Welcome to Geneva!

Geneva - Pont des Bergues, by Xavier von Erlach

“Y en a point comme nous!” (There are none like us!). Like probably all nations on Earth, Swiss people are often convinced to live in a special (and God-blessed) country, the “land of milk and money”, as an irreverent Englishman wrote once. Apart from its gorgeous landscapes, Switzerland has many particular features, not always positive. As a new cohort of students arrives to spend some time here, we have selected books and films to introduce them to Switzerland and Geneva.

A complex history

Switzerland is a small, federal and multilingual country, and each canton has its own history. Joëlle Kuntz succeeded in summarising it in a fairly short book (dont nous possédons aussi la version originale française). You might be surprised by some of the things you learn – did you know that there was a civil war in Switzerland in the middle of the 19th century (Swiss style, with very few casualties) and that Swiss women had to wait until the 1970s to have the right to vote?

The Divine Order, Petra Volpe, 2017

Switzerland is proud of its neutrality and managed to remain neutral while Europe was in flames during both World Wars, but at what cost? And while being completely surrounded by the European Union, it is still refusing to join and has had a very complicated relationship with the ubiquitous giant, since December 6th, 1992. A relationship made more complicated by the local variant of populism.

Ziegler, Jean. La Suisse, l’or et les morts. Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1997.

Do you know the name of the Swiss president?

If you do, you are doing better than most Swiss! It changes each year, and it does not matter much anyway. Switzerland is famous for its direct democracy, and Swiss citizens vote about every 3 months, on all kinds of subjects, including a recent initiative about the horns of cows.

But a lot of Swiss residents do not have the opportunity to vote on these crucial matters, because they are not Swiss. Some of them were born in Switzerland, but Swiss citizenship is particularly difficult to obtain. The procedure can be quite absurd and an opportunity for good comedy. Swiss German humour is a thing, although some Romands (French-speaking Swiss) will tell you otherwise.

Money, money, money…

Switzerland welcomes rich foreigners with open arms but is often less friendly with the poor. Swiss and Genevan banks are both famous and heavily criticised, including by Jean Ziegler, a former professor at the Institute, who denounced their money laundering activities in the 1990s.

La forteresse, Fernand Melgar, 2008

A cosmopolitan city

In the 16th century, Geneva became home to Jean Calvin, the French Protestant reformer, and started to receive French and Italian protestant refugees. Later, it became the birthplace of the Red Cross and began a successful history as an international city by hosting the League of Nations after World War I. Geneva is a small city where people from many different countries have found their homes.

We hope that you will be happy to call it your home for a time. You can start, of course, by enjoying the lake and the beautiful scenery, and if you are interested in architecture, discover the many buildings of international organisations. We wish that this new period of your life will prove rewarding.


Find our selection on swisscovery and on display at the entrance of the library.

Don’t have a DVD player? Borrow a portable DVD player at the loan desk.

Illustration: Geneva and the lake, by Xavier von Erlach (Unsplash license)

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