In 2015, Holten’s application for naturalization was approved by local authorities but then rejected, in a vote, by 144 of 206 residents of Gipf-Oberfrick. In November of 2016, a similarly sized group gathered at a communal assembly to hear Holten's case. Some of the attendees booed her as the debates took place. For them, it seems, the matter wasn’t so much that Holten was outspoken in her criticism of the bells (though Tanja Suter, the president of the local branch of the Swiss People’s Party, did complain to reporters that Holten has a “big mouth”). The problem was rather that Holten’s activism, they have said, displays a lack of respect for the village’s—and the country’s—cultural traditions. The problem was also, more to the point, that Holten had demonstrated that disrespect so publicly.
“The reason why they have yet again clearly rejected the naturalization is that Nancy Holten very often expresses her personal opinion in the media,” Urs Treier, a spokesman for the Gipf-Oberfrick administration, told The Local. He added that Holten also “gathers media coverage for rebelling against traditional [Swiss] things within the village.”
It’s an explanation that offers a lot to ruminate on. The village’s reaction to Holten’s media-savvy activism is reminiscent on the one hand of those “common scold” laws they used to have in Europe and, for a time, the United States. Sanded of its edges, after all, here is that most age-old of things: a woman speaking her mind, and being roundly condemned for it. And here is a woman speaking, too, for creatures that cannot speak for themselves. “The animals carry around five kilograms around their neck,” Holten explained of her cow-bell-related advocacy. “It causes friction and burns to their skin.” (Plus, she added: “The sound that cow bells make is 100-decibel. ... We also would not want such a thing hanging close to our ears.”)
Holten also rejects the idea that her advocacy of animal rights doubles as an attack on Swiss culture. “Many people think that I am attacking their traditions,” she told The Local. “But that was not what it was about, it was never about that. What primarily motivated me about the cowbells was the animals’ welfare.”
Not helping Nancy Holten to defend herself against her peers’ charges of her general gadflyery, however, is the fact that she followed up her animal-rights-oriented effort with another campaign—this time, against the ringing of church bells early in the morning, another locally beloved element of the culture of Gipf-Oberfrick. Holten’s efforts in this case won her the name, among her fellow villagers, “Glockengegnerin”—roughly, “the bell-fighter.” They did not win her, however, any additional friends in the area. Nor did the other campaigns Holten has waged against local pastimes, among them hunting and pig racing—the latter of which the Swiss National Tourist Office highlights as one of the nation’s “living traditions.”