Mar 29, 2019

For Whom the Cowbell Tolls

When Nancy Holten was 8 years old her mom put her in a moving van. She fell asleep, woke up in Switzerland, and she's been there ever since. Nancy is big into animal rights, crystals, and various forms of natural and holistic healing. She’s also a viral sensation: the Dutch woman apparently so annoying, her Swiss town denied her citizenship. In this episode we go to the little village of Gipf-Oberfrick to meet Nancy, talk with the town, and ask the question: what does it mean and what does it take to belong to a place?

This episode was reported by Kelly Prime and was produced by Kelly Prime and Annie McEwen. 

Special thanks to reporter Anna Mayumi Kerber, the tireless fixer and translator for this story. Thanks also to Dominik Hangartner and to the very talented yodelers Ai Dineen and Gregory Corbino.

Support Radiolab today at

A tasty note from Latif: Towards the end of the story, I casually mentioned a place called Greg's Poutine in Toronto.  Turns out, it's actually called Smoke's Poutinerie. (Confused it with Greg's Ice Cream.) Go. It's delicious. 
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Robert Krulwich: Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich, Radiolab is supported by Use Wix as artificial design intelligence to create a professional website from your phone. Go to to get 10% off when you're ready to upgrade that is

Robert Krulwich: Oh wait.

Speaker 2: You're listening to Radiolab.

Speaker 3: RadioLab.

Speaker 2: From-

Speaker 3: WNYC. Yeah.

Latif Naser: Okay, here, here, should I just test you? And see if you can be a citizen?

Kelly Prime: Oh, God, okay.

Latif Naser: Okay. What is the supreme law of the land?

Kelly Prime: The constitution?

Latif Naser: Yeah, you got it. What is freedom of religion?

Kelly Prime: What does that mean, what is freedom of religion? You can practice any religion you want without being persecuted.

Latif Naser: Yeah, great. Done. You won.

Kelly Prime: These questions make me nervous because it feels like they're too easy and then I'm going to be wrong.

Latif Naser: I know, like there's a [crosstalk 00:01:09]. Who is in charge of the Executive Branch?

Kelly Prime: The President.

Latif Naser: If the President can no longer serve, who becomes president?

Kelly Prime: Vice President.

Latif Naser: Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

robert krulwich: I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad: This is Radiolab.

robert krulwich: And today we're going to start off by sort of sitting in on a conversation-

Latif Naser: It's telling me to study for the English test?

robert krulwich: Between our producer and reporter Kelly Prime and producer-reporter Latif Naser.

Jad Abumrad: Who is right now in the process of becoming a U.S. Citizen.

Latif Naser: Estimated case completion time is August 2019.

Kelly Prime: When did you start applying?

Latif Naser: Right after I got married so I want to say like 2014 maybe.

Kelly Prime: Wow.

Latif Naser: Yeah getting married is the fastest way of getting citizenship.

Kelly Prime: Dang [crosstalk 00:01:53] what are your feelings as you approach this date?

Latif Naser: It's a weird time, it's exciting because my kid was born here so my kid is an American citizen but I'm not an American citizen and that's kind of a weird thing. I feel like I want to be that for my kid, I feel like as a Muslim guy, there are protections that I get as a citizen that I may not otherwise get, I mean for my family, we've immigrated a lot my family, like 2 maybe 3 generations ago my family moved from India to East Africa, Tanzania, and then my parents generation they immigrated from Tanzania to Canada, but what's funny is my family my dad, my mom, when they came to Canada, they were so grateful that Canada accepted them, my parents so badly wanted to be Canadians but because they were sort of these outsiders they kept coming really close but not quite getting it.

Latif Naser: My dad he knew, as a Canadian dad, the thing you're supposed to do is go down to the ice rink and sign up your boy for hockey lessons, but instead he signed me up for figure skating lessons and so for years I took figure skating lessons, I was the only brown kid in the class, the only brown boy

Kelly Prime: Did you guys watch hockey?

Latif Naser: Yeah, so the thing with hockey is that in Canada hockey is such a thing. For me when I was in high school I would go home and do my homework really quickly and then I would watch hockey night in Canada, and I hated hockey but I would watch it because I knew the next day at school that's all anybody would be talking about is the Maple Leafs game. It was like assimilation homework or something like let's memorize the names of these players, okay goal, who scored a goal? Was it a good goal? Was it an interesting goal like where is the puck actually? I can't even see it. There's this club and this is the homework for the club and in order to be part of the club I have to do the homework, and for everybody else the homework is fun and for me the homework is homework

Jad Abumrad: So here at the show for the last, I don't know, 6 months a year, ever since Latif did a show about voting

robert krulwich: And elections yes

Jad Abumrad: You know we've been thinking about democracy

robert krulwich: And citizenship

Jad Abumrad: These big sort of amorphous concepts and trying to figure out how do we make something about them

robert krulwich: Its hard though because big ideas are mushy and hard to pin down

Jad Abumrad: Yeah so we let it kind of lie for a bit, but then, two of our reporters walked in with stories that really brought those big fuzzy ideas down to earth

robert krulwich: So, for the next two episodes what we're going to do is, we got two very different stories from very different places in the world

Jad Abumrad: About what it means

robert krulwich: And what it takes

Jad Abumrad: To belong to a place

Jad Abumrad: Starting with Kelly Prime, with a story that takes place

robert krulwich: I guess you probably know this by now

Jad Abumrad: Yeah in Switzerland.

