“Röstigraben” divides Switzerland

A wanderer stands next to the cross at the peak of the Chruez, some 2,200 metres high, as she watches the scenery of the mountains surrounding Stels in the canton of Graubuenden in the Swiss Alps, Friday Aug. 13, 2004. (AP Photo/Keystone, Arno Balzarini)

In Switzerland, there is a kind of cultural differences called “röstigraben.” Switzerland has up to 4 official languages; hence it is always regarded as a place where many languages and multiple cultures are blending. In fact, Switzerland was divided in many different regions with language, and among these regions, “röstigraben” is the gap between German region and French region.

Röstigraben is made up with two words, “rösti” and “graben.” Rösti is a kind of traditional vegetable hash brown and graben means a trench. The combination of these two words becomes the symbolization of the barrier between the German region and French region in Switzerland. In World War 1, although Switzerland claimed to be neutral, Swiss people still have respective positions depending to their regions of different languages. People speaking French had sympathy for France, and those speaking German supported Germany. Divergence arose from here.

Fried grated potatoes (Rösti) with salmon Photo by: Robert Schlesinger/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

In addition to the differences in diet and the positions in war, there is a distinction of the personalities between Swiss from two regions. The people in German region are more rigorous, careful and valuing freedom and they do not like to see the government have too much decision-making power, and even hope the country is independent of the EU. However, the people in French region are quite opposite. They have open mind and don’t concern that the government has taken too much power. The French are particular about food, and there are multiple restaurants with different cultures in French region, yet in German region, most restaurants are pizza or Turkish BBQ stores. It does mean the languages influence much to the regional culture.

“I think the people in French region lead a more leisurely life, and it’s normal to see them drink white wine at noon in the workday. Nonetheless, the people living in German region has less sense of humor, and they are even stricter and more rigid than Japanese,” A CEO of a NGO in Switzerland, Manuela Bianchi, explained.

Röstigraben doesn’t exist on any maps. If it must be marked, it roughly equal Saane/Sarine River. It’s a psychological boundary which has been clear for Swiss people lying in their mind. According to the local survey, there are only half of the Swiss in German region cross the röstigraben once a year, and 15% of those never haven’t done even once in their whole life. “Crossing the röstigraben is just like migrating in a dangerous and unfamiliar country, plus you cannot understand any words from the locals,” Bianchi noted.

Image taken from Wikipedia

Switzerland has four official languages. Despite the German spoken by 64% of Swiss and French spoken by 23%, there are also Italian and Romansh, whose percentage is respectively 8% and 0.6%. Since there are more than two official languages, more than one “graben” exists in Switzerland. Besides röstigraben, they also have “polentagraben” between Italian region and others. In fact, only 8% of Swiss speak Italian, and most of them live in the southernmost state of Ticino. The Brazilian scholar Paulo Goncalves moved to Ticino about 10 years ago. “At the beginning as I moved here, people kept telling me that there are barely differences between Ticino and Italy.”

Image taken from Wikipedia

As a nation having four official languages, not really many Swiss speak two or more languages, so that the nutrition facts on the packages of food are written in more than three languages, and it’s needed to translate slides in four languages in a seminar. However, because the German speakers surpass others, the German culture dominates the image of Switzerland. For instance, Swiss are always regarded punctual and rigorous; in fact, they are just characteristics of Swiss speaking German.

The differences of cultures and languages build a visible wall which is unrelated to politics. Although disagreements to each other arise often, these people still can get along as an identification of the same nation. In fact, the Switzerland government has been based on federalism since 1848, and about that, there’s one word created by Swiss to describe it “willensnation” which means a nation established with a common will of people. The auther Christophe Büchi explained that the pragmatism behind the Switzerland politics is enough to deal with the problems due to the differences of cultures in his book Mariage de raison which tells about intangible barriers of languages in Switzerland. “The real official language of Switzerland is actually coordination.“

Fribourg (Freiburg or Freiburg im Uechtland) is a city in the country of Switzerland and the capital of the Swiss Canton of Fribourg on the river Saane (french Sarine) – Old Town View | usage worldwide Photo by: Johanna Hoelzl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images