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Old 17.05.2011, 22:45
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Cultural identity can't be addressed unless we clearly accept and understand that it is by nature dynamic and multidimensional:
- dynamic because it nurtures itself from the interaction with other cultures and civilizations. Therefore it is in constant evolution and change on a time scale that is not necessarily perceptible when considering a person's lifespan.

- multidimensional because it integrates religious, social, regional etc.. aspects. You are never just swiss. But you are also catholic/protestant, bourgeois or worker, from Wallis or St.Galler. It's a composite of sub-identities. The racist will reduce the other to just one dimension: the black, the jew, the barbar, the muslim and deny the other dimensions.

Why do we concentrate on swiss identity?

We had till early 1990 a conflict of ideologies (i.e communist/socialist vs capitalist/liberal). After the end of communism and the emergence of globalization we shifted the conflict on the cultural/civilization level. This resulted in the strengthening of nationalism and racism which refuse to see the dynamic and multidimensional aspect of cultural identities. It's the collective delirium of the one and eternal national identity reduced to its one-dimensional fundamental aspect (be it racial, religious or geographical).

So the final answer is that this is coherent with the increasing power of nationalism as a reaction to global change. But of course the dynamic and multidimensional Switzerland will continue to exist!

PS: I am now Swiss with a mixture of european/middle-east cultures, my kids are born here. In my family we have a lot of things in common but yet each one is unique. Very similar yet very different.
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Old 17.05.2011, 22:49
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

I looked at the parking lot today at the nearest French Carrefour while being there to do the weekly shopping and, surprise, 80% of the parked cars were CH. So, I wonder if the panic has something to do with these fast changes. People not wanting to sing the mantra anymore, and actually making decisions for themselves. Not wanting to be pushed into poor customer service, companies people outsourcing better workforce, people leaving the country for more flexible careers and education.

I think the potential economical aftermath might have to do something with the panic, with nationalism, sticking to the concept of something old that is endangered, etc. It is always easier to panic, point fingers at evil coming from the outside, than offer better the services, offer more for the franc, flexibly improve quality of life here without the enormous price tag.
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Old 17.05.2011, 22:58
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Two and a half thousand years ago, western and central Europe was dominated by the culture of the Celts. From their original homeland in the Upper Danube, they took their language and their customs over mountains and across rivers, from the Atlantic coast to the deserts of Anatolia, from the Alps to the Ardennes. Until those cheeky Latin upstarts from the south appeared, it must have seemed like Celtic culture would live on forever, crushing lesser cultures under its enormous tartan wheels on its way to Tartary and beyond.

Today, apart from a couple of dying languages in the rain soaked islands of the North Atlantic and a fondness for plaid amongst a certain kind of sentimental Canadian, the culture of the Celts is dead. The Romans came, then the Germans came, then Christianity came, then industry came, then the tanks came, then television came, and now, were you to ask a fisherman sitting on the banks of the Upper Danube what his culture was, his answer would have nothing to do with that which passed two millennia ago. Perhaps he drinks Tannenzaepfle beer, perhaps he wears a Burberry rain jacket, perhaps he watches the Eurovision song contest, perhaps he likes Country and Western. Whatever he is, though, he aint no Celt.

Is this man any less of a man for not maintaining the culture of his ancestors? Is Europe any poorer for not being a Celtic continent? Does anybody really care any more? Should they?

I ask because there has been a lot of fuss in the Swiss newspapers recently about maintaining the cultural identity of Switzerland. The people of Zurich have just voted to exclude the use of one of the official languages of Switzerland from their kindergartens, partly on the grounds that they don't want to see their "cultural identity" eroded.

What is this cultural identity of which they speak? Switzerland has a very rich culture - of that there is no doubt - but how much of it is original, how much is set in stone? Most Swiss in the centre and east of the country speak one of the many dialects of Allemanish German - but are their French, Italian and Rumantsch speaking compatriots any less Swiss for not speaking one of these dialects? Is eating Roesti any more or less Swiss than eating Saussicon Vaudois with potato gratin and leeks? Is it, for that matter, any more or less Swiss than eating a Doner Kebab or Currywurst? If so - why? What makes Roesti particularly Swiss, given that potatoes are a relatively recent import to the country, as alien to a 16th Century Swiss as a kebab?