Kelly Prime: Right so I had found this kind of viral article that hit all over the world that was a dutch woman too annoying to get Swiss citizenship.

Jad Abumrad: That's a good title.

Kelly Prime: Yeah so there's this woman Nancy Holten and from what I could read just on the very click-baity stuff was that she is a vocal vegan, she's anti-cowbell, anti-church bell and that the town turned against her and refused to naturalize her.

Jad Abumrad: You said anti-cowbell?

Kelly Prime: Yeah cowbells are the most Swiss things in the world! Like you go to Switzerland and on every postcard is this adorable cow with big eyes and brown spots and it has this giant decorative bell on its chest and that is like Switzerland. And this lady Nancy who is a militant animal rights person says that the loudness for the cows, that it is disturbing for them, and it is cruel and that it is a Swiss tradition but its got to go

Jad Abumrad: I see

Kelly Prime: And her social media presence is always smiley and always happy, but she posts things like I don't eat babies do you? So she just seems kind of over the top self righteous right? But the idea that a town could deny her citizenship for being annoying, for her personality essentially, I just decided I got to go find out what that's about and meet this woman.

Kelly Prime: So I flew into Zurich and I rented a car, and I picked up my fixer and translator in a Anna Kerver.

Anna Kerver: Forward I think is down here

Kelly Prime: Oh here it is.

Kelly Prime: Okay, let's have a road trip!

Kelly Prime: And we headed out of town ... into the Swiss country side.

Kelly Prime: Okay we just drove in a corn field to pass a tractor I think were here.

Kelly Prime: After about an hour we got to the town where Nancy lives calls Gipf-oberfrick

Jad Abumrad: Gipf-oberfrick?

Kelly Prime: Yep lot of F's.

Jad Abumrad: Where is that?

Kelly Prime: It's in the very north of Switzerland and its this quaint little town.

Kelly Prime: Oh beautiful flowers look at that.

Kelly Prime: It's surrounded by fields but once you get in it's these houses kind of packed together in these little tight turny roads.

Anna Kerver: Pretty shitty parking

Kelly Prime: Nancy lives in this pink 4 story apartment, and I was ready to meet a militant vegan essentially

Jad Abumrad: Like a grand provocateur or something

Kelly Prime: But

Nancy: Kelly hello!

Kelly Prime: Hi what's your dogs name?

Nancy: Bella

Kelly Prime: Hi Bella!

Kelly Prime: Instantly she was just super warm, like incredibly warm.

Nancy: Yes that's it

Kelly Prime: She had this very very shiny blue eyeshadow on, long brown flowy hair, and she's never ever not smiling.

Nancy: And here, my beautiful home-

Kelly Prime: So we walk into her apartment

Nancy: The sun comes very good here in the house and I like it when its, How do you say that-

Kelly Prime: Bright?

Nancy: Bright, I don't know you say that yes

Kelly Prime: The walls are pink, there's a blue couch,

Nancy: This is the room for my twins, daughters

Kelly Prime: She has 3 daughters

Kelly Prime: What's that under? Oh there was a cat somewhere

Nancy: I have a cat, I have a white cat his name is Cristoff

Kelly Prime: So we settle in and we had actually taken off our shoes at this place

Nancy: [inaudible 00:08:26]

Kelly Prime: What you're taking a picture of our feet?

Nancy: Yes because I am [foreign language 00:08:33]

Anna Kerver: She's just very strong advocate for barefoot walking, it's a feeling of freedom and it's healthy and-

Kelly Prime: So she takes pictures of her feet and posts them to YouTube and Instagram, social media, as part of one of her many campaigns to get people to get people to walk around barefoot more often, which she herself does anytime it's warm

Nancy: With the bicycle and in the café, to go shopping, nice foot

Kelly Prime: Thank you

Jad Abumrad: How is she making ends meet?

Kelly Prime: What do you do for work?

Anna Kerver: The list is very long, so it starts off with model-

Kelly Prime: She's a hair model

Anna Kerver: Actress-

Kelly Prime: Writer

Anna Kerver: Freelance journalist

Anna Kerver: and also a coach

Kelly Prime: An angel coach

Jad Abumrad: Like spirits?

Kelly Prime: Yeah she takes people down to the river outside her house and communicates with angels there and helps coach people through their lives using the help of angels

Jad Abumrad: Wow

Kelly Prime: And do you know what kinds of crystals these are?

Nancy: Yes, they are my friends, they help me

Kelly Prime: So she has crystals on the windowsill ... rose quarts?

Nancy: Yes rose quarts is good for the opening for the heart.

Kelly Prime: And is that a crystal for the hamster?

Nancy: Oh yeah okay, Teddy his name is Teddy.

Kelly Prime: A very long haired hamster.

Nancy: It's a Angora hamster.

Kelly Prime: Huham has an eye infection and a tumor?

Nancy: And he has a tumor

Kelly Prime: And so she put the crystals inside the hamster cage to help with his tumor.

Nancy: I talk with the animals, [crosstalk 00:10:14] in dutch, yes I'm dutch.

Kelly Prime: So Nancy was born in Holland and when she was 8 years old-

Kelly Prime: Her mom got divorced and just kind of up and took her to Switzerland, put her in the van with a bunch of stuff and she took a nap in the car and when she woke up, her mom said do you like it here? And she said-

Nancy: Oh [foreign language 00:10:47]

Kelly Prime: Yeah the mountains are nice and then her mom was like great because we live here now.

