After a few months of living in Switzerland, I quickly came to the realization that I’ll never obtain that coveted red passport, even if I go through all of the motions of becoming a Swiss citizen. I’d heard enough stories of half-Swiss families and long-distance lovers who’ve been rejected for Swiss citizenship to fill a book–these kinds of stories are practically part of the national folklore. The Swiss are a notoriously closed society. They don’t need more people. They like to do things how they like to do things and they have enough money to get it done. (For example, the Swiss have never joined the European Union so they do not have to answer to anyone but themselves.)
When I came across this story in The Atlantic of a woman who has been denied Swiss citizenship because she openly protested the size of bells hanging around cows’ necks–yes, you read that correctly–I actually wasn’t fazed. I thought “that sounds about right.”
Nancy Holten, 42, was born in the Netherlands. At the age of 8, however, she moved with her family to Switzerland, which Holten has called home for the past 34 years. Holten currently resides, with her three daughters, in the small village of Gipf-Oberfrick, in the far north of the country, within the canton of Aargau. She speaks fluent Swiss-German. Her daughters are Swiss citizens. She has been a member of the parents’ committee of their school.
And yet Holten was recently rejected for a Swiss passport—which is also to say, effectively, for naturalized Swiss citizenship. For the second time.
The reason? In Switzerland, applications for naturalization are decided not at the federal level, but rather by the country’s cantons and municipalities—and the applicants’ peers have a say in whether naturalization gets granted. And, unfortunately for Nancy Holten, her peers are not inclined to give her the “gift” of a passport. Because, despite all the ways she is Swiss, Holten—a vegan who is extremely vocal about the life choice—has also stridently opposed one of the most beloved cultural traditions of Gipf-Oberfrick, and of Aargau, and of Switzerland itself: the practice of putting large bells around the necks of cows, for reasons both practical and ceremonial. Insert your preferred “more cowbell” joke here.
It is a strange and beautiful place we’ve chosen to call home temporarily. I hope you’re having a nice week and feeling free to protest whatever you like. Meanwhile a few links:
- On the differences between Switzerland and the U.S.
- Going to a rodeo in Switzerland
- Apartment hunting in Switzerland