern” and I think that’s the influence of the Anglo Saxon world, the influence of other cultures, other habits.

There is the Swiss German word “Liebi” which means Love. The phrase “Liebi mache” means to make love.

How do you express love and affection in Switzerland?
The main difference between the US and Switzerland is that Americans say “I love you” in public a lot, even among friends, even among guys (“I love you man”). This is not common here. However, with couples, I don’t see any other difference than saying or not saying the phrase “I love you”.

So do couples say “Ich han dich gern” a lot?
No, not in public. I don’t know about in private. What’s very common is the use of nicknames: Schatzli, Schatz, Müsli, Hasli, which is the same as Darling, Honey, Bunny, etc.

Do you verbally express more affection now, after having lived in the US for 6 years?
Sure. I’m not cheap with compliments anymore. The Swiss and Germans are very sparse with compliments. This is the stereotype. Typically, “Nicht schlecht” ("Not bad") is traditionally a high compliment. Americans are the best sincere compliment makers vs. just flattering. The Swiss typically mistrust these compliments. They don’t think it’s sincere and they cannot imagine that Americans sincerely mean it. I think giving a lot of compliments is great. It’s not a scarce resource. This is something I deeply appreciate about American culture.

Other cultures seem like they have mastered the protocol of flattery. Americans are very spontaneous about giving a compliment. The Swiss typically mistrust this.

I can only speak for Zürich, but how people interact here has changed in the past 20 years. Every 3rd person here has a foreign passport.

When I moved to the US, an early version of "Values Americans Live By" by L. Robert Kohls, helped me become aware of how to look at American values without going into the typical Swiss stereotypes about Americans (shallowness, too happy, too self-confident, too positive). I wish he could describe the German or Swiss cultures. I’m sure he would do a great job.

What about the stereotypes about the Swiss?
There are different perceptions about the Swiss. Some say the Swiss are really friendly, but hard to open up. They don’t offer personal things on a silver plate. They are very happy but you need to dig a bit.

Why do so many Swiss marry foreigners?
This should be the topic of another entry.


What other questions do you, my dear readers, wish I had asked Fabian? What experiences have you had with... "I love you"!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hüffeli Eland

The first Swiss German phrase my future husband taught me is "Hüffeli Eland". He was visiting me in Brooklyn. I was depressed about him traveling back to Europe and resuming our long distance relationship. "Hüffeli" is a small pile. "Eland" is feeling wretched, being full of sorrow. Put the words together and they describe a small pile of wretchedness. Typically you say this to a sad little kid. Whenever a Swiss has heard me use this phrase, they smiled or laughed. The intonation is important. "Hüffeli" is at a higher pitch with "Eland" coming in low. I've had many opportunities to use it these past 13 weeks and I hope it's not prescient of my move across the ocean. Relocating to Zürich after living in New York City for 14 years has been harder than I imagined. One especially bleak day, Fabian came home and made me a special sandwich, pictured above, to cheer me up. It worked and was very tasty. I highly recommend it to all Hüffeli Elands.