Kelly Prime: Wow.

Kelly Prime: And Nancy says it was a rough transition.

Kelly Prime: On the first day of school she couldn't speak any german at all and apparently this teacher asked her to open up a window and she was just like wait what?

Anna Kerver: So she was mocked at school a lot for first of all for being dutch, so they called her dutch cheese, she dressed differently, had a very tough time in the beginning at school.

Kelly Prime: So it was hard to fit in?

Nancy: Yeah

Kelly Prime: So she says she started to turn inward and keep to herself and even at home with her family.

Anna Kerver: In a family setting she was not allowed to speak her mind ... to voice her opinions or feelings.

Kelly Prime: She says even as an adult she just never really felt self confident or learned how to stand up for herself, but then she says in 2003 she was 29 years old ... She had what she called a spiritual experience, so she was living outside of Zurich, she already had a 3 year old daughter, she was pregnant with the twins ... and she said she felt under a lot of pressure to have an abortion, in fact-

Anna Kerver: They were already sitting at the doctors, and she just had to sign the form.

Kelly Prime: But all of a sudden she said ... One nights sleep, just let me sleep one night, and she says she stood up and in that moment ... A click went off in her head ... And she said no I'm not going to do it.

Anna Kerver: That's where she said she got the strength from, to stand up for the kids and stand up for herself.

Kelly Prime: That's when Nancy says all these things that she had felt all her life about barefoot walking, and not eating meat and expressing a spiritual connection to the natural world she had kept all those things inside of her, and now she was going to let them out, she was going to fight for them ... and just a few years later she moved to Gipf-oberfrick.

Kelly Prime: She fell in love with it, said she's never loved anywhere like this and it's the most idealic beautiful place in the world.

Kelly Prime: This is my home I'm staying here in part because living here she was just able to be so much closer to nature, she took us to the stream by her house then we walked through this cold wet grass it was lightly raining and so as we were walking down this little embankment to put our feet in the water.

Nancy: Its naturalistic ...

Anna Kerver: How do you feel? Like this whole thing is starting to work, like you feel it getting a little warm but you have all these sensations throughout your body up to your mind, its just really refreshing.

Kelly Prime: And she was like when the sun shines this place is my heaven on earth

Anna Kerver: this place is her place of strength, the flowing water carries away all the worries and sorrows and gives her the strength that she needs.

Kelly Prime: And at this point Nancy feels like she's found her voice and she's found her home and she wants to make it official like she wants to be Swiss, because she just hadn't gotten her citizenship before and like her kids are Swiss she wants to be politically active she wants to be able to vote and the process for citizenship in Switzerland is pretty intense, you have to do all these tests like paperwork, language exam, but the final step for Nancy is that the town gets to vote, where literally the town is mailed little pamphlets and those pamphlets have someones name like Nancy Holten and then a little CV about her so everyone in the town can read her basic biographical information come to the town meeting on the set day at the school gymnasium and raise their hand whether or not she gets to be Swiss.

Jad Abumrad: No kidding and so at the end of the day its this very public kind of consensus.

Kelly Prime: Yeah and that's where the trouble started, because Nancy had some ideas about how the town might be improved, starting with ... the church bells.

Kelly Prime: She says when she moved into her apartment, she just noticed that the church bells in her town would ring really early in the morning and they'd wake her up

Anna Kerver: What do you say at?

Nancy: six o'clock.

Kelly Prime: 6:00 morning?

Anna Kerver: six o'clock in the morning that's heavy, because then I'm waking up and I can't sleep with open window in my sleeping room.

Kelly Prime: So Nancy filed a formal complaint.

Anna Kerver: So she wrote a letter to the municipality asking for it to stop basically.

Kelly Prime: The reason the bells ring in the morning it's not really just about announcing time there's actually a pretty long Christian tradition in the community

Anna Kerver: It's a call for prayer, which she considers outdated.

Kelly Prime: Nancy is like look I've got free religion and I do not want to be woken up in the morning to pray.

Kelly Prime: So the local paper found out about Nancy's complaint, she basically told them about it, and when the article came out that's when the town started talking.

Andy Andreas: From the beginning it was so much of gossip and-

Kelly Prime: I ended up going around the town and trying to talk to people about Nancy it's a pretty small town like 3000 people or so and one of the people who agreed to talk to me, was Andy.

Andy Andreas: My name is Andy Andreas, I'm Swiss german and I grew up in this village here.

Kelly Prime: His family has actually been in Gipf-oberfrick for 3 generations.

Andy Andreas: I'm just right from here.

Kelly Prime: And he told me that after the church bell article people would be meeting up at the pub after a soccer practice or choir.

Andy Andreas: And you have a beer and you start talking to each other.

Kelly Prime: A little while later-

Andy Andreas: You take another beer, and opinions get a little bit stronger you know what I mean, and so I think there people would start talking about her, have you heard or have you read or have you seen?

Ursula: If she doesn't like bells, clock bells, in the morning why does she rent an apartment beside the church?

Kelly Prime: This is Ursula.

Ursula: Ursula Roht, I am Swiss

Kelly Prime: I talked to her and her husband Max.

max: Hi my name is Max I have 64 and a half year.

Kelly Prime: And some of their complaints I honestly felt were very reasonable.

