How an Italian man's lack of zoo animal knowledge cost him Swiss citizenship

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How an Italian man's lack of zoo animal knowledge cost him Swiss citizenship
Oh and one more thing, we've got a question for you about bears. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

An Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed the bear necessities - answering questions about local zoo animals. However a federal court in Switzerland has ruled that decision was unfair in a judgement which will impact future applicants.


The man, who lived in Switzerland for more than 30 years and ran an ice cream business, had applied for Swiss citizenship along with his wife and two children. 

Initially all applications apart from that of his youngest child were refused in 2015 by the Naturalisation Commission in Arth, in the canton of Schwyz.

Then after an appeal in 2018 an administrative court in Schwyz approved the applications of his eldest son and his wife, but again denied the man's application.

He was judged to be not socially and culturally integrated enough to be granted citizenship, pointing out his failure to answer a question about bears and wolves at the local zoo, among other things. 

The man had also been criticised by a member of the Commission for not knowing that bears and wolves shared an enclosure at the local zoo. 

His application also showed “minor deficiencies” in understanding local geography, it emerged. 

As reported by Swiss news site Watson on Wednesday, he also failed to remember the name of the newly built retirement home in the region, while he also got a word wrong in the Swiss national anthem. Instead of singing 'Alphorn', the man said 'Schwyzerhorn'. 

But after appealing once again a federal court announced on Monday that it had ruled against the Commission's decision and ordered it to grant the right of citizenship to the Italian man.

All applications must show a ‘balance’

The court held that it was incorrect for the Commission to deny the man’s application on the basis of these small failings, saying that the goal of the process was to consider a variety of criteria and balance them fairly.

Therefore, where an applicant may fail some areas of the test, their strong performance in other areas should also be considered.

The court said the decision to deny the application had been arbitrary - and that his failure in some areas had been more than compensated by his results in the rest of the exam. 

The man had passed the test of social and civic knowledge, while his economic integration was also not in question. The applicant operated an ice cream business successfully for decades. 

In other words the court rejected the idea that his lack of knowledge of local geography and the animals in the zoo meant ha hadn't culturally integrated sufficiently.

The court also held that a failure to properly pay property tax - which was also noted by the Commission - was a simple error and therefore did not void his application. 

Securing citizenship in Switzerland requires foreigners wait a minimum of ten years before completing a naturalisation process which includes passing an exam.

Applicants for Swiss citizenship must not only show familiarity with Swiss culture but will also be asked several questions relating to the area in which they are applying. 

READ: Would you pass Switzerland's citizenship exam? 

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.

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

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,”.

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.

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There have been a number of similar cases over the years which have included odd outcomes or bizarre questions. 


Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2020/03/19 10:47
The naturalization process is very strict compared with Australia. There are two types of people in the world. The good and the bad. I think that a country should try to select the good people. I mean more energy should be put in that direction.

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