In mid-March, David Lewis, a 43-year-old British citizen, attended a citizenship interview at his local town hall in Freienbach in the canton of Schwyz, where he has lived since 2011.
Lewis had been told in advance that the meeting would be “relaxed talk”. He had already completed the mountain of paperwork necessary for his citizenship application and had passed a demanding written test in early 2017, achieving a score of over 80 percent.
The Brit also grew up in Switzerland. He attended a local school in the French-speaking canton of Vaud, speaks fluent French and German, and understands Swiss German. Until recently he even worked in that most Swiss of all industries: finance.
“I feel Swiss – very much so. This is my home,” he told The Local on Monday.
But the interview in March proved to be a gruelling experience as he and his six-year-old son George – whose mother is Russian – were interrogated for an hour by around eight people from the local citizenship committee.
“My son passed with flying colours, but I got some questions about politics wrong and one about where raclette [a cheese dish from the canton of Valais] comes from,” said Lewis.
Among the political questions Lewis didn’t answer correctly was one about direct democracy and another about Switzerland’s system of part-time politicians. He also failed to identify the ingredients of capuns, a dish from the canton of Graubünden made with chard, dried meat and noodle dough.
These incorrect answers were enough to see both his and his son’s citizenship applications rejected and his outlay of 3,200 francs forfeited.
“The irony is they gave my son a present at the end of the interview – a fridge magnet with the commune’s coat of arms,” Lewis noted wryly.
Lewis admits he was probably distracted during the interview because he had just opened his new coffee shop in Zurich the day before. But he also expressed his frustration about the citizenship process.
“I had already passed the written test and shown I understand the Swiss political system and society so I don’t know why they were testing me again at the interview,” he said.
“From day one, when I went to pick up the forms, there was a great degree of animosity, with the woman at the town hall speaking to me very loudly and very quickly in Swiss German. You are dealing with people who want to make things difficult for you,” the banker-turned barista said to The Local of the citizenship application process.
“The fact that I had my six-year-old son next to me during the interview is also indicative of the degree of interrogation,” he added.
Lewis was keen to stress he respects how things are done in Switzerland and lives by the rule of ‘when in Rome’. But he also said that the process had affected him at an emotional level.
“I respect the laws of this country. I am a business person living in Switzerland. I pay taxes here and now I employ Swiss people. But it all seems a little bit arbitrary. I think they are looking for signs of non-integration,” he explained.
“Now I find myself thinking: ‘What do I say to my son? And what am I to this country?”
Lewis also believes there is a broader issue at stake: “This affects a lot of people and is a reflection on society. Do you want people to integrate or do you want to make it too painstaking and expensive for them?” he asked.
“I didn’t want to go public but I am not an isolated case. There must be lots of other people who were just as shocked as I am when they failed the test but we don’t know their stories,” Lewis told The Local.
Read also: How to apply for Swiss citizenship in 2018