Ursula: If you decide to go to an apartment, and to choose your apartment beside the street, don't wonder if there are cars, and if you decide to take your apartment beside the church don't wonder that there are bells.

Kelly Prime: So the town was starting to like notice her and get mad at her and people would yell things at her when she was biking, and I was-

Jad Abumrad: Oh wow so it became like? okay.

Kelly Prime: I mean partly because it wasn't just the church bells, Nancy had been making noise about a lot of things.

Anna Kerver: There's a tradition in Gipf-oberfrick.

Kelly Prime: Like for example she had complained about this one tradition where townspeople can bring mice tails to the town hall.

Anna Kerver: Once a year people can bring the tails of mice to the town hall and you will get one franc and 10 cents.

Jad Abumrad: Really?

Kelly Prime: Yes to this day.

Jad Abumrad: Is it population control?

Kelly Prime: I think originally yes.

Anna Kerver: It goes back like 100 years 150 years ago.

Kelly Prime: Now it's a tradition so Nancy went after that.

Jad Abumrad: What did she do?

Anna Kerver: So she started the procedure with writing letters to the municipality and to all sorts of animal rights groups.

Kelly Prime: She got an article in the paper at one point she showed me and there was this horrific bundle of tails as the image.

Jad Abumrad: Oh wow.

Kelly Prime: So Nancy's real thing more than the church bells, is animal activism and in fact just a little while after that church bell article came out ... One of the reporters asked her ... Well you don't like church bells are there any other bells you don't like? And she said ... Well yeah cowbells.

Jad Abumrad: This is how the cowbells?

Kelly Prime: Literally this is how it happened, any other bells you don't like?

Kelly Prime: I kicked the hornets nest and that's when it all happened.

Jad Abumrad: So It sounds like she's in an ever graduated escalation of attacks on Swiss culture suddenly trips the big one.

Kelly Prime: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Anna Kerver: There's plenty of space don't worry.

Kelly Prime: Now I have to say I didn't totally get why cowbells would be the tipping point and I mentioned this to Andy.

Andy Andreas: The cowbells are an image of romantic feelings in Swiss culture.

Kelly Prime: And he was like here I can show you so we took a drive up into the hills around Gipf-oberfrick with Andy and his daughter Elisia.

Kelly Prime: Can you guys hear them?

Kelly Prime: It was the end of the day we parked the car, we pulled into this long driveway leading to a farm and we saw-

Elisia: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. 12-

Kelly Prime: All these cows, and what quickly became clear to me in that moment is that cowbells in Switzerland aren't just about postcards or what to sell in a gift shop or whatever

Elisia: So 31.

Kelly Prime: 31 cows, and-

Elisia: There's more maybe.

Andy Andreas: I really like it here and when the sunset the sun just touching all those fields it's just beautiful.

Kelly Prime: They really represent this particular way of life in Switzerland, an agrarian way of life, a rural, simpler farming way of life, its like the cowbell is attached to the Swiss version of the American heartland like the Nebraskan farmer

Kelly Prime: You going to feed them some grass?

Elisia: Yeah!

Kelly Prime: I don't know [crosstalk 00:22:52]

Kelly Prime: And in Switzerland for a lot of people that feeling is connected to the cowbell.

Andy Andreas: I think you also know Heidi for example, it's a story about a Swiss girl growing up with her grandfather in the alps, everything gets like the beautiful life in the alps and you drink milk and you got red cheeks and the cowbells are there it's some kind of stereotype of society where there are no problems, where everything is beautiful, where the sun is shining

Speaker 4: And please make every little boy and girl in the wold as happy as I am amen

Speaker 5: Heidi Heidi~ [foreign language 00:23:46]

Kelly Prime: So when Nancy like launched an attack that was like do you think it was attacking peoples sense of well being?

Andy Andreas: Absolutely it's a declaration of war.

Ursula: If I'm coming to a foreign country I first have to look how do they live and then I have to make the choice is that okay for me? Or maybe it's not okay for me, if I'm coming in and tell you, you have to live like I think it's okay, so it's little bit strange

max: Yes

Kelly Prime: This is Ursula and Max again

max: People said it's not okay that Nancy comes in and tells us how we have to do it, she's a foreign person and she will tell us how to live and that's not okay

Kelly Prime: Do you remember how you felt before your meeting?

Kelly Prime: So people in the town are not happy about Nancy's cowbell stance and in the midst of all this the night of Nancy's citizenship meeting arrives

Anna Kerver: She's really glad that she didn't know then what she knows today, like the whole thing with hardcore as she describes it ... you know it takes her an effort to go back to this particular night.

Kelly Prime: The night of Nancy's citizenship meeting she shows up at the school gymnasium it's in the evening, there are rows and rows of folding chairs set up and there's one row in the back where the prospective citizens can sit and so Nancy walks in she sits in that back row and I'll say these meetings are usually calm and pretty sparsely attended there's like maybe 80-100 people but this time there was twice that, the place was packed, and the first thing that happened is they go through some administrative stuff like how much budget are we going to use to fix the road or should we put a roof on the roller hockey rink? But then came the citizenship part of the meeting.

Andy Andreas: I think they couldn't really control themselves.

Kelly Prime: The townspeople just kind of lost their cool.

Andy Andreas: People like peasants, farmers, they would stand up and they would get angry and say well that's not right were against it and the things that were said were really surprisingly violent. They would get so emotional.