A hundred and fifty years ago, there was no Rivella, no Migros, no Feldschloessli beer. But there was a Switzerland.

Conversely, a hundred and fifty years ago there must have been many distinctively Swiss things, lost forever. Yet still there is a Switzerland.

Culture changes all the time - things are lost, things are gained, people die and people emigrate, people are born and people immigrate. What makes Switzerland Swiss will continue to change just as it has changed since those chaps made their pledge on the Ruetli meadow back in 1291. Yet Switzerland is still Swiss, and is likely to continue being Swiss for a long time to come.

Is Swissness really dependent on a fixed cultural identity, to be preserved at all costs against foreign intrusion and influence?

What do you think? (Comments welcome from born-Swiss, new-Swiss, foreigners and Englishmen alike)
No Rivella and Sinalco ? OMG ! THIS must have been horrible

And Celtic .... ? At least, on all cars here you have the CH abbreviation and even the currency CHF reflects that Celtic tribe in question
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  #24  
Old 17.05.2011, 23:04
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

OK, here we we go...

Listening to 'Broke Down Palace' by the Dead (whom I have seen live in '77 at my school) as we speak (from the album American Beauty).

Anyway, it is, but only sort of.

After 25 years here, I don't view myself as American (and legally I'm not).

My kids view themselves as Swiss of US and CA origin, but neither US nor Canadian.

The one nationality I have that encompasses my entire nuclear family (kids, step kids, girlfriend, etc) is that all are Swiss.

But there is no SWISS identity!

Ticino is Ticino, ZH is ZH, and SG (the only Swiss canton named after an Irish dude, as am I) are each their own thing.

We all accept this. My girlfriend's heimatort is 15km from mine (hers in ZH and mine in SG), yet my German sucks and hers is non-existant!

So, sorry, cultural identity IS important!

I just love showing up somewhere and pointing out that we've be Swiss longer than they have been!

Tom
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:06
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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To my knowledge todays understanding of the Rütli story is heavily influenced by Guisan and the world war, and didn't have the same importance (at least in some parts of the country) as today. To me it seems these things get watered down and parts are excluded until one can see oneself in the line of succession and it gives reasons or a foundation to thoughts/actions one is considering "today".

Same thing with neutrality: A lot of people will forget about the swiss being the top notch mercenaries of Europe for a long time and go all "Niklaus von der Flüe" on you, quoting his famous saying "machet den zuun nid zuwit" (do not build the fence too large= stay modest with your ambitions) when in fact the beginnings of swiss neutrality ("defensionale von Wil" etc.) were as realpolitiky as it gets, stemming from a rather unromantic assessment of the situation after the battle of Marignano and the 30 years' war. Later on, staying neutral was not exactly a swiss decision but rather granted by the 5 big powers during the congress of Vienna.

So that part of our identity is nothing but a social construct that does not seem to have much to do with our actual history. But, it serves a purpose as a symbol of how "we" want to see ourselves and so it does have a certain reality to it.
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:09
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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At least, on all cars here you have the CH abbreviation and even the currency CHF reflects that Celtic tribe in question..
..which may have come to the swiss plateau from southern Germany.
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:13
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Same thing with neutrality: A lot of people will forget about the swiss being the top notch mercenaries of Europe for a long time and go all "Niklaus von der Flüe" on you, quoting his famous saying "machet den zuun nid zuwit" (do not build the fence too large= stay modest with your ambitions) when in fact the beginnings of swiss neutrality ("defensionale von Wil" etc.) were as realpolitiky as it gets, stemming from a rather unromantic assessment of the situation after the battle of Marignano and the 30 years' war. Later on, staying neutral was not exactly a swiss decision but rather granted by the 5 big powers during the congress of Vienna.

So that part of our identity is nothing but a social construct that does not seem to have much to do with our actual history. But, it serves a purpose as a symbol of how "we" want to see ourselves and so it does have a certain reality to it.
Well, I only have a loose understanding of Swiss history, but as I recall that when different Swiss groups were fighting each other (for the French and the Italians) that they finally figured it wasn't a good idea.

Marignano anyone?

" It resulted in a victory for French forces. It was one of the most savage and (for the Swiss) decisive battles of the age."

