In the cosmopolitan cities of Geneva, Lausanne or Zurich, or in the rural valleys or in the mountain villages, the distinctive Swiss identity never fails to surprise its visitors.
Switzerland is the country with the most firearms per capita, just after the US. However, there is hardly any gun violence, and never any mass shootings. Every member of the Gobet family goes shooting, and the cupboards are full of assault rifles. Each year, Isabelle, Patrick and their children take part in the world’s largest shooting festival in the countryside. A large, popular and… peaceful gathering.
Although Switzerland is a neutral country, guaranteeing the inviolability of its territory and the right not to get involved in a conflict, it does have an army. It is even one of the few European countries where military service is compulsory. Regularly, Olivia, a 36-year-old from Geneva, swaps her lawyer’s gown for kahki and soldier’s boots. For three weeks, she gets her captain’s stripes back and makes life hard for the 120 men under her command. In a vast field transformed into a firing range, market gardeners with dreadlocks swap spades and rakes for rocket launchers, and Yohan, a 23-year-old refrigeration engineer, drives a tank worth five million euros. However, Swiss civic-mindedness obliges the shells to stop whistling at 11.50 a.m. to allow the farmers to put their cows back out to graze!
Switzerland is also the world champion of bunkers with three hundred and twenty thousand atomic shelters. The most spectacular ones are dug into the mountains.
With a superbly trained military, the country’s borders are jealously guarded. Here there is no free flow of goods with neighbouring countries. The customs officers are not only looking for drug dealers, but for smugglers too. The price of meat is twice as high in Switzerland as in France, so many Swiss people try to hide sausages, roast beef or ribs under the seats of their cars as they cross the border.
Switzerland has a very high level of security and surveillance. In Lausanne, from six o’clock in the morning, the agents of the cleanliness brigade are on the hunt for signs of incivility. Spitting on the ground, leaving a cigarette butt on the pavement, or throwing a can into the wrong bin are all crimes leading to heavy fines.
A model of an open but strict society, Switzerland fiercely defends its identity, its traditions, its idiosyncracies and its values. A unique investigation into the heart of a country that is unlike any other.