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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Anyone wanting to become Swiss must take the Swiss citizenship exam. From hiking to landslides - and of course cheese - here are some of the more surprising questions prospective Swiss citizens are asked when they take the quiz.

A picture of a Swiss passport up close
Here is a Swiss passport. Getting one might require answering a few wacky questions. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss citizenship ranks as one of the hardest to get anywhere in the world. 

In addition to at least a ten-year wait and several other hoops including an assessment of your financial position, you’ll also need to take a Swiss citizenship ‘exam’. 

Citizenship: How personal debt could stop you from becoming Swiss

In most cases, this will be made up of a written test along with a verbal interview with cantonal authorities. 

‘As many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities’ 

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”. 

While this may be a slight exaggeration, the questions do vary widely. 

One thing to keep in mind in Switzerland is that each canton and in many cases each municipality has a strong regional identity. 

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. 

A red Swiss passport up close

A Swiss biometric passport. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Some larger cantons like Bern and Vaud place examples of citizenship tests online, but many others do not. 

In order to prove that you are successfully integrated, many of the questions will touch upon local aspects related to living in the canton or the municipality itself. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Of course, such a process is understandable, particularly in smaller, quieter towns where they want to make sure their traditions and way of life are respected. 

It can however lead to absurd outcomes, such as where a person was rejected for not knowing about local zoo animals or someone who got turned down for not knowing enough about raclette. 

Think you’re ready? Then check out the following guide to see if you’d pass a Swiss citizenship test. 

READ MORE: Would you pass a Swiss citizenship test?

Here are some of the most surprising examples that we’ve encountered over the past few years. 

Keep in mind that Swiss citizenship exams have dozens of questions and your application will not fail just for getting one wrong answer – but if you miss several, then you might have your application denied. 

What do you know about the bears and the wolves in the local zoo?

In one of the most publicised examples of a strange and bizarre citizenship question, an Italian man – who had lived in Switzerland for 30 years and had a prominent local ice cream business – was knocked back at least in part because he didn’t know enough about the local zoo. 

In particular, the man – who lived in the Swiss town of Arth – wasn’t aware that the bears and the wolves in the zoo lived together in the same enclosure, leading to the denial of his citizenship request. 

READ MORE: How an Italian man’s lack of zoo animal knowledge cost him Swiss citizenship

Fortunately for the man, Switzerland’s federal court overturned the decision of the cantonal authorities – although they also referred to his local knowledge in their decision. 

Which brings us to…

Have there been any landslides in the area in the past 250 years? 

When overturning the citizenship denial of the Italian man above, the Swiss federal court referenced the fact the man had successfully answered a question about a landslide which occurred in the region more than two centuries earlier. 

In fact, the court said he knew a great deal about the landslide, which took place in the region in 1806. 

While the specific knowledge of the landslide was not the thing which turned the appeal, the federal court said it showed he knew plenty about the region and was integrated enough – and that his citizenship application should be allowed. 

What’s the name of the local pub(s)?

For anyone demonstrating their suitability for naturalisation in a new country, you may assume that familiarity with local watering holes could be a disadvantage – but not in Switzerland, or at least in the canton of St Gallen. 

In 2018 Mergim Ahmeti, a man with Kosovar roots who had spent his entire life in Switzerland, had no criminal record and spoke fluent German had his application knocked back because he wasn’t integrated enough

The decision was made because he didn’t know the names of the local pubs and restaurants in the town of Montlingen, where he lived. 

His rejected application was justified by the following statement. 

“(The applicant’s) Integration in the village is weak. He tries too little to fully integrate himself into the village. For example, he doesn’t know the restaurants in Montlingen, although he grew up there. Various restaurants are in the centre and are on the way to school.” 

Ahmeti said he was reluctant to answer the question for obvious reasons. 

“I had named all the restaurants, they might have said I was just hanging out in the pub”. 

Ahmeti had previously had an application rejected because his mother’s German wasn’t good enough. 

What is Switzerland’s capital? 

OK, so this might seem the most standard of questions on any citizenship exam and anyone who wants to be accepted in a country should know the capital. 

Except that in this case, this is a trick question. 

Switzerland doesn’t have a capital, with Bern – usually spoken of as the nation’s capital – technically a ‘federal city’. 

READ MORE: Why is Bern the ‘capital’ of Switzerland?

As we’ve reported previously, tricks are not out of the question on the Swiss citizenship exam – so make sure you know your capitals from your federal cities. 

The beautiful Swiss capital of Bern. Image by xmax88 from Pixabay

The beautiful Swiss capital federal city of Bern. Image by xmax88 from Pixabay

Do you like hiking? 

You know those questions whether there is no wrong answer? When it comes to the Swiss citizenship test, that is certainly not the case. 

In 2017, 25-year-old Funda Yilmaz – who was born in Switzerland, has lived there her whole life, works locally in a technical profession, speaks fluent Swiss German and is engaged to a Swiss – sat a citizenship quiz and was asked whether she likes to hike. 

She answered ‘no’ – and along with answering other questions in an apparently unsatisfactory way, had her application rejected, leading to top Swiss broadsheet TagesAnzeiger naming the naturalisation process as “embarrassing”. 

So if someone asks you if you like hiking, the answer is simple: “No, I don’t like it. I love it. Now give me my passport. I’ve got hiking to do.”

A man stands in front of the Matterhorn in the Swiss region of Zermatt

Before we hand you your passport, we want to know if you like hiking. Be careful, there is a wrong answer. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Where do you like to go on holiday? 

It might sound like a set up by Swiss Tourism for you to say “the Alps, of course” but it is a genuine question that integration officials admit to asking frequently. 