Tom
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:21
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

But even the Helvitii tried to escape Switzerland. Killed their beasts, burnt their houses and crops- and tried to flee to Gaul- but Ceasar stopped them and sent them back. Poor blighters.

I know, learning a new language is much harder for some than others- but I just do not get it, 25 years here and your German sucks that IS slow going (sorry).
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  #29  
Old 17.05.2011, 23:32
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Well, I only have a loose understanding of Swiss history, but as I recall that when different Swiss groups were fighting each other (for the French and the Italians) that they finally figured it wasn't a good idea.

Marignano anyone?

" It resulted in a victory for French forces. It was one of the most savage and (for the Swiss) decisive battles of the age."

Tom
Huh? In what way is that contradicting what I said?

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Only the mid-morning arrival of allied Venetian forces commanded by the condottiero Bartolomeo d'Alviano turned the tide against the Swiss. Their attacks repulsed everywhere, their ranks in bloody shambles, they grudgingly gave ground and withdrew. The battle was a decisive victory for Francis. By the peace of Noyon (1516), Milan was returned to France. The Swiss returned to their cantons and never went to war against France again.
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Marignano established the superiority of French cast bronze artillery and gendarme cavalry over the heretofore invincible phalanx tactics of the Swiss infantry.
Realpolitik, innit? No "neutral national character" just loosing battles and interior conflicts.
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:32
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I know, learning a new language is much harder for some than others- but I just do not get it, 25 years here and your German sucks that IS slow going (sorry).
Pssst - Odile - I wouldn't take comments like that too literally unless there is some other reason to do so. Contrary to most of the stereotypes, modesty and understatement are still very much the done thing in many American circles.
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:54
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Pssst - Odile - I wouldn't take comments like that too literally unless there is some other reason to do so. Contrary to most of the stereotypes, modesty and understatement are still very much the done thing in many American circles.
That and the fact that he lives in Lugano.


Back to the OP, I think regarding the original point of the thread the use of Swiss German in kindergarden, has more to do with keeping a language from dying out, no? Personally I'm a huge fan of languages and it always breaks my heart to hear things like "only 10 native speakers remain", etc. But the fact is you can't forcibly keep a language going. Somehow I really can't see Swiss German going away anytime soon. So, the whole issue, IMO, is really much ado about nothing.
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Old 17.05.2011, 23:54
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Pssst - Odile - I wouldn't take comments like that too literally unless there is some other reason to do so. Contrary to most of the stereotypes, modesty and understatement are still very much the done thing in many American circles.
LOL, there you go - huge differences in the US too. I have met both 'types' - those who are, and those who aren't. You are not from NY are you?
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Old 18.05.2011, 00:02
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I know, learning a new language is much harder for some than others- but I just do not get it, 25 years here and your German sucks that IS slow going (sorry).
I live in Ticino.

I speak French/Italian at work.

I speak English/Italian at home.

I can function in German/SG, but it sucks, as I dont use it much (i.e. when I'm paid to do so, or when I'm speaking with a bunch of drunken motorcyclists).

Of course, 'sucks' to me still means that I'm functionally literate (i.e. I can write bad emails to our heimatorts and they understand them!)

Tom
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Old 18.05.2011, 00:04
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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LOL, there you go - huge differences in the US too. I have met both 'types' - those who are, and those who aren't. You are not from NY are you?
50km (CT).

Tom
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Old 18.05.2011, 00:49
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Pssst - Odile - I wouldn't take comments like that too literally unless there is some other reason to do so. Contrary to most of the stereotypes, modesty and understatement are still very much the done thing in many American circles.

My relatives are NOT in those circles ! as they are Texans, and of course live in "the largest state in mainland USA" and are content to only have one star in their flag because "why would TX need any more star" ? AND things in TX are biggest and largest anyway so what

Hospitality in TX is absolutely great, but I never at any time had the impression that "modesty + understatement" are the fortes of the Texans ... and the Louisianans are not so very different
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Old 18.05.2011, 01:30
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Do you think there's a real risk of that, though? I visited America for the first time at Christmas and the thing that really struck me was how much local culture there was, in amongst the Walmarts and Taco Bells.

