A Sweet Old Custom

Before I decided to apply for Swiss nationality, and even during the process, I was asked a few times what advantages it would bring – both for me and for the Swiss state. Quite honestly, I can’t really see that having me as a naturalised citizen brings many advantages for Switzerland (I’ve always paid my taxes, health insurance, etc. and contributed generally to the Swiss economy so no change there), but my answer usually included the fact that for me, it would be nice to have the right to vote and that they wouldn’t be able to deprive me of my right to residence in the country (i.e. they can no longer kick me out).

This would have been useful to me during the time I spent looking after my mother in England from December 2011 to March 2017, as I had to return to Switzerland after 4 years otherwise I would indeed have lost my Swiss residence permit. Had I had Swiss citizenship at the time, I’d have been allowed to stay permanently at my mother’s home until her death with no fear of the consequences in Switzerland, instead of having to keep careful count of the number of days I spent away in the year 2016 to ensure that my absence didn’t exceed 180, the maximum allowed. There’s little point now in dwelling on the possible benefits for my mother, but it could have made a huge difference to her final months.

Well, I have now been Swiss for four months and I have made good use of my voting rights and proudly flashed my ID card with its little white cross (so much easier to carry around than a passport) together with my QR code (my smart phone really is very smart!) in restaurants during the last week or so to prove that I have had my Covid jabs. 

However, a further advantage that I was totally unaware of came as a pleasant surprise last week: a letter in the post announcing that, as a citizen or bourgeoise (Ortsbürgerin*) of Bad Ragaz I am entitled to receive a portion of the village apple harvest, either 10 kg of apples or 10 litres of apple juice (though not half and half, which I’d have preferred). It’s up to me to go and collect it, and it appears that if I were a family and not just a single individual, each member of my family would also be allowed to claim their portion. 

What a delightful idea! We have two apple trees in our garden that looked amazing in springtime but spent the months of August and September littering the lawn with worm-infested fruit that gave our robot lawnmower indigestion, so it’s very encouraging to know that at least some of the local apple trees managed to keep their apples grub-free and that these were harvested. 

A little historical investigation into this custom revealed that in former times most villagers had fruit trees, some of them in communal orchards, and shared in the care of these. Similarly with the hayfields, since most people had a cow or goat or two that needed fodder when fresh grass wasn’t available. Consequently, everyone joined in the work at harvest, and all were rewarded with a share of cherries, apples, hay or whatever other produce was yielded. 

This explains the names of a couple of streets in the village that had intrigued me – Chriesilöserstrasse , Heulöserweg and Heulösergangstrasse. “Chriesi” is the Swiss word for cherry (Kirsche in High German), Heu is hay. “Löser”(cognate with English “lot”) was a portion of land allotted by drawing lots (i.e. an allotment) to those members of the community who possessed certain civil rights. Those areas which in the 18th century served as cherry orchards and hayfields are now completely built up, but the memory remains in the street names and the annual distribution of free apples among those who are legally citizens of Bad Ragaz. Saturday morning, between 8.30 and 11.30, we’ll all be queuing up at the organic fruit farm in the Heulöser – not for our portion of hay, but for apples.

*The idea of Ortsbürger is difficult to render in English. This article in Wikipedia which calls it a “Citizens’ Community” may help or may leave you even more confused.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bürgergemeinde  

6 thoughts on “A Sweet Old Custom

  1. And I’m a witness to you using your ID card (along with your QR code)! It was lovely to finally meet you last week! Best wishes, Helen

  2. Nice to get the apples and keep the tradition going. I have the Australian nationality but lost my Dutch one which had to be relinquished.
    I remember the ceremony and afterwards we were given a cup of tea with a Salvation Army biscuit.

    • These are the kind of quirky things I really like about Switzerland. There was no ceremony for my naturalisation – not even a cheese sandwich or a box of chocolates!

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