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Would you pass Switzerland’s citizenship exam?

Naturalisation tests can be incredibly difficult, even for citizens. Switzerland is no exception - would you be able to pass?

Would you pass Switzerland's citizenship exam?
Photo: Depositphotos
The testing process for becoming a Swiss citizen can be, well, testing. Not only are the tests slightly different in each canton – but they also vary from commune to commune. 
 
The result can be sometimes odd or absurd, with questions designed to convey a sense of local identity and knowledge instead having the impact of excluding people who have lived there all their lives – and in some cases were even born there. 
 
Becoming a Swiss citizen
Besides living in the country for more than ten years and having at least a B1 level of the relevant Swiss language (spoken) and A1 (written), you'll also need to have no criminal record and a means of income. 
 
From there, you'll have to pass what's called a naturalisation test. According to the Swiss Secretariat of Migration, the goal of this test is to determine whether applicants are integrated, are familiar with the 'Swiss way of life' and understand Swiss culture. 
 
The substance of these tests however will vary from canton to canton – i.e. they can be spoken or written, and the number of questions can vary. 
 
Some cantons such as Vaud publish a list of potential questions so that applicants can read through beforehand, while other cantons do not – forcing applicants to go into the test blind. 
 
 
Image: Depositphotos
 
Born and raised in Switzerland – but still not Swiss enough
Unlike countries such as the United States, being born in Switzerland will not necessarily be enough to grant you citizenship. 
 
As reported previously by The Local, the story of a young woman – born and raised in Switzerland – failing to satisfy the citizenship test made headlines worldwide. 
 
The woman – born to parents from Turkey, who worked locally in a technical profession, speaks fluent Swiss German and is engaged to a Swiss – was denied citizenship. 
 
Despite passing the written exam, after an interview with local councillors – an important step in the naturalization process in Switzerland, where the cantons and communes have more say than the federal government – Yilmaz was rejected in her canton of Aargau, because she wasn’t “sufficiently integrated,” reported the Aargauer Zeitung at the time.
 
Apparently, Yilmaz had not given satisfactory answers to a set of over 70 questions that the panel asked her, covering everything from her personal life to her job and her knowledge of Swiss mountains. 
 
 
Since the transcript of her interview was made public by the magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, many have criticized the arbitrary nature of the questions, which the Tages Anzeiger called an “embarrassment”.
 
The transcript highlights the highly specific and often bizarre questions that Yilmaz faced, as she is quizzed about her health insurance model, her social life, how often she holidays in Switzerland and whether she likes hiking (she said no).
 
There have been a number of similar cases over the years which have included odd outcomes or bizarre questions. 
 
 
“The fact that arbitrariness plays a role in today’s system is un-Swiss,” wrote the Tages Anzeiger, which called for changes to be made. 
 
A test that reflects modern Switzerland? 
Despite the criticism, it appears that Switzerland is not willing to update the naturalisation process. A British man recently had his citizenship denied after he was unable to name where raclette comes from (it's Valais). 
 
The canton of Vaud recently updated its naturalisation process – and has published the list of 128 multiple-choice questions online
 
Vaud, the largest French-speaking canton in Switzerland, sought to make the questions more similar across the canton. The process includes taking the 128 questions from the canton, as well as 32 questions from the commune which have a more regional nature. 
 
However, despite these modernisation attempts, many of the questions are still relatively difficult to answer – even for Swiss citizens. 
 
As reported in the Swiss media, not only were these difficult – but one was actually a trick question which was impossible to answer. 
 
While all of the following are difficult, one is a trick question – see if you can pick it. 
 
What is the Röstigraben? A typical Swiss meal; the name of a song; the border between German and French-speaking Swiss; a suburb of Bern.
 
What is Schwyzerdütsch? A typical Swiss meal; a mountain; a Swiss German dialect; a sport.
 
Is Ursula Andress on Swiss coins?
 
What is the capital of Switzerland? Zurich; Basel; Geneva: Bern.
 
Bern. Image: Depositphotos
 
Spoiler alert: the Röstigraben is a humorous word for the border between French and German-speaking Switzerland, Schwyzerdütsch is Swiss-German – and famous Bond girl Ursula Andress is not on Swiss coins. 
 
And the trick question? Technically speaking, there is no Swiss capital – with Bern only given the designation of 'federal city' in order to assuage conflict between the cantons, who each wanted to house the capital.
 
We're unsure if extra points are awarded for calling them out on this error, but if push comes to shove, we recommend you just say Bern. 
 
What about specific questions?
As we said, while the questions vary from canton to canton, we've included some of the ones here that Yilmaz was asked in Aargau. Would you pass? 
 
Do you know the Swiss emergency numbers?
 
Have you been to the August 1st (Swiss National Day) celebration?
 
