Forget the Footnotes

Brit for a day

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My wife had this idea that she was going to become a British citizen. ‘It makes it a lot easier when we get into Heathrow,’ she explained. She sent off for the papers and got a number of bona fide Brits to affirm her suitability for membership. Next she was called to the Wood Green Civic Centre for a ‘citizenship ceremony.’ Curious, I tagged along.

Before us was an oil portrait of a dumpy woman in her mid 70s, accompanied by a blue, white and red rag on a stick. A secretary divided the people assembled into two groups — one religious, the other not — and a greasy little man wished us welcome. It was an important day in our lives, he declared, when the great gift of Britishness was going to be bestowed on us. From this day onward we were parts of his community and besides England was going to do really well in the football World Cup and we might as well join now.

The candidates then proceeded to swear their allegiance to the dumpy little woman, her heirs and successors, and to the rag on the stick. The religious group added a thingy about god, the non-religious group did not. Thus it happened that my wife renounced her rights as a free citizen of a free republic and entered into subjecthood in a feudal monarchy. Then they all sang a little song and had tea and biscuits.

Obviously it couldn’t last. Realising that she was far more of a republican than she previously had thought, my wife renounced her Britishness already the next day. Luckily the American embassy was never told about the incident.

What’s strange about this ceremony is that it is so profoundly un-British (except the tea and biscuits part). It’s obviously copied from the US — no doubt by some overly zealous consultant working for Blunkett’s Home Office — but what they didn’t realise is that the values affirmed in the US are totally different. In the US you declare yourself a citizen; here you declare yourself the loyal subject of an essentially medieval monarchical order. Instead of affirming your right to stand up for yourself, you affirm your subjectification.

What is strange is also that there is an opt-out for the non-religious but not for republicans. Why can’t you become a British citizen if you are a republican? And why is it that Brit-wannabies are asked to make a pledge which clearly many existing Brits would refuse to go along with?

I particularly appreciated the way the instinctive chauvinism of the English inadvertently was revealed: as the little man should have remembered, there is no ‘British’ team in the football World Cup!

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