Mountains, lakes, chocolate and cheese. Yeah, you may think you know Switzerland, but odds are you’re about to be surprised by at least a couple these interesting little factoids.

Here are five interesting facts about the Land of Milk and Honey that you probably didn’t know.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…


1. Swiss women only gained the right to vote in the 70s



Switzerland was late to the table when it came to women’s suffrage, granting Swiss women the right to vote at the federal level as late as 1971.

This decision trails Australia by some 70 odd years, and other European nations such as Germany, Austria, France and Italy by some 26 to 53 years. Isn’t it surprising that one of the world’s most democratic countries could be so far behind?

These days, Swiss women (and men) are able to participate in a form of direct democracy where they can vote on pretty much all aspects of their lives – from whether Switzerland should impose a minimum wage, to whether marijuana should be legalised, to whether a section of land should be demarcated as a National Park.


2. Military service is compulsory for men



For a country that doesn’t like to get involved in armed conflict, the Swiss law of compulsory military service is very surprising. According to the constitution, it’s compulsory for Swiss males to serve in the military when they turn 18. Swiss female citizens can join the military on a voluntary service.

Military service includes basic training which lasts between 18 and 21 weeks.

Interestingly, Swiss soldiers were known for being fierce warriors in the past, and had a reputation for discipline and extreme loyalty. It’s for these reasons that many of them were hired as mercenaries for foreign armies.

Obviously with Switzerland being neutral and all, this no longer happens. Yet you can still find modern-day Swiss soldiers as guards protecting the Vatican City – yep, the ones in those fancy uniforms and funny hats!


3. The Swiss love their guns almost as much as the Americans



What’s even more surprising is that Switzerland has the highest gun ownership levels after the USA.

This is because soldiers are  legally required to store their army-issued guns (semi-automatic rifles) after service in their homes. They are also required to practice their shooting every few years.

So the next time you’re in a store and a man enters with a gun, don’t be alarmed: he’s probably just on his way to the shooting range or just going home!


4. Switzerland has four national languages



Not one, not two, not even three, but four national languages are spoken in Switzerland, namely Swiss German (e.g. in Zurich), French (e.g. in Geneva), Italian (e.g. in Ticino) and Romansh.

Romansh is only spoken in the eastern canton of Grisons by fewer than 30,000 people, and is a derivative of the spoken Latin brought to the area by Roman soldiers and merchants following the region’s conquest in 15 BC.

And then of course there’s English, which most of the population are proficient in (around 60 percent).


5. Switzerland invented instant coffee



The next time you’re standing around the kettle waiting for the kettle to boil for your morning instant coffee, take a moment to thank Switzerland for inventing the stuff.

Nescafe was created in 1938 by the The Nestlé Company, which was started by Swiss businessman Henri Nestlé.

Today, Nescafe buys about 10 percent of the world’s coffee and cacao bean crops every year.

*If you’re about to head off to Switzerland – and we so recommend that you do – then you should definitely read this list of five things you need to know before heading over.

Were you surprised by any of these facts? Have any of your own? Let us know in the comments below…