Community social worker in the canton of Uri, Christine Herrscher, told SRF that she asks this question in order to see if someone truly feels integrated in Switzerland, or if they plan to keep on going to their ‘home country’. 

“For me, the candidates do not have to sing the Swiss Psalm, but rather express what their plans for the future are,” Herrscher, who comes from Germany but has gone through the process herself, told SRF. 

The implication is that if you spend your holidays abroad in the place where you came from, you might not truly be ready to be Swiss – yet. 

(Perhaps the right answer is to tell them you’re going hiking…)

What kind of partner are you looking for? 

Herrscher also said the type of partner a citizenship applicant is seeking will be relevant in determining whether they have been integrated. 

While partner choice will not be the defining factor, if they think the only possible partner they’re likely to have comes from their country of origin, then they may not be integrated enough. 

Looking for love? Here’s how to date the Swiss

Which sports are Swiss?

If you’re asked this question in your citizenship exam, remember that you should pick a Swiss sport rather than a sport which is popular in Switzerland. 

One woman asked in Aargau in 2017 to name a Swiss sport answered “skiing” and had her application denied. While her denial may not have been only because of this question, she had passed the written test with flying colours. 

According to Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes, the municipality rejected skiing and would have preferred either Swiss wrestling or Hornussen, both of which originated in Switzerland. 

Schwingen: Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s ‘national sport’

What are the words to the Swiss national anthem? 

Although most Swiss learn the anthem at school, plenty will have forgotten it by the time they become adults. 

The lyrics to the Swiss national anthem – in the language of the canton in which you live of course – may be an essential question on your citizenship exam. 

While this isn’t that weird – anthems all across the world espouse central values of nationhood and therefore should be understood by anyone wanting to live there – just be aware that you will need to know each and every word. 

READ MORE: Switzerland offers 10,000 franc reward for English version of new ‘national anthem’

In one example, an Italian man who had lived in Switzerland for 30 years – the same man who didn’t know enough about zoo animals (see above) – was marked down for getting a word wrong when singing the national anthem. 

Instead of singing ‘Alphorn’, the man said ‘Schwyzerhorn’, a big no no. 

Therefore, keep in mind that mumbling your way through the anthem like a Swiss footballer will not be enough – and learn the words by heart. 

Where does raclette come from? 

The Swiss take cheese very seriously – so much so that cheesy questions appear on the citizenship exam. 

In 2018, a British citizen was rejected for citizenship in the canton of Schwyz, at least in part because he didn’t know where Swiss cheese dish raclette came from. 

(Hint: raclette is from Valais, a mountainous canton in the south of the country. Just answering ‘Switzerland’ will not be enough). 

Rules of raclette: How to make one of Switzerland’s most famous cheese dishes

“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,” he told The Local at the time.

Among the political questions he 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.

For an example of a Swiss naturalisation quiz, see the following link.

Note: Please keep in mind that these are just some paraphrased examples of questions that appear on the Swiss citizenship exam which have been translated into English.

Have you encountered any odd or surprising questions? Let us know: [email protected]

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

Switzerland's Federal Council rejected a motion by some MPs to make the process of obtaining Swiss citizenship easier for certain foreigners.

Switzerland refuses to make it easier to become Swiss

In view of the low naturalisation rate in Switzerland, MP Katja Christ from the Green Liberal party has filed a motion asking to revise the minimum length of stay required to obtain Swiss citizenship from 10 to seven years.

Christ also pointed out that the naturalisation process itself, especially on the municipal level, should be revamped.

That is because such a procedure sometimes involves discriminatory decisions by the communal assembly, which are based on the candidate’s origin rather than his or her eligibility for citizenship, she said.

The government responded that any denial of naturalisation believed by the candidate to be unjustified can be appealed.

Another MP, Corina Gredig, also asked to lower the minimum length of stay required by the cantons for naturalisation from the current five to three years, arguing that many people move from one canton before the five-year term.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons have the strictest citizenship requirements?

However, on Thursday the Federal Council rejected the motions, saying that a revised legislation on foreigners went into effect in 2019, so fairly recently, and the issues brought up in the two recent motions were already addressed at that time.

During the debates leading up to the new legislation, the parliament refused to reduce the minimum length of stay in Switzerland to eight years and in cantons  three years, authorities said.

The law lays out criteria not only for naturalisation, but also for integration in general, as well as for conditions to receive work permits in Switzerland, which include the need to provide certificates from government-accredited institutions to prove language proficiency.

READ MORE: Work permits: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

The refusal to lighten up naturalisation requirements comes amid ongoing discussions in Switzerland about how to make this process easier for third-generation foreigners who are eligible to become Swiss.

Unlike many other countries, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically mean the person is Swiss.

If their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports, a person will not obtain Swiss citizenship at birth. 

Even though they were born in Switzerland and have lived their entire lives in Switzerland, they have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered as foreigners – until and unless they become naturalised.

However, this process is more complex than it seems, as it is unreasonably bureaucratic, requiring proof that is often difficult to obtain.

EXPLAINED: Why so few third-generation Swiss are actually ‘Swiss’?

As a result of these strict conditions, very few third-generation foreigners become Swiss: out of about 25,000 people in this category, only 1,847 received their Swiss passports at the end of 2020 — the last year for which official statistics are available.

“There should be political will to implement change, which is not the case”, Rosita Fibbi, migration sociologist at the Swiss Forum for the Study of Migration and Population at the University of Neuchâtel, told The Local in an interview on May 4th.

“No significant steps to make the process truly easier have been introduced to date”; she added.

The latest Federal Council decision  not to act on the recent motions means no relief is in sight on the naturalisation front.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why so many foreigners in Switzerland skip naturalisation?
 

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