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Old 17.05.2011, 20:32
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Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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)

Last edited by Dougal's Breakfast; 17.05.2011 at 20:45.
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:36
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Same question about England.

Re CH: no, but not quite sure where I'd draw the line. (as a Swisso-Brit). Too often, cultural identity (many kinds of identities- exclude by definition, and I don't like exclusion as a 'principle').
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:38
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Same question about England.
I don't care about England. I live in Switzerland.
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:39
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Reminds me of a joke...

What is the difference between Australians and yogurt?

If you leave yogurt long enough it may develop a culture.
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:41
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I don't care about England.
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... foreigners and Englishmen alike
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:52
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I don't care about England. I live in Switzerland.
It's not about whether you care about England or not (I do, I've still got my kids and grand-kids there, and many friends - and a bit of my heart will always be there) - but whether you believe that the question is particularly relevant to Switzerland, and let's say, not about England.
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Old 17.05.2011, 20:54
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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It's not about whether you care about England or not (I do, I've still got my kids and grand-kids there, and many friends - and a bit of my heart will always be there) - but whether you believe that the question is particularly relevant to Switzerland, and let's say, not about England.
Well, seeing as we're living in Switzerland and not England, then I'd say yes, it is particularly relevant to Switzerland.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:00
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

I also live part of my life., still, in England. I feel the question is just as relevant there. You seem to have 'given up' on England, I haven't- may well go back and live there some time. But fine, stick to Switzerland for now.

Globalisation is happening - and I'd hate to see the day where Europe, the World - become like UK cities are becoming- all the same. Same cafés, same shops, same restaurants, same everything. One culture, one or just a handful of languages, etc. And yet I hate 'excluding' Nationalism. An interesting and thought-provoking question (which could really apply to most countries undergoing great change at the moment).
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:05
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Not wanting to be considered German/Austrian/French/Italian is one major component of what unites the Swiss across cantonal boundaries. So yes, it's important. Change due to an influx of American or English workers wouldn't be (isn't) half as feared or frowned upon. Change that's perceived as being due to pressure from a large neighboring country is more threatening.

I know you've made it clear this isn't about England but if it helps as an analogy: does the word "Americanism" ever have positive connotations in English cultural commentary? The English might well have a soft spot for the US but we don't want it bringing over here thanks awfully old chap - is the impression I get.

I reckon that's about how the (German-speaking) Swiss feel about Germany, give or take.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:12
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Globalisation is happening - and I'd hate to see the day where Europe, the World - become like UK cities are becoming- all the same. Same cafés, same shops, same everything. One culture, one or just a handful of languages, etc.
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.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:23
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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this was local in a way you rarely see in Europe, right in the heart of the Great Globalist Satan itself.
I would like to add that, just as with the Swiss, the Brits, or the French, the average American thinks he has a long, important culture that should not be changed. And, as in all countries, there are plenty of rich businessmen that want to reap the benefits of being part of the "Great Globalist Satan".

And thank goodness for Global chains and international "bleeding"... if I had to live in Zurich eating Swiss food all the time I would lose my mind within a month.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:23
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Yes agree, it's interesting. And yet to see this sameness creeping all over British cities is quite striking. many British people see immigration as 'the' threat but for me, this sameness uniformity seems much more undermining of local culture. You can go to most large City centres in the UK, and you'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of individual shops and cafés/restos - and increasingly even, pubs all parts of large chains selling the same c***p food and beer. I'd certainly say that I am glad this is not happening so fast here in CH. Do you want all Swiss cities to have a McDo, a KFC, a couple of Costas and Starbucks, a Café Rouge, a Carlluccios, a Real Bburger Company, a Pizzahut, a chain Sushi, chain mexican, a few Weatherspoon pubs, M&S, Tesco, chain chemists, chain jewellers, chain boutiques, chain bakeries, chain .... I'd hate it.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:24
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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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.

.

For where you state greatest, substitute largest.

There is only one nation with Great in it's name
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:26
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Aren't you mixing things here?

In an intra-swiss context, I'd guess that a very large majority of Swiss-Germans would readily accept "papet vaudois" or "Gruyčre" to be as Swiss as "Rösti" or "Emmentaler". There is, certainly, an "us vs. them" thing going on between the different language groups (btw that is much more salient in the Romandie or the Ticino). However, the "Swiss cultural identity construct" does englobe these different aspects of what "being Swiss" is supposed to mean.
In a more international context, I'd think that Rivella et al. are just symbols, substitutes for the totem pole we cannot dance around with any more with our fellow members of the (our) tribe. Somehow we (humans) seem to need that comforting idea that we belong somewhere.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:27
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

I think the preservation of cultural identity is fine, as long as 1) It doesn't attempt to suppress the inevitable (ALL things evolve) and 2) It isn't fueled by the illusion that one's own culture is above all others.