Herbert: I mean the discuss was horrible and the atmosphere was very hateful and very loud and no we don't want and then.

Kelly Prime: This is Herbert Mosh.

Herbert: I live here in Gipf-oberfrick and I was astonished about the power of saying no we don't want.

Kelly Prime: People were getting up yelling saying she doesn't belong here.

Herbert: For me it was the shame.

Kelly Prime: And he got up at one point to speak on her behalf.

Herbert: I raised my hand and then I spoke and but it did not have any chance.

Kelly Prime: And apparently the whole room just started booing him ... And Nancy is there for all of this listening to everything people are saying just sitting quietly in the back.

Anna Kerver: At this point in the assembly people start speaking out against Nancy, accuse her of like bringing veganism into Switzerland.

Kelly Prime: She's against tradition, she's a terrible mother, the poor kids.

Anna Kerver: There's a lot of comments that you know that are below the belt.

Kelly Prime: And this whole time her daughters are sitting right there next to her, at this point Nancy is asked to leave the room she goes out with her daughters and stands behind these big double doors and she waits ... And the she hears applause ... Applause because she had been rejected

Nancy: So

Anna Kerver: Having it so obviously, having a room full of people where the majority is not really on your side is really hard.

Kelly Prime: I should add that in addition to what went on in the room that night there was actually a Facebook page that went up called Nancy go home, and the cover photo is a field of cows with Nancy's face photoshopped on it and its got a big circle and an x through it and some of the comments on there were like, she should eat meat for once to come to her senses, in the old days this bitch would have been chased away with a dung fork, such women were burnt at the stake as witches.

robert krulwich: Coming up Nancy fights back, radiolab will continue in a moment.

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Jad Abumrad: Jad,

robert krulwich: Robert,

Jad Abumrad: Radiolab.

robert krulwich: Okay were going to go back to the tale of Nancy Holten who has just been flatly rejected for citizenship by her neighbors.

Kelly Prime: Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: So I assume this is not the end of Nancy's tale?

Kelly Prime: Uh no.

Kelly Prime: I mean the meeting was pretty awful for Nancy ... but throughout this whole thing you know her daughters are super supportive and at one point ... they're like you can't give up mom you need to do this ... and what she did was she wrote to the Canton officials, the Canton is like the region, and she wrote to them asking for another try, and she sprayed the stationary with perfume.

Anna Kerver: It was vanilla cocoa.

Kelly Prime: Cruelty free vanilla perfume.

Anna Kerver: From the body shop that doesn't do animal testings.

Kelly Prime: To give it a little bit of her flare and the response was good and they said okay you can try again.

Jad Abumrad: Uh huh

Kelly Prime: Did you think about stopping your campaigns against this specifically Swiss cowbells and church bells? I just feel like if it were me I would probably think oh there's so many ways to help animals maybe I would try to choose one that doesn't cause so much friction in my community, was that ever a thought like maybe something not about the cows and the churches?

Nancy: Never,

Kelly Prime: She's like as long as the animals need a voice, I'm going to continue.

Anna Kerver: People in her family, journalists would say Nancy keep it down, for Nancy she said that wouldn't be honest, it wouldn't be me, and I don't want to crawl up someone's ass? How do I put this?

Kelly Prime: Suck up.

Anna Kerver: Yeah.

Kelly Prime: And by this point ... the media had gotten hold of Nancy's story and things just took off ... she just kept writing and posting about the cowbells that people they shouldn't eat meat.

Anna Kerver: And I use, just to be clear, I use this thing in order to reach even more people.

Kelly Prime: She got on TV protesting pig races, and the use of animals in circuses.

Andy Andreas: Since the press was involved everything changed ... Anywhere in Switzerland where you are and you say Gipf-oberfrick oh there is Nancy Holten, in all Switzerland.

Kelly Prime: So along the way all these articles about Nancy end up putting a spotlight on the town too.

Andy Andreas: Our village was seen from the outside as being xenophobic.

Kelly Prime: How does that make you feel?

Andy Andreas: Its very difficult to hear that.

Andy Andreas: I think this was the anger that was formulated.

Kelly Prime: At this point Nancy goes in for her second vote, and this time she actually bakes vegan gingerbread to give out around town, and the town rejects her again, which again, kicks up the media ... but this time.

Speaker 6: A left wing dutch woman has been denied a Swiss passport, because she's too annoying, Nancy Holten

Kelly Prime: It goes international. and she even ends up being a joke on the bluff the listener test on wait wait don't tell me.

Speaker 7: Its tough to get the Swiss to take a side even the Nazis couldn't do it, but when it came to 42 year old Nancy Holten, they couldn't help but take a stand, she's that annoying, how annoying-

Ralph: She's pain in the ass, as a person, oh sorry.

Kelly Prime: So when I was in the area I stopped by a local newspaper and I met with this reported Naja and an editor Ralph, and of course they knew all about Nancy Holten.

Naja: The frenzy of the people and the hatred that they have it was kind of big.

Ralph: You know they're readers in the valley of frick where's she's coming from. They say if I have to read one more story about her I will cancel my subscription but it's critical story.

Kelly Prime: So the reason Ralph said it's a critical story is because it's not so much a story about whether Nancy is well liked or not, whether she's annoying or not its more about who gets to decide who can be Swiss and who can not.

