All residents of Switzerland are requested to keep an emergency food supply in their nuclear shelter. The food supply includes 1 to 2 kg per person of sugar, rice or pasta, oil or fat, protein rich food, carbohydrate rich food and food of your choice (if the bombs don’t get you the food will!). To this must be added liquids (nine litres per person), fuel cleaning materials, assorted extras such as medicines, rubbish sacks, spirit stove (for cooking), methylated spirits and iron tablets. Don’t forget essentials such as baby food, nappies (diapers), diabetic treatments, drugs and vitamin tablets. Washing powder is also one of the essential requirements, although most shelters have no running water and no toilet facilities. You should take a radio (although reception may be impossible). Most Swiss also keep a good supply of wine in their shelters (they plan to go out with a bang!).

The necessary foods are listed in a pamphlet called Household Reserves, available from your community or from the Bundesamt..”1

And that is a big “Wilkommen” to Switzerland. I think it’s interesting that a country that purportedly has remained neutral during world conflicts is decidedly prepared for

The inside of a large, thick cement shelter door.

nuclear disaster. Apparently every newly constructed building must have a nuclear shelter. Many smaller villages have a “community shelter” as well. I have to admit this kind of creeped me out. I mean, what do they know that we [Americans] don’t? I can go a lot of directions with this, but I think it’s safe to say that the Swiss prefer to remain neutral yet prepared.

That said, while the shelters in the homes are a basic and required part of the building specs, they are not all properly

A smaller second ‘escape hatch-like’ door. Notice how thick! Notice the potatoes at my feet.

stocked. Of the two that I saw personally, only one was half stocked with bags of potatoes, some bottles of wine, and maybe a barrel of apples or something. The rest of the space was clearly used for extra storage of tools and a random assortment of basement nick-knacks.

Another interesting thing about the preparedness of the Swiss is their army. Now, in the US we always have heard of that quintessentially red Swiss Army Knife. How often do we think about the actual Swiss Army? You know the one, that military which exists in this self-proclaimed neutral country. Weird and a tad oxymoronic, right? So you thought.

Here’s another thing that I did not know before: in Switzerland signing up for the military is compulsory for males between the ages of 19 and 34 [up to 50 in some cases], while for women it is voluntary. The way this works is that each person attends a basic training for approximately 18-21 months and is subsequently expected to remain available until they turn 34 years old. Each participant is issued a rifle and other GI paraphernalia and expected to maintain not only the

Imagine! In just about every house. That’s a lot of ready citizens.

materials issued but their own ability to effectively use them. Imagine therefore, that a majority of households in Switzerland have not only a nuclear shelter as their basement, but a trained soldier with rifle and gas mask.

Again, for some reason this seemed like a really unusual juxtaposition. Maybe it’s because I’m American, where it seems that it’s only the NRA and hunters who support safe gun handling, ownership, and use. Or, maybe it’s related to the fact that all these years I thought the Swiss chose neutrality over participation because they just didn’t havean army- even though I knew about the little red pocket knives.

The small serene Swiss village of Guttannen.

And it might be somehow related to the way Switzerland had occupied a serene, calm scene in my minds’ eye, where cow bells sounded across the alps, where happy people made cheese in their small family owned businesses, and where the best chocolate runs in rivers down to the place where they make the chocolate bars. [you know I’m kidding about that last one, right?]

At any rate, traveling provides ample opportunity to reconsider what we think, and often what we think isn’t even because we are consciously thinking about it but because it has been put there through media, books, movies, or family and cultural beliefs. Traveling and seeing things for oneself allows a possibility to break away from commercialisms and stereotypes that we have. In this case, however harmless mine might be, they’re still an incomplete image of a country that is incredibly together and well-planned in a zillion ways. It reminds me of a book I read recently called “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. In it he travels to various countries and discusses experiences and interactions he has with the people and shares reasons he finds a country a “happy” place to be or a “not happy” location. It’s entertaining and informative and I highly recommend it. In the meantime, I have to agree in part with his take on the Swiss. They are very organized, prepared, kind, giving, welcoming, neat, tidy, and really, for lack of better adjectives, have “all their ducks in a row”. One thing I can attest to is that this is the first country I’ve been to on this adventure where the drivers actually stop for a person walking across a street; and this is not dependent upon being in a legal crosswalk! Every time it happens I am still surprised: this after spending a few weeks in some other countries where you better look thrice before crossing.

So, the best chocolate, excellent cheese, multilingual people, great skiers, kind-hearted, gorgeous country. And a strong military? Nuclear shelters in every home? Seriously, what do they know that we don’t?

1 Taken from “Living and Working in Switzerland” 13th edition, p 287. David Hampshire, Survival Books, 2010.


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