I’m studying for my U.K. citizenship test.
It’s actually not citizenship per se. Rather, it’s what’s known – in an impossibly English formulation – as “Indefinite Leave To Remain” (ILR). But ILR the first step on the road to citizenship, and it allows us to become permanent residents in the UK.
In addition to assembling a shed load of paperwork that would appear to include evidence of everything we’ve ever eaten since moving here five years ago (kidding…barely), we also need to take a test about “Life in the United Kingdom.”
So for the next two weeks, I have set aside a half hour every day to review various facets of British life ranging from historical immigration patterns to the ins and outs of the educational system to how laws get made here.
At first, I was really irritated that I needed to pass an exam to show that I understood life in the U.K. (I mean, seriously, folks. After last week’s working class vacation, how could anyone possibly tell me that I don’t “get” what it’s like to live here?)
Plus, all of my American friends who’ve already taken the test have told me that it’s a complete waste of time and that I’ll forget everything I study as soon as I walk out of the test room.
Much to my surprise, however, I’m finding the whole thing rather useful.
There are, first of all, the things I already know and can take pride in having mastered lo these past five years: things like how the NHS actually works, how one goes about obtaining a driver’s license and, for better or worse, how one goes about buying a house. (On this last one, I’d like to volunteer to add a segment on getting gazumped.)
Then there are the things that I thought I understood, but actually didn’t. Like the difference between the Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament. (Here’s a handy-dandy primer, in case you’re, um, interested.)
And then, finally, there are the things I had no clue about, may well forget, but am actually really pleased to discover: like what percentage of the population in the UK is actually Muslim (surprisingly low, given all the anti-Islamic rhetoric…what the heck is a GCSE and when do my kids need to take them?…and how big is the population of Wales vis a vis the rest of the country?).
Above all, however, preparing to take a citizenship test in another country forces you to grapple with your own patriotism. If, as and when we obtain British citizenship, we will still be free to return to live in the U.S. at any point. Nonetheless, at the end of this whole process and assuming that I can remember that 70% of British citizens belong to the Church of England on test day – we’ll be bonafide citizens of another country.
We’ll be able to vote. We’ll be able to work anywhere in the EU. And our kids can serve in the British military.
Image: Union Jack Paper Flag Picks by Amanda *Bake It Pretty* via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.