Jens Hainmuelle: You know say from a US perspective its maybe hard to kind of wrap your head around the fact that there's so much kind of local autonomy, to make these kinds of decisions, but I think there's just a very strong tradition in Switzerland that these are local matters and they should be dealt with in the local community.

Kelly Prime: So this is Jens Heainmueller.

Jens Hainmuelle: I'm a professor of political science here at Stanford University.

Kelly Prime: And he says that the whole question of towns voting on someone's citizenship was at that time a huge issue in Switzerland and it still is.

Jens Hainmuelle: Yes.

Kelly Prime: Because back in the early 2000s there were more and more people immigrating from countries like Kosovo, Turkey, former-Yugoslavia, and when that happened people started noticing something.

Jens Hainmuelle: They were basically at the time the media reports about some seemingly discriminatory rejections,

Kelly Prime: It looked like some towns were purposefully rejecting immigrants from those countries, and in fact in 2003 there was actually a court case in Swiss federal court because there was this town in central Switzerland and eight Italian applicant go in while 38 applicants from former-Yugoslavia were rejected.

Jens Hainmuelle: And the court looked at that case and what they basically said is that under Swiss law immigrants should have a right to appeal if they're rejected. Now in order for you to make an appeal you need to know why you were rejected, so the decision making body needs to provide some justification for why you're being rejected.

Kelly Prime: Basically they said the problem with these town votes is that people can vote yes or no for any reason they want. There's no way to tell why that person was rejected and because it seemed like people who were getting rejected were mostly from the majority countries.

Jens Hainmuelle: There was a potential that certain immigrants might be ejected just based on their membership in a certain ethnic cultural group, which violates the inter-discrimination clause in the Swiss constitutions and so-

Kelly Prime: The courts way of solving this is to say that the towns have to justify their rejection. And if the person gets rejected that person has to be able to appeal the decision and so in the wake in that ruling-

Jens Hainmuelle: It became much more common to have politicians decided on those naturalization applications and the naturalization rates actually went up quite dramatically.

Kelly Prime: A lot more people started getting citizenship.

Jens Hainmuelle: And it increased particularly for those applicants that basically faced the strongest discrimination under the direct democratic role.

Kelly Prime: And so what's happening now is that the question of towns voting on citizenship has gotten all tangled up in the issue in immigration and there's actually this political party.

Ursula: The farmers party

Kelly Prime: SVP.

Ursula: It's a very old very rural party.

Kelly Prime: Arguing basically that towns should go back to voting on citizenship.

Kelly Prime: This by the way is Lilia.

Lilia: Yes my name is Lilia Homticker.

Kelly Prime: When we spoke she was an elected representative in the region and head of the immigration support group integration arao, and she basically told me that the SVP which has actually grown pretty dramatically the past couple decades, their big thing is immigration.

Lilia: People voting right, parties they fear the changes, they fear everything and when you see this campaigns it's so clear and so easy to understand what they mean.

Kelly Prime: Just an example a while back the party was campaigning for this law they wanted to pass where you could deport an immigrant who commits two crimes in 10 years so they put up these posters and on the poster are three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag, literally kicking it off, and the party says that it's just meant to represent the black sheep of the family, like a troublemaker but-

Lilia: But I think this black sheep is a black sheep and it's not the black sheep of the family it's the black sheep because its black of color and I think its horacius campaign.

Andy Andreas: We got that party from the right side of the political spectrum and they're kind of strong here.

Kelly Prime: Andy from Gipf-oberfrick again.

Andy Andreas: And every move against direct democracy is perceived as a loss of control.

Kelly Prime: Gipf-oberfrick is actually one of the last towns in Switzerland still holding on to this town vote

Andy Andreas: Swiss people feel a little bit that fear of being invaded, from everywhere. I think it's a fear of loss of culture.

Kelly Prime: So knowing all that stuff I kind of wasn't sure how to see Nancy's story like is Nancy's attempt to get citizenship and the town shooting her down, is that part of that larger story? I just wasn't sure how to think about Nancy in that context. Until I met this one last person in Gipf-oberfrick.

Kelly Prime: So I was talking to some people about Nancy and they said oh you wanna hear about Nancy? Talk to that farmer down the hill.

Kelly Prime: So I went down there, you drive down this hill, steep, steep hill, to get to his farm. There's this really old house and right next to it a barn with cowbells hanging from it, and I came across him and his wife [crosstalk 00:43:08]

Kelly Prime: They're sitting around this round plastic patio table and they're both wearing blue, he's in a worn t-shirt and he has got his white bristly mustache, they're both drinking a beer and they're both like yeah come on down.

Kelly Prime: So Anna and I sit down at the table, could you introduce yourself?

Rudy: Rudy Zoolieger

Kelly Prime: His name is Rudy Zoolieger ...Says he's retired with a small pension, he's lived there for his whole life, multiple generation farmer.

Anna Kerver: His father bought this house, they moved in her 1937.

Kelly Prime: He remembers being a kid and the bombers flying over, he's like Swiss forever.

Anna Kerver: Its one of the oldest houses here, but nobody really knows how old, apparently already at the point about 200 years ago, when this became Switzerland not Austria anymore already then people didn't know how old the house was.

Kelly Prime: And right next to the house-

Kelly Prime: Could we go to the horses?

