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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. 

“If 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 where 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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OPINION: ‘Eidgenosse’ and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

Whoever is in the possession of a Swiss passport is considered to be Swiss. But as Serbian-born, Swiss national Sandra Sparrowhawk explains, things are not always quite so simple in reality.

OPINION: 'Eidgenosse' and what does it really mean to be Swiss?

It was a mild spring day in the quaint town of Reiden and I was sat in the garden of a fellow student’s lush family home surrounded by around one third of my class.

All born to Swiss parents. All, but me. At the time, we were in the last leg of our apprenticeship and everyone mutually decided to kick off our imminent graduation and the much anticipated start to our adult lives with a celebratory barbecue. Everything was going smoothly. The sun was out, the food was being prepped, the conversation was flowing, jokes were being made. But it is as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Now in my time being Swiss, I’ve been all too aware of this sobering reality. I had learned it the hard way through the years and this day was no different. As I looked down to devour the last of my Bratwurst, I heard it clearly – “Jugo”. A disparaging term widely used in Switzerland to describe citizens of former Yugoslavia. My classmates turned friends had – unbeknown to them – made a joke at my expense. Laughter soon erupted. I remember looking up with an awkward half-smirk only to be met with confusion as the last of the giggles died down. The host turned to me and asked: “What’s the matter with you”?

The matter with me, as it turns out, is not so easily explained. Not even 15 years following the event, nor 32 years into being Swiss. Back then, a veil had been lifted and behind it was me. Uncomfortable, deeply conflicted, Serbian me.

But my story isn’t unique to me. It is one that is shared by many Swiss citizens with a migration background.

‘Anyone can be Swiss’

It was the year 2010 when Aarberg-born wrestler Christian Stucki declared: “Anyone can become Swiss, but not anyone can become Eidgenosse”. The latter term is occasionally used to refer to native Swiss citizens, as opposed to those having obtained citizenship via the second-rate passport route. Stucki’s daring declaration rightfully earned him some heat back in 2010 and his manager was quick to retaliate. But the question remains, when is one truly considered Swiss, and is there some truth in Stucki’s statement?

What does it mean to be Swiss? Photo by Valeriano de Domenico/AFP

This debate enjoyed a brief stint on the political stage. In 2012, a parliamentarian from Switzerland’s largest political party, SVP Schweiz, demanded that the Zurich authorities divide Swiss citizens into two groups: naturalised and those Swiss since birth. The purpose behind this proposal was to enable Swiss authorities to highlight key differences, such as a higher crime rate or a disproportionate receipt of social assistance in naturalised citizens, and hence offer aid where needed. Or so was the claim.

Despite the change never seeing the light of day, the divisive terminology largely used to differentiate between native and non-native Swiss citizens persists and can, for many Swiss with a migration background, be a hard pill to swallow.

What’s in a word?

The term Eidgenosse means different things to different people and is by no means accompanied by a negative connotation at all times. To some Swiss, it simply serves as a reference for outstanding Swiss wrestlers. To others, it describes nothing more than a down-to-earth Swiss citizen – of any background. Still others associate the term with an old army bicycle, or even a local pub. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of the term Eidgenosse is particularly favoured in extreme right-wing and nationalistic circles and hence runs the risk of reinforcing an already-existing distinction between the “true Swiss” and everyone else.

Today, the distinction is often used in certain circles and in rural Switzerland, where a few select people have taken it upon themselves to divide Swiss citizens even further.

More specifically, they have introduced an unofficial three-level division, which differentiates not only between native and non-native Swiss, but divides citizens into three categories: Secondos (naturalised Swiss), Swiss (naturalised for at least two generations and fluent in a Swiss dialect), and lastly, Eidgenossen (Swiss citizens on Swiss soil since the beginning of their family chronicle). The latter is nearly impossible to prove.

Meanwhile, linguistics suggest that a term such as Eidgenosse, meant to differentiate between people, is usually born whenever a need for such a differentiation arises, be it increased crime rates, concealment of mass immigration or wage dumping. However, it is commonly understood that these divisive terms should never become a fixed part of common usage.

A ‘typically Swiss’ dog breed: the Bernese mountain dog. (Photo by Alexandra Lau on Unsplash)

Whenever I hear the word Eidgenosse, I think of the year 1291, when, according to legend, the three confederates of Central Switzerland – Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden – founded the Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft with the Rütli oath. Those three gentleman and their kinsmen and women born before 1798, when Napoleon destroyed the Old Confederation, are the sole claimants to the title Eidgenosse. Everyone else should be judged on a case by case basis – preferably with DNA papers to hand.

As for me, I consider myself as Swiss as they come. I was born in Switzerland, grew up here, my closest friends are Swiss, I speak German and French without so much as a hint of an accent, I am most at home speaking in Aargauerdüütsch, enjoyed my education here, work here, take part in Swiss traditions and celebrations, and fulfil all other civic duties expected of a Swiss citizen. I even adopted two Bernese Mountain Dogs for good measure. Yet, whenever my maiden name comes up in conversation – Micić – I am treated as an outsider. Non-Swiss. It is a reality I’ve come to live with, though I shouldn’t have to.

To return to my question from before, when is one considered truly Swiss? Well, to keep it simple: when one feels Swiss and that is entirely up to you.