Saturday, 23 August 2008

Being British

I must admit, I have been rather cynical recently, of the government’s rules and regulations on immigration and gaining British Citizenship. (What you - cynical? I hear you say with more than a little irony)
The“British Citizenship Test” which began in 2005 – the year my husband and step family came to Britain to live – didn’t inspire me with much confidence of what the government thinks constitutes “being British”. But if you want the passport, then you have to read the “Life in the UK” book then take the test on society, history and culture. A 45 minute test, which costs you £34, of questions that many people born and educated in Britain struggle to answer, doesn’t seem to be the best way to integrate people from different cultures into a culture that is difficult to define – but there you go, that’s what you have to do.

Almost 60m people live in the UK. By what factor do the native-born English outnumber their Scots or Welsh neighbours? A) 9 to 1? B)7 to 1? C) 6 to 1?
Blowed if I know - and does it really matter that I don’t know ?

When did all 18 yr olds get the vote? A)1918? B)1928 ? C) 1969 ?
Erm…well I am almost sure it’s not 1918, as the first votes were for 21 year olds. And I am almost sure it’s not 1928 – but I am only guessing.

What's the minimum time you must have been married before you can divorce? A) 6 months? B) 1 year? C) 2 years ? I had absolutely no idea there was a minimum time – but at least I have surpassed all of them now and may divorce if I wish !

Anyway, my husband learned the facts, and passed the test with flying colours – though the colours were still not red, white and blue.

To celebrate becoming a British citizen, the government also introduced new citizenship ceremonies where prospective citizens make an oath/affirmation to Her Majesty the Queen and a pledge of loyalty to the United Kingdom. My husband and stepsons received their letter of invitation to the ceremony, sent off some more money and arranged a date at the Registrars Office, where the ceremony would be held.
And here is where my cynicism left me, for the time being at least.

A speech of welcome was made by the Superintendent Registration Officer and a speech by the local Mayor explained what it means, legally, to become a British citizen – to follow the laws, rules and regulations made by HM Government and to strive to be an honest and caring person, within the community.
Each person then took the oath and pledge and was presented with their certificate of nationality and a commemorative gift of a British passport cover.
At the playing of the national anthem. I actually got a lump in my throat and was incredibly proud, for the first time in my life, of being British. And not just for the passport.

Now, most of us get emotional at such occasions, whether it be a wedding, baptism or presentation for an achievement. We also feel proud of the people involved, often even when they are not family or close friends.
But this was the first time that I truly felt that a nationality was of importance and a British one, for me and my family, the most important one. I wish there were more opportunities for us to celebrate Britain. I hope that other people have the chance to have this feeling. I hope this feeling stays with me.

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