Speaking to The Local this week, David Lewis described his hour-long citizenship interview in March as an “interrogation” despite having earlier been told it would be a “relaxed talk”.
Lewis, who speaks French and German fluently, and who had already passed a detailed written citizenship exam with flying colours, said he was surprised when the local citizenship committee retested him on Swiss culture and politics during the interview.
And while the 43-year-old recognised he had been distracted during the interview because he had just opened a new business, he expressed his frustration at having seen his citizenship application rejected at the last hurdle because he had failed to answer several questions about the Swiss political system correctly.
But it was his incorrect answers about the origins of the Swiss cheese dish raclette and about a speciality from the canton of Graubünden known as capuns – both mentioned in the official document outlining why his citizenship bid had failed – that captured the most attention in Swiss media.
Now, however, the president of Freienbach in the canton of Schwyz has defended the commune’s decision to not give Lewis citizenship.
“The raclette question is not at all decisive when it comes to whether someone is given citizenship or not,” Daniel Landolt told Swiss daily Blick.
“With these questions [about food] we are actually trying to help the candidate. They are intended to relax people,” said the commune president, explaining that many people are very nervous when they first come into the interview.
Landolt said a decision to grant citizenship was based on an overall assessment and not on answers to individual questions.
“The main focus is to find out how well-anchored in the commune and region the person is. If a candidate doesn’t know about the goings on of the commune or the system of part-time politics, then that is more important for the authorities than if that person doesn’t know raclette comes from Valais,” he said.
The commune president also denied accusations Freienbach made things particularly difficult for candidates: “We don’t have any especially tough requirements,” he said.
While Landolt said he was unable to speak specifically about Lewis’s case, he said he understood the Brit’s frustration. But he also noted Lewis could submit a new application at any time.
Read also: How to apply for Swiss citizenship in 2018