The Russian community in Switzerland is ever increasing, along with the number of businesses catering to their needs.
Alongside Russian restaurants, you can find Russian food shops and bookshops in Zurich, Geneva and Bern.
And it’s not just Russians who are interested in buying imports from the homeland, but also people from other parts of the former Soviet Union as well as the Swiss themselves.
According to the Russian embassy in Bern, there are 8,000 to 10,000 Russians living mainly in Zurich, Geneva and the Geneva Riviera area.
Nadia Sikorsky, the chief editor of the Russian-language Swiss news website 'NashaGazeta.ch', says that it is not possible to say exactly how many Russians there are in Switzerland as there is no obligation to register upon entering the country and very few do so.
A heterogeneous community
Sikorsky also told swissinfo.ch that there is a confusion in the definition of the Russian community.
She said the Swiss tend to label all ex-Soviet citizens “Russians” and that it is difficult to define the Russian community.
But ex-Soviet citizens, whether they consider themselves Russians or not, are attracted to the Russian shops, as they grew up with the same products and, more importantly, the same language.
In fact, Bern’s first and only Russian shop is run by a Belorussian. Alexander von Kaenel opened the shop in October 2009 with his Swiss friend Daniel König.
The shop, which has since changed location in the city, sells all sorts of Russian food products, from Russian chocolate to Russian beer, not to mention Russian vodka.
The Russians come to buy food which tastes of home and buy all the kinds of products which are on offer, such as pryaniki (gingerbread), Russian ice-cream, kvass and pelmeny (dumplings).
von Kaenel’s choice of products for his shop is based on what he misses most from Russia and what he believes other Russians miss too.
“Different Russians miss different things,” said Sikorsky. “We are not necessarily nostalgic for certain types of foods, but I love sunflower seeds so I go and buy them in a Russian shop near the consulate in Geneva.”
But the Swiss are also interested in these products and a part of von Kaenel’s and König’s job is to introduce them to Russian culture.
“The shop’s first clients were Russian, but now there are more and more Swiss and people from Azerbaijan or Mongolia coming,” von Kaenel told swissinfo.ch.
Von Kaenel says the Swiss are very open to discovering new Russian products. “They want to try some ‘real’ vodka, Russian beer and pelmeny.” He has noticed that whereas “everyone loves pelmeny”, the Swiss are not great fans of “birch tree” vodka.
Swiss curious to discover new kinds of food will find a description of the product in German on its label.
Books and DVDs
You can find a Russian bookshop at each end of Switzerland; one in Geneva and one in Zurich. Both sell Russian books in Russian, German (in Zurich) and French (Geneva) as well as bilingual editions, magazines, dictionaries and even CDs and DVDs.
Both bookshops sell Russian textbooks and dictionaries.
PinkRus, the Zurich bookshop opened ten years ago. They say about half of their clients are Russian, while the other half is Swiss. They also provide books for schools and universities.
Other businesses include restaurants, kindergartens, beauty salons and ballet schools. But it doesn't stop there.
“There are now Russian lawyers and Russian tour guides and every fancy fashion shop has a Russian salesperson,” Sikorsky pointed out.
Emily Wright, swissinfo.ch
An overview of Russian-speaking businesses
Dom knigi, in Geneva was founded in 1988
PinkRus, in Zurich
Tsarina, in Zurich
Tri Medvedya, in Aarau also offer a catering service
Katyusha in Geneva, near the Russian consulate
The Russian shop in Bern
Schools and Children’s centres
Matryoshka Russian children’s centre in Zurich, Montreux, Lausanne and Geneva
Umka Russian children’s centre for bilingual children
Spectacolo Dance Academy Russian children’s ballet school in Olten
Dreams r us in Geneva
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