After 10 days of living in Geneva, I’ve begun to recognize some of the norms of Swiss culture and society. Storefront windows displaying artisan cheeses and watches; a linguistic fusion of French, German, and Italian on food labels in grocery stores; and the ubiquitousness of the letters “CH”—on my visa, at the end of Swiss web addresses, the abbreviation for Swiss Francs (CHF). “Switzerland” has neither a C nor H, so naturally I was curious why these two letters are a Swiss trademark.
The first thing Google suggested when I typed “why is switz” into the search bar was “why is switzerland called ch?” Apparently, many people had the same question. I learned that “CH” is the international data code for Switzerland. It is derived from the country’s Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica, or Helvetic Confederation in English. The Helvetians were the first tribe to settle in this region of central Europe, according to the oldest historical records.
The Helvetians have left their mark all over the city. Geneva has streets with names like Boulevard Helvétique and Rue de la Confédération. Swiss coins are engraved with “Confoederatio Helvetica”. The French language also may use helvetique to describe something Swiss, or helvète, as used in the subtitle of this article I found for French class about a cooking competition. Swiss stamps bear the word “Helvetia” and in our common room, there’s a Swiss trivia game called Helvetiq.
Why use the Latin name? The famously neutral Swiss did not want to favor any of its four official languages—French, Italian, German, and Romansch—and thus resorted to its Latin translation.
My usual aversion to learning history has been slowly waning since my arrival here, especially after the Old Town tour last weekend. Every time I see the CH tailing web addresses, on vehicle registration plates, or on Swiss Francs, it reminds me of the Helvetic Confederation. Switzerland’s ancient allure may end up dragging my reluctant soul into the depths of its history, so I’ll be sure to share my journey with you all.