Kelly Prime: Is a barn,

Kelly Prime: So were looking at two horses, one of them is blonde, both of them are blonde

Kelly Prime: Where he keeps his horses

Anna Kerver: It's the horses of his nephew and his nephew is a butcher, pointing out his also bachelor. With the remark, that bachelors, is interesting, bachelors never get children but never go extinct, that's town humor, that is humor.

Kelly Prime: So anyway these horses are where Nancy comes in.

Rudy: Ah Nancy Holten.

Kelly Prime: Because Nancy rides her bicycle down the little road by his house, barefoot by the way.

Anna Kerver: She would cycle by and peek into the stable and check on the horses, from the street. The way he's imitating her like in a way that is visible for them to see that she's peeking in from the street. Nancy complained about the stable here about that there wasn't enough light, the way he described it, she came and made a fuss, like a little loud bird she pressed charges against him.

Kelly Prime: A government vet came by found everything was okay but Nancy didn't give up.

Anna Kerver: She kept on complaining,

Kelly Prime: This was years ago now.

Anna Kerver: And apparently she still comes by twice a week,

Kelly Prime: To get off her bike and make a little show of checking on his horses.

Anna Kerver: And on that he's just shaking his head.

Kelly Prime: And on some level its like this is not all that surprising like that's what people say over and over again she's so annoying she just drives you crazy, but on the other hand I feel like this is when I kind of realized the emotional impact of what Nancy was doing here. For one thing this guy has been working with horses on this land for decades and not only that-

Anna Kerver: A son of his is a vet so he actually knows when there's something wrong with the animals, they're taken good care of in general he says-

Kelly Prime: And It was clear to me that Nancy was really poking at something that was painful for him.

Anna Kerver: He says it with a bit of a heavy heart, that this type of farming its not sustainable and they told their children do good in school, get a proper job, do something else, and they all did.

Kelly Prime: He used to have fields of cherry trees and they would grow wheat, both for them to eat to sell to people.

Anna Kerver: They used to have cows as well, with small bells.

Kelly Prime: The cows would all graze on the hills around the farm.

Anna Kerver: So when he in the evening start looking for them and getting them back into the stable.

Kelly Prime: He'd find them by following the ringing of their bells and in the morning every day of his life he's woken up to the sound of the church bells ... hearing those church bells in the distance.

Anna Kerver: Its like a feeling of a home, that sound really is to you.

Kelly Prime: And now times are changing, people employed by tech companies in the city, are now moving out to the country to live there and just commute in, and everything's getting really really expensive, they can't afford to farm anymore, they've leased out their land, this way of life is over.

Kelly Prime: And so there's this massive sense of palpable culture loss, people are coming in, it is changing the way he has lived his entire life and that is sad.

Kelly Prime: And it was clear that Nancy coming around to check on his horses it was just one last insult.

Anna Kerver: Nancy couldn't keep quiet, acted like an angry wasp ... and really targeted all the things that hurt.

Kelly Prime: And so he didn't want her to become a Swiss citizen.

Anna Kerver: He would have definitely voted against her but he felt too angry to even go the assembly, he was just really disgruntled with the entire town.

Kelly Prime: So Gipf-oberfrick is one of the last towns to do these town votes but they don't have a final say anymore, because of those court rulings I mentioned earlier, everyone has the right to appeal to government officials in the region, which after being rejected by her neighbors twice, is exactly what Nancy did, and she won.

Anna Kerver: Against the towns will, she was naturalized by a ruling from the Canton.

Kelly Prime: What did it feel like to get your citizenship?

Anna Kerver: Big feeling of relief, and eventually realized how much it actually meant to her as well. And that sometimes you just really, really have to stick to your guns.

Kelly Prime: Did this experience change the way you think about democracy?

Anna Kerver: So the whole procedure made her slightly disappointed in democracy, but also taught her a lesson as she says. So today she would say democracy is power and this power should be given to people who deal responsibly with it, and if they use this power on an emotional level this power should be taken away from them.

Kelly Prime: And honestly sitting there with Rudy,

Anna Kerver: So he said well this is now with democracy.

Kelly Prime: I felt conflicted because I understand why he wouldn't want Nancy to be part of his town, and I also get why it would be painful to give up that kind of a choice, but then the conversation took a turn.

Anna Kerver: A lot of people have been naturalized in Gipf-oberfrick he explains, often from like Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, or Turkey. When one person gets naturalized they would bring a partner from their home country and when the partner then comes and stays here 5 or 10 years then they will get a Swiss passport too, sounds like this development gives him a little bit of a headache.

Kelly Prime: Why a headache?

Anna Kerver: Mentality is different.

Kelly Prime: In that moment I realized that behind Nancy's story behind this kind of click-bait tale of the woman too annoying to get citizenship, there are all kinds of things that are a lot harder to talk about, harder to separate out, there's a real loss, there's fear of a changing world and the promise of democracy, the promise the people could have a voice and a power, but also xenophobia, hostility, and all of that made me think of the conversation I had with Latif about his family moving to Canada and him watching hockey, all the things that his family tried to do to make a home in their new country.

Kelly Prime: I'm wondering if you think that if your family had faced more outright hostility, do you think they would have bought in on the club as much?

Latif Naser: Yeah I think there were certainly dark times for my parents, where people would call them pakis all the time and I'm sure they didn't get jobs [crosstalk 00:52:28] certainly yeah.

Kelly Prime: but they bought in anyway?

