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Seven strange Swiss superstitions foreigners should know about

Just when you thought you have mastered all the ins and outs about life Switzerland, there are more wacky things you need to know about to be truly integrated into local culture.

Seven strange Swiss superstitions foreigners should know about
Superstitions about witchcraft abound.Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Overall, the Swiss are very pragmatic and rational but, like people everywhere, they sometimes believe in truly weird things — and not just on Halloween.

Some beliefs and superstitions are the same as in other countries and have taken hold in all of Switzerland’s linguistic regions— for instance, fear of number 13 or of black cats crossing the road in front of you — while others are derived from local customs.

Here are some of them.

Step on (in) it

Not surprisingly, one of the superstitions that has taken root pretty much everywhere in Switzerland has to do with cows.

More specifically, many people believe that if you accidentally step into cow’s dung (not that anyone would actually do it on purpose), you will come into money.

That’s a good thing, because you will need it to buy a new pair of shoes.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The devil lives in the Alps

At the border of cantons Vaud and Valais, stands the glacier of Les Diablerets, which in French means the abodes of devils. Many people believe it is so named after the evil spirits who roamed — and possibly still roam — there.

However, the Swiss have adopted a…”devil-may-care” attitude about this legend; after all, Les Diablerets is one of the most popular ski domains in both cantons, so to hell with the superstitions.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Casting a spell

Witches have a prominent role in superstitions, particularly in the Swiss-German part, where they are called “hexen.”

If you want to know if someone is a witch, you have to lick them on the forehead. If it tastes salty, indicating that the person is indeed a witch or a sorcerer, you must rush into a church and collect dust from three angles. Then pick up three different types of wood and light it to “smoke” the witch.

More witches…and cows

Sorcerers, it is believed, can put their spells on all creatures big and small, including cattle.

If that happens to a bull of yours,  draw a cross on the inside and outside of the barn, light a fire, and throw in flowers from the churchyard to ward off the spell.

And if you accidentally step into dung on your way out of the barn, all the better!

The “13”  controversy

When it comes to number 13, three opposing views prevail in Switzerland.

One maintains that it is unlucky and to be avoided at all costs. Among them are SWISS airline, which doesn’t have row 13 on any of its aircraft, and another is University Hospital in Zurich, which doesn’t have room number 13.

In the opposing camp is the casino in St. Moritz, where 13 is celebrated as a lucky number. On the 13th of each month, visitors have the opportunity to take part in a raffle at 12:13 a.m. and possibly receive a main prize.

Then there is a third group in Switzerland — those who don’t care one bit about number 13. In fact, rumour has it they want to launch a referendum to eradicate number 13 once and for all.

Plant a tree

Of course, not all superstitions relate to bad luck.

One of the good ones relates to a wedding tradition.

Some newlyweds in Switzerland plant a tree outside their home to bless their union, and bring good luck and fertility to the marriage.

Photo by Trần Long from Pexels

Lucky charms

In some parts of the country, a pig is seen as a symbol of good luck, particularly at New Year, when people offer their friends and loved ones marzipan pigs as New Year gifts.

This belief dates to the Middle Ages, when owning a lot of pigs was a sign of wealth and prosperity.

There is no research to indicate whether this method is more effective than stepping in cow dung.

It may just be a matter of luck.

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CULTURE

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

Depopulation threatens the future of Switzerland's picturesque mountain villages, but three brothers are trying to keep theirs alive by capturing its essence in a bottle.

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

In the one-road hamlet of Souboz, nearly 900 metres (2,950 feet) up in the Jura mountains, the nature-loving Gyger brothers distill whatever they forage, such as gentian roots and juniper, in a bid to sustain the local economy.

Switzerland is trying to stave off the slow-motion extinction of its remote communities as young people move to the cities for jobs and opportunities.

Thanks to a grant from the Swiss Mountain Aid foundation, the Gygers were able transform their grandfather’s old home into the Gagygnole distillery,
turning professional a couple of years ago.

The name comes from eldest brother Gaetan’s nickname Gagy, and gnole — French slang for a drop of the hard stuff.

On the ground floor of an old farmhouse, the scent of coriander and juniper berries hangs in the air, while warmth emanates from the 2.5-metre-high copper still in which Gaetan distills gin over a wood fire.

“This production site has been in our lives since we were very young. We really have roots anchored in our village,” he told AFP.
 An agronomist by training, Gaetan, now 30, had studied in Geneva.

“We didn’t want to set up in the city,” he said, despite the bigger potential client base.

 Mountains in Swiss DNA

The brothers’ choice is a rare one in Switzerland.

The mountains cover 70 percent of the country, but three-quarters of the population lives on the plain between the Juras in the north and the Alps in
the south and east.

Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich all lie in the area of relatively flat terrain between the two mountain ranges.

The mountain villages are emptying, their grocery stores are closing and, as in Souboz, the schools are shutting, too, as the population gradually
shifts ever more towards the lower-lying towns and cities.

The population of Souboz has dropped from 135 in 2012 to 85 last year.

Faced with the slow-motion exodus, some villages are trying everything they can to reverse the tide, including financial incentives to attract newcomers,
such as offering empty houses for a symbolic sum of one Swiss franc.

READ MORE: ‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

And Swiss Mountain Aid provides funding to hundreds of entrepreneurs, such as the Gyger brothers, to bring jobs and business to the hills.

The mountains are “part of our genes, our DNA”, but “if we want to keep the mountains alive, there must be people”, said the foundation’s chairman Willy Gehriger. “We act like the spark,” he explained.

Established in 1943 to help lift mountain dwellers out of poverty, the privately-funded foundation mainly supported farmers initially — but broadened its scope around a dozen years ago. Now it helps small businesses, installs Wi-Fi, pays for computer courses and funds the transformation of dilapidated listed buildings into tourist accommodation.

Gehriger said the agricultural sector alone was no longer enough to keep the mountains thriving.

 Message in a bottle

 Dressed in baseball caps and t-shirts and armed with an iPad, the Gygers are far from the stocky, rustic, grumpy stereotype of mountain men.They are on a mission to repopulate Souboz and revive the economy in the local Juras.

“We’re aware of doing something good for Souboz. Our mountain regions have enormous potential. They’re really something that we Swiss should be proud of,” said middle brother Luca, 27.

Their gamble has paid off as the family business has a handful of employees and occasionally takes on local artisans and farmers to help bottle up the
brothers’ original gin, whisky and vodka recipes.

Last year, they produced 18,000 bottles of spirits.

Gagygnole’s eaux de vie are sold in 200 shops around Switzerland and one of their concoctions was voted the best gin in the country last year — while the brothers’ gin fondue is also a hit.

The Gygers think it is still too early to consider exporting.

“We always refused because it was difficult in terms of logistics, but why not… as long as it goes with our philosophy,” said 26-year-old Tim.
 

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