Do you know how your accident insurance works?
 
What would you do if you had a medical emergency?
 
Name some local recreation/sports clubs?
 
What public events are held in your town?
 
What would you say is typically Swiss?
 
Do you know any typical Swiss sports?
 
What museums does the local area offer?
 
Do you go on holiday within Switzerland?
 
How many language regions does Switzerland have?
 
What are the names of your local cinemas?
 
What do you know about the Alps?
 
Where is the Matterhorn?
 
If you want to take the test yourself – no matter which canton you live in – the website Swiss Naturalisation lets you take the test online.
 
In addition to French, German and Italian, the test can also be taken in English, Spanish and Portuguese. 
 
 
 
 

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ZURICH

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

Voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich on May 15th approved a proposal to simplify naturalisation requirements for the canton's 350,000 foreigners. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Zurich has simplified the Swiss citizenship process

On May 15th, voters in the Swiss canton of Zurich overwhelmingly approved a proposal to simplify the canton’s naturalisation process for foreigners. 

Several questions were on the ballot, including reduced fees for younger people who pursue Swiss citizenship, longer waiting times for those convicted of criminal offences and a shift towards online naturalisation. A summary of the results can be seen here

For foreigners living in Zurich and wanting to acquire the famous red passport, perhaps the most important question on the ballot was making the requirements uniform on a cantonal basis, rather than allowing them to differ from municipality to municipality, as is the current case. 

Here’s what you need to know. Please note that while Zurich voters approved the changes, as at May 16th they have not been formally implemented. 

‘Uniform basic requirements’ for citizenship

While anyone who is successfully naturalised will get the same famous red passport no matter where they do so, the actual process differs dramatically depending on where you do it. 

The primary naturalisation process takes place at a communal level, which means there can be different requirements from municipality to municipality. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

As The Local has covered several times before, this includes a knowledge test about specifics in the local commune which often leads to absurd consequences, while in some places local villagers and neighbours will have a say on whether a person should receive citizenship. 

People have been knocked back for a range of reasons, including not liking hiking, not knowing enough about local zoo animals, not knowing enough about cheese and just not being deserving enough.  

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Recognising the difficulties, the Swiss government in 2018 revised the Civil Rights Act, which included uniform basic requirements for citizenship. 

The cantons however retain a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing the rules, which is why they were put to a vote on May 15th. 

Basic knowledge test

Each naturalisation process includes a basic knowledge test. 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has 162 municipalities. While it might be a slight exaggeration to say there are 162 unique tests, the questions can vary greatly. 

The May 15th vote standardised the process by establishing a basic knowledge test for the entire canton. 

The test includes 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

What other requirements were up for a vote on May 15th?

In addition to the above, there are three other changes forecast as part of the new rules. 

People under 18 will face tighter rules for naturalisation if they are found guilty of a crime. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

According to the new law, juveniles will not be able to apply for naturalisation for two years after a minor crime (i.e. shoplifting, simple bodily harm, property damage) or for five years for major crimes (i.e. robbery, murder, rape). 

The changes will also lay the groundwork for naturalisation processes to take place online. A handful of cantons including Bern and Vaud already do this, but no such online system is established in Zurich. 

Finally, the law will also reduce the cost for younger people to apply for citizenship. 

More information is available here. 

What did the parties say before the vote?

Although polling was minimal, the changes have won widespread support among Swiss political parties. 

All of the major Swiss political parties support the change, with only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed. 

Writing in the Swiss press, the SVP’s Diego Bonato suggested multicultural Zurich should have tighter naturalisation rules than the rest of the country rather than the other way around to ensure proper integration. 

“The higher the multicultural proportion of the population, the more closely you have to pay attention to naturalisation” 

While the SVP is Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party, it has comparatively lower influence in Zurich. 

The Social Democrats, who hold the mayorship in the city, are in favour of the proposal and hit back at suggestions it did not promote integration. 

“The new citizenship law is shaped by the idea that early and rapid naturalisation promotes integration. However, citizenship should be the the end of successful integration, not the beginning.”

“Foreigners who wish to remain in our country permanently and become part of Swiss society must society, must (still) undergo an integration process lasting several years.”

Who was able to vote?

Much like Switzerland’s men taking until the 1970s to decide whether women should get the vote, it is perhaps a paradox that foreigners’ fates will be put to a vote without their input. 

Only Swiss citizens have the right to vote in the most cases, although there are limited voting rights in some cases at a municipal level in some parts of the country. 

Efforts to provide similar rights in Zurich have continued to stall. 

Around one quarter of Zurich’s population do not have the right to vote, although it can be as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

Approximately 1.5 million people live in Zurich. 

More information about voting in Zurich, including details about the upcoming referendum votes, can be found here. 

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