A Swiss army soldier who greeted a colonel at the entrance to his barracks in Canton Wallis with a lively morning "bonjour" has been sentenced to four days in prison for his unsuitable greeting. 

"/> A Swiss army soldier who greeted a colonel at the entrance to his barracks in Canton Wallis with a lively morning "bonjour" has been sentenced to four days in prison for his unsuitable greeting. 

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Soldier jailed for saying ‘bonjour’ to superior

A Swiss army soldier who greeted a colonel at the entrance to his barracks in Canton Wallis with a lively morning "bonjour" has been sentenced to four days in prison for his unsuitable greeting. 

The 28-year old “Philemon K.”, from Wil in in eastern Switzerland, was on an army refresher course at the time of his misplaced pleasantry, Blick newspaper reported.

The chirpy soldier, who normally works as a car painter, said he had only wanted to be polite when he arrived for morning duty on September 12th at the St Maurice barracks in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, just south of Montreux.

“I was glad to be there and have always been a proud soldier,“ he said.

The incident occurred when the colonel arrived at the barracks in uniform but in a civilian vehicle. The soldier, who did not recognize his superior, asked to see his credentials as he greeted him with the decidedly unmilitary “bonjour”.

The soldier said the blunder led to him being interrogated by the enraged colonel for 45 minutes. He was then ordered to spend four days in prison, to be served after his army course.

Philemon K. said he is disappointed as he never has had any problems in the army before.

“How am I supposed to explain this to my employer? What will he think of me when I tell him I have to go to jail?“ he asked.

The soldier said he even wrote the colonel a letter to say sorry, but his apology was not accepted.

Peter Malama, an FDP (Liberal) member of parliament and himself a colonel, told Blick he believed a reprimand would have sufficed as he decried the punishment as an excessive “display of power”. 

Philemon K. said he is hoping to be relieved of his punishment as he has to return to work and cannot afford to go to the military court to plead his case.

“I feel totally powerless and at their mercy,“ he said.

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SWISS ARMY

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Once foreigners become citizens of Switzerland they get new benefits as well as responsibilities. Military service is one of the latter but does everyone have to do it?

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?
Once you become Swiss, military service becomes obligatory. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Many foreigners wonder why Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a war in modern times, needs an army in the first place.

But military presence is ubiquitous in Switzerland, stretching far beyond the practical Swiss army knives.

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. Military service for women is voluntary and those who choose to do so will be pleased to know they can wear new, comfortable underwear designed just for them.

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military no longer forced to wear men’s underwear

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. This was an experience of one of our readers, Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, who said that since he became naturalised “the military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

READ MORE: ‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

What if you are a dual national?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

But wait, there’s more

In case you have to serve but for some reason can’t, you’re not off the hook.

If the army won’t get you, taxes will.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

What if you perform the Civil Defence service instead of the military?

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40

Civil service has, however, proven its mettle during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when  around 4,000 civilian volunteers were supporting the emergency services and hospitals.

If you are part of civil defence service, you are entitled to a deduction from the annual military service exemption tax. For every day you worked for civil defence, you can deduct this tax by 4 percent.

This website (in German, French and Italian) explains how to apply for Civil Service.

Does serving as Vatican Papal Guard disqualify you from the military service?

Nice try, but no.

They are not soldiers but part of the Vatican City police force.

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