Ten things Geneva residents take for granted

If you are a longtime Geneva resident, chances are you are no longer appreciating how special some of these things are.

Lake Geneva is one of the things that should not be taken for granted.
The city of Geneva - including the Jet D'Eau - on a beautiful day. Photo by Lukas Blaskevicius on Unsplash

If you live in Switzerland’s second-largest city, you have probably heard complaints ranging from “too expensive” to “too many French people here”.

However, you don’t need to look far or long to find good things about Geneva — the kind of things that residents (or visitors to the city) should not overlook.

Here are ten things you might (but should not) take for granted.

A melting pot of nationalities

Of all of Switzerland’s cities, Geneva is the most international.

Some 42 percent of residents are foreign nationals, giving the city a distinct cosmopolitan flavour. For that reason, it is much easier for foreigners to integrate and “feel at home” in Geneva than, say, in a small community where the vast majority of residents are native Swiss.

READ MORE: Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

Proximity to France

As Geneva lies right on the French border, shopping in the neighbouring communities in France has become a popular and frequent activity.

Cars with Geneva license plates parked in front of French supermarkets are a commonplace sight.

As food and many other products are cheaper across the border, the “shopping tourism” allows Genevans to save quite a bit of money.

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

Local communities

True, Geneva is big (by Swiss standards) city of just over 620,000 people, yet it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of a large urban centre.

Rather, it conveys a “homey” feeling of a smaller town thanks to the various districts and neighbourhoods that make up this city, such as the Old Town, Eaux-Vives, Plainpalais, and Carouge.

READ MORE: Ten reasons why Geneva is a great place to live

Important role in world history

Geneva has played a major part in international diplomacy and politics, starting with the creation of the League of Nations in 1920 to resolve international disputes.

Currently, dozens of United Nations and other international organisations are headquartered in Geneva, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), and International Labour Organisation (ILO).

READ MORE: Can I rent my apartment on Airbnb in Geneva and what are the rules?

…and speaking of history

You can’t speak of Geneva’s past without mentioning that it is the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1863 by a local doctor Henri Dunant.

The history of this humanitarian movement is documented in the Red Cross Museum, located just steps away from the United Nations building (Palais des Nations).

Employment opportunities

A number of big multinational corporations are headquartered in Geneva, which means there are many job opportunities for skilled professionals.

READ MORE: Five quiet places to escape the bustle of Geneva

The canton is also home to some iconic Swiss companies, such as Rolex and Patek Philippe watches.

Plus, it is an important science hub, as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the famed home of the Large Hadron Collider, is here as well.

 Swiss watch manufacturer Rolex is located in Geneva. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Public transportation

Geneva’s extensive network of trams and trolleybuses covers not only the city and canton, but also the neighbouring French communities, known as “Grande Genève” (Greater Geneva).

So it is easy to leave the car behind and go practically anywhere in the city and surrounding areas by public transport.

Léman Express train connects Geneva with French towns. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

READ MORE: Geneva’s new regional cross-border trains to run all night on weekend

Excellent health care

Generally speaking, all Swiss cities provide high-quality medical services to their residents, but Genevans are lucky to have a major public medical facility on their turf.

The university hospital (HUG), which is not only the largest in Switzerland, but also one of the biggest in Europe, has a number of top specialists in their fields.

There are also private hospitals in Geneva, including Hôpital de la Tour.

READ MORE: Geneva hospitals call for volunteers as Covid-19 virus surges

Lake Geneva

Known here as Lac Léman, the 73-km-long, crescent-shaped lake is an integral part of Geneva, stretching all the way into the foothills of the Alps in Vaud to the east and France’s Haute-Savoie region to the south.

In the summer, a number of Geneva’s lakeside beaches are popular cooling-off and swimming spots for the city residents.

Swimming in Lake Geneva on a got summer day is a treat. Photo; Haley Phelps, Unsplash

READ MORE: Five quiet places to escape the bustle of Geneva

Getting away from it all

Geneva is only one of three Swiss cities (the others are Zurich and Basel) that has an international airport.

This means travelling abroad is easy and convenient, especially as the airport, Cointrin, is located right in the city.

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Think we missed something or disagree about our list? Get in touch at [email protected] 

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Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

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. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”