At every truckstop between New York City and Chicago there was a different selection of soft drinks and local snacks; as we crossed each county, a new radio station with different voices; at each restaurant a different menu (my favourite was the Pennsylvania Dutch one, but there were all sorts). We stayed in a dingy hotel in the Poconos where they were unable to fix the phone to make an international call - nobody had ever tried to make one before: this was local in a way you rarely see in Europe, right in the heart of the Great Globalist Satan itself. Somehow the states through which we travelled have all managed to maintain their unique stateness despite being surrounded by McDonalds and Coca-Cola and all the other stuff about which cultural purists worry.

I even met people speaking some weird Allemanish dialect in the supermarket, right in the middle of the greatest English speaking nation on the planet.

Culture is resilient. And if parts of it die, other parts of it thrive, like an ancient, blasted oak in the middle of a field with a sapling growing out of it.

Globalism isn't as dangerous as people give it credit for: local people will always want to remain local, and will adapt accordingly to maintain their exclusionary stance.
The problem with American culture in the terms mentioned above is that is is homogeneous. Much like the Swiss culture. Sure, you get some regional differences - in the US you won't find Moon Pies in the north, in Texas it is easier to find a good burrito than in Ohio, the southwest is full of references to the native americans that you won't find elsewhere. But there's still a McDonalds, Starbucks, Wal-Mart selling mostly the same products in one state as they do in another.

It is similar in Switzerland. As you've mentioned, there's the chains which you'll find everywhere. Most Swiss cities have a MediaMarkt, and all cities and most villages will have a Coop or Migros (and if they didn't, Migros used to bring a truck out to them for mobile shopping). You can find things in Zurich that you can't find in Basel, etc. - but the core products are the same. When I first moved to Basel, I went back to Zurich to shop now and again, only to discover that I was going into the same shops in Zurich that I did in Basel, so why bother. Except for the small niche shops, which are disappearing in both Switzerland and the US.

But culture isn't just the goods you can buy in the shops. The influence of outside entities can also impact the nature of a country. I know you don't want to hear much of the UK in this discussion, but I think the parallel is important.

I first visited the UK in 1997. Back then, I was amazed at the grocery stores, with their five brands of breakfast cereals and weird quirky things. Living here now, much of that consumer culture I found is gone, replaced with Wal-Mart style products via ASDA, coffee shops via Starbucks (which inspired similar shops) instead of small individually-owned cafes, etc. It feels very different here than it did a short 14 years ago, and I don't think for the better.

There is a very distinct Swiss culture, one I recognize a mile off. And sometimes I quite miss it. Particularly on a Sunday when I'm doing my laundry with the (rather unusual for a house conversion the UK) shared machines and they're dirty with no facilities to clean them unless you bring them to your own flat to do it. But I celebrate with a good Sunday afternoon vacuum cleaning and remember how nice it was to have alles in ordnung (everything in order)...and how I'd like to import some of that here.
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Old 18.05.2011, 01:43
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Particularly on a Sunday when I'm doing my laundry with the (rather unusual for a house conversion the UK) shared machines and they're dirty with no facilities to clean them unless you bring them to your own flat to do it.
Very unusual, I would say - where on earth are you in the UK? And I do not get what you mean by 'with no facilities to clean them unless you bring them to your own flat to do it' ...

Thank goodness that you can, at least, vacuum on Sundays (and presumably use the loo afer 10pm too)
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Old 18.05.2011, 01:57
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Off topic, but I couldn't resist correcting you, Wolli, since you are generally the font of all wisdom -- or am I correcting your relatives?

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... they are Texans, and of course live in "the largest state in mainland USA 'the contiguous 48' " ...
... since the only US state that isn't on the mainland is Hawaii, and Texas is a touch bigger than that.

Your relatives actually referred to Texas as a State? Well, seems they are modest and unassuming after all, for Texans!
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Old 18.05.2011, 02:04
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Very unusual, I would say - where on earth are you in the UK? And I do not get what you mean by 'with no facilities to clean them unless you bring them to your own flat to do it' ...

Thank goodness that you can, at least, vacuum on Sundays (and presumably use the loo afer 10pm too)
I'm in Manchester. And no sink in the cellar to wash the drawer thing for detergent, so to clean it you have to bring it up to your flat and wash it out in the bathtub. I'm the only one who bothers to do it, too.

I can not only use the loo after 10, but shower! Ah, the freedoms!
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Old 18.05.2011, 02:49
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I don't care about England.
Never thought I'd see you write those words, DB!
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