UPDATE: Happy April Fools' Day to all our readers! This article and the names of the people involved were made up to celebrate the fine tradition of April Fools' Day. As far as we know no plans are afoot to make foreigners take a cheese test, although we would be happy to comply.
The initiative, backed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and due to be put to the public vote in June, would require any foreigner arriving in the country and applying for a Swiss residency B permit to undergo a ‘Swiss culinary heritage test’ and achieve the pass rate of 75 percent.
The three-hour written and practical test would quiz the applicant on typical Swiss foods including how to make fondue, the names of the biggest wine producing areas in Switzerland and the history of Swiss companies including chocolate-maker Cailler and biscuit firm Kambly.
It would also include a practical element requiring them to blind test and name a number of the alpine nation’s famous cheeses.
The exam would apply retroactively to any current holders of a B permit. Those who fail could be deported from the country under the plans.
Speaking to The Local, the SVP’s Hans Käselieber said: “It’s only right that foreigners wishing to live here should integrate properly, and learning about our culinary traditions is one way of doing that.”
The integration of foreigners, who make up around a quarter of the population in Switzerland, is a recurrent theme in the country.
In 2014 the SVP, now Switzerland’s largest party, backed the introduction of quotas on immigration, which was narrowly passed in a referendum.
And in February this year it suggested that foreign criminals who commit minor crimes in Switzerland should be expelled from the country – but that proposal was rejected by voters.
In 2014 an American professor who had lived in Switzerland for 43 years was refused Swiss citizenship as it was felt he hadn’t integrated properly.
He couldn’t name the number of lakes in the canton of Schwyz or the name of public holidays in Einsiedeln, where he lived.
Speaking about the latest pro-integration proposal Josephine Lavache, owner of Lausanne cheese shop Le Fromage Doré, told The Local the new ‘Swiss culinary heritage test’ was a good idea.
“Many foreigners – especially Americans and British – can’t tell Le Gruyère from Emmental,” she said. “Let alone how to spell them.”
“Given cheese and dairy products are such a big part of Swiss society I think it’s fair they learn about it. Hopefully we can then wean them off those disgusting Kraft dinners and get them eating Swiss cheese dishes instead, which will be a much needed boost for local producers who are suffering with the strong franc.”
The campaign poster, a cartoon which shows a piece of Appenzeller cheese kicking a block of British Cheddar out of the country, has been slammed by critics.
Angela Cioccolata, an Italian-Australian expat who has lived in Zug for the past three years, told The Local that the proposal was ridiculous.
“I don’t like cheese, so I’ve never eaten fondue or raclette, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t integrated. I’ve got tons of Swiss friends and many of them prefer French cheeses anyway.”
“I’m Swiss and I love Cheddar way more than Emmental,” said Markus Milchtrinker, a student at Zurich’s technology institute ETH. “Does that mean I should leave the country too?”
A group of students led by Milchtrinker are planning to dress up as cheese slices and run around the streets of Zurich in protest next Tuesday, he told The Local.