Diversity is a beautiful thing... And if it wasn't for the process of amalgamation, then I somehow suspect that we'd all still be at war with our neighbors.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:28
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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I would like to add that, just as with the Swiss, the Brits, or the French, the average American thinks he has a long, important culture that should not be changed. And, as in all countries, there are plenty of rich businessmen that want to reap the benefits of being part of the "Great Globalist Satan".

And thank goodness for Global chains and international "bleeding"... if I had to live in Zurich eating Swiss food all the time I would lose my mind within a month.
But if you want Switzerland to be like 'back home' why don't you want to stay 'back home'. For me the attraction of going to live in the UK, as the young Swiss I was then - was BECAUSE it was different. And in those days, the luxury of picking foods from back home was a/ non existent b/ when rarely available, so vastly out of range for my meagre salary. What's the point of traveling half way across the world across the pond, if you'd rather be back t'other side? I feel far too many ex-pats here came for the kudos of a 'better' job and high salary- but with their hearts and mind still 'back home'. What is the point?
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:29
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

Correction:

Diversity is a beautiful thing... BUT if it wasn't for the process of amalgamation, then I somehow suspect that we'd all still be at war with our neighbors.
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:29
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

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Do you want all Swiss cities to have a McDo, a KFC, a couple of Costas and Starbucks, a Café Rouge, a Carlluccios, a Real Bburger Company, a Pizzahut, a chain Sushi, chain mexican, a few Weatherspoon pubs, M&S, Tesco, chain chemists, chain jewellers, chain boutiques, chain bakeries, chain .... I'd hate it.
They already do: I remember my excitement the first time I went to the Sihl City shopping mall in Zurich, thinking there was going to be something new and exciting to see, only to be greeted by an Interdiscount, a Coop, an Ochsner Sport, a C&A...

Yet still, despite that, Zurich is full of interesting and special shops. Glarnerland, Schwyz and St Gallen even more so.

It'll take a lot, an awful lot, to diminish the cultural richness of Switzerland. I don't think it's under any immediate risk.

So why the panic?
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:30
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

culture and history are such vast spaces and as you said are constantly moving.. everyone/every movement chooses the parts which fit their own understanding of themselves.

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".

Somehow similar to religion, eg christian religion. Eventhough "everything" is written down in the testaments or philosophical scriptures, seemingly more of a defined space of thought than culture/history, there are so many different lines of thought which can be drawn to today. Well so much for my pseudo-philosophical twaddle...

I'm probably trying too hard to see myself as an individual, detached from the past and accepted norms to which I have been born into.
Anyway back on topic, I do find this distance to standard german disturbing (for lack of a better word), as if it is not part of OUR swiss german culture..(diglossia hin oder her)
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Old 17.05.2011, 21:35
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Re: Cultural Identity: Why is it so important?

I wonder if this adherence to "old traditions" (which in fact may have been long lost and are as commercial and pushed on people for lot more pragmatic reasons than sentimental value) is for some basically just masked inflexibility. And pride. Change perceived negatively, because for some it means unnecessary adjustment, cash, whatever.

I was told a few times here that there is no real one national identity, just a melange of stuff from before that people try hard to hold onto, since 4 cultures cannot really find a common point. History, language, priorities are different, so people unite worshiping an artificially made concept, what media and tourist and positive image campaigns tell them. Cows, chocolate, watches, etc. I don't mean to make it sound banal, I love living in a place that quite often reminds me my home the way old school things are run. But sometimes I feel like trapped in a biodome, where the rule is to be resistant to change and sing the same loyalty mantra. I recall walking home at tourist areas and looking at the kitch tourist trinkets that were supposed to represent my culture (made in China and Italy), thinking, wow I don't even recognize these symbols. It's just commercialism. But if somebody tried to push Czech outa kindegarten, I am sure people would bitch.

I think the fact people are scared and defensive and worried about their culture does not necessarily indicate there is a reason to be scared, it may just tell us how they view the negative outside world spreading into theirs, not wanting to "dilute" their pure culture with it.
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