Latif Naser: Yeah they did, I think it was in part because oh okay this is the only place that took us, we gotta really make good here it's not like we really have other options, but I do think that my parents probably felt a lot of pressure to conform in some way, like being the first immigrant generation who maybe you still have a trace of an accent, maybe because of the food you eat you still smell a little different, I'm sure that generation usually that first generation is like super sensitive about those things and basically comes at it like oh I'm going to be the most Canadian, more Canadian than any Canadian. It's almost to the degree of erasing your, forget that I came from another place, lets just erase all of that.

Kelly Prime: Yeah and I think about that and how assimilation to me has always seemed like a sad word, like a giving up of something to be somewhere you know? But at the same time as that sits in my mind, I think about okay what if lots of Latifs immigrate to Canada and they all think wow thank you so much, hockey is not for us and now suddenly hockey is no longer the thing that holds social capital and in some way Canadian identity loses that thing, that also feels sad.

Latif Naser: Kabaddi or some Indian sport or something-

Kelly Prime: Yeah and I don't know where to put that.

Latif Naser: Yeah like I get that feeling, where you're like oh this is a thing that I love and all of a sudden now there are people here who don't love the thing that I love and, my love is being diluted or even potentially supplanted? And I think that's a fair thing to feel, there's also a way to sell it, okay lets get some Indian kids in the NHL. I remember there was this guy Manny Malhotra, hold on is he still in the NHL? I was obsessed with Manny Malhotra, he was like and Indian Canadian guy who was a hockey player, and I was like oh yeah cool, if he's in there I can start to feel my way into it and I feel it's just a matter of sell it, share with me why you think that this is so great, and let me have some purchase in it, and then all of a sudden I'm going to love it. Like I will.

Jens Hainmuelle: Yeah so, and we did a lot of work on trying to figure out well what happens to people if they get citizenship?

Kelly Prime: In some way Latif's story speaks to something that Jens Hainmueller told me that really kind of flipped the way that I was thinking of citizenship.

Jens Hainmuelle: Folks who got Swiss citizenship compared to those who didn't, they're much more likely to know important fact about Switzerland and they're much more likely to read Swiss as opposed to home country newspapers showing that their orientation has really moved towards kind of Switzerland and being informed about what's going on.

Kelly Prime: They even report less discrimination.

Jens Hainmuelle: You know taken together I think this really suggests that the citizenship it's not as some people argue the end point of integration, its not like the crowning achievement of an integration process and people work very hard to become citizens and then it kind of ends there. Its more than the citizenship itself can be an important catalyst that kind of facilitates the social, political, and economic integration.

Kelly Prime: So I visited Nancy the day she was going to vote for the first time as a Swiss citizen.

Kelly Prime: And she kept saying how nervous she was, she kept going like my hearts going bum bum bum bum bum and, I wish I had this on tape, but I was not allowed to record in the meeting. So I had just parked the car and just as I parked the car and was getting out at the meeting, Nancy rode up on her bike, and she had been talking all day about how she didn't wear shoes, and I saw that she was wearing shoes, and they were sparkly, sequin, silver shoes and I was like why are you wearing shoes here? And she said its my first meeting as a citizen and I just really want to make a good impression.

Jad Abumrad: Oh wow.

Kelly Prime: And it was just so interesting that the more she was rejected the more she was like no shoes, no cowbells, I am Nancy, and the second she's accepted, she wears shoes. She starts to compromise,

Latif Naser: There is maybe one of the quintessential Canadian foods rally a Quebecois food, but a Canadian food is poutine right?

Kelly Prime: I love poutine.

Latif Naser: And so there's this poutine place, its like a chain, I think its called Greg's poutine or whatever in Toronto.

Kelly Prime: That's the most Canadian thing

Latif Naser: I know, and so Greg's poutine on the menu if I'm remembering last time I went, it has like a chicken tikka masala poutine or something like you're like oh awesome that's cool yeah. Let's do it both ways let's mash this up, and now we're all living in the same place you know?

Kelly Prime: My heart is getting physically warm, it's the most hopeful poutine metaphor I've ever come across.

Jad Abumrad: That story was reported by Kelly Prime, produced by Kelly and also Annie mccewan. Big thanks to Latif Naser of course, and a huge thank you to reporter Anna Mayumi Kerver

robert krulwich: You mean Anna Mayumi Kerver.

Jad Abumrad: That's who I mean yes

robert krulwich: She went around and arranged everything and translated for the story, also to Dominic Handgaredener who works in the garden usually using his hands, [inaudible 00:58:53] and of course to our yodelist

Speaker 8: Ali Dineen

robert krulwich: Ali Dineen, and Gregory Corbeeno.

Speaker 9: Gregory Corbeeno.

Jad Abumrad: Well I guess we should-

robert krulwich: Yodel out of here

Jad Abumrad: Yeah let's do it, I'm Jad Abumrad.

robert krulwich: I'm Robert Krulwich,

Jad Abumrad: Thanks for listening

Latif Naser: I feel so honored.

Kelly Prime: Good good.

Speaker 12: To play the message press 2, start of message:

Speaker 13: Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad and produced by Sarah Mueller,[inaudible 00:59:36] is our director, [inaudible 00:59:41] is our executive producer, our staff includes, Simon Adler, Becca Dressler, [inaudible 00:59:48] ... Latif Naser, Melissa o'donal, [inaudible 01:00:04] Sarah [inaudible 01:00:07] and Molly Webster [inaudible 01:00:11]

Speaker 12: End of message.