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On Becoming British
Last uploaded : Monday 26th Jul 2004 at 01:44
Contributed by : The Editor


The article beneath this one was written to record my initial sentiments in the afterglow of receiving British Nationality in May 2004.

I never thought I would feel inclined to write an ?epilogue? to this event but in the weeks since the citizenship ceremony comments have come my way that should be shared with the readers of this site.

At dinner parties and summer outings strangers have reacted with outright anger and hostility when I mention my new status as a British citizen. People who do not know me want to know ?how on earth an American is allowed to become British.? When I say I have been here twenty-eight years their anger is exacerbated: ?You haven?t answered my question: being here for a long time is no qualification.?

Then come the comments that range from the idiotic to the absurd. My long-time neighbour said .?I have always wondered if you people speak English in your childhood years.? When I ask him what he means he elaborates: ?I?d always rather assumed Americans speak some foreign language at birth. Were your parents English-speakers?? I then elaborate on my parents? credentials -- he a civil engineer and she a teacher; both born in the United States -- but the neighbour still looks askance at me. Another gem comes from a group of women at a lunch party, all agitatedly babbling at once: ?How would you get to be a citizen?? as if I am a cross between Martian and al Qaeda operative. Another friend told me that I will have to start learning about British traditions and cultural icons, and proceeded to explain what Sandhurst and Glorious Goodwood are.

Taxi drivers and local shop owners are also bemused. They think ?the government is giving away citizenship like everything else.? Never mind that I have been a taxpayer for nearly thirty years and have a special affection for my adopted home, despite fierce attacks on me from anti-American strangers and friends. Never mind that my hard work has, one hopes, contributed to British television drama history and given many British people new opportunities.

There is a weird irony here: all over London people who can barely speak English and know little about British history and culture are employed in every aspect of life. They have the right to work and receive state benefits here because they are EU citizens. The Americans receiving UK citizenship are infinitely more qualified to make a contribution to the work pool than non-English speakers, but we seem to incur the wrath of the natives.

Although it appears US immigration authorities are making life even more miserable for British arrivals, the American populace itself adores the British. It has occurred to me that the anger I encounter is a reaction to the horror stories about Brits being brutalised at US immigration. As far as hositility, however, I simply cannot imagine any American being nasty to a new citizen. It is something to celebrate in America, not to mention that Americans adore the British, from sea to shining sea.

If I come across a Brit who actually congratulates me and buys me a celebratory drink, the readers here will be the first to know.

My essay from the ?initial glow period? follows:
I have lived in Great Britain for twenty-eight years and have become increasingly attached to this culture -- to its special grace and traditions. In recent years it has been frustrating for me to have been unable to express myself through the ballot box when, after all, I am a ratepayer, taxpayer and active member of society as well as of my local community.

What did the American Founding Fathers say? ?Taxation without representation is tyranny!? Well, here I am turning that on its head and returning to the Mother Country to become a true Brit.

It is impossible to describe my joy when the letter arrived in late April 2004 saying the Home Office had approved my application for British citizenship and that I would be sworn in at a special ceremony. The period between the letter and ceremony was filled with the feelings one experiences before a rite of passage. I could hardly wait and kept looking at the calendar to count off the days to 10 May, my Citizenship Ceremony Day at Westminster Council House in Marylebone. When I rang the Council to make arrangements for guests and other details I was bowled over by the enthusiasm and graciousness of the staff. I half expected to be treated with a wee bit of disdain or even suspicion (Oh, these Yanks coming over here, overpaid and oversexed and then getting Passports!) but every person at the Council seemed as excited as I was about becoming British.

On the day I was so flustered that I -- former professional photographer! -- forgot to pack camera film. Never mind: my guests had brought their own cameras. The beautiful room in which we waited filled up with prospective citizens who reflected the rainbow of London cultural life. I have to admit being surprised that I was not the only American. There are some seven million of us living outside the United States but my impression is that few feel inclined to take up dual nationality. In my case, I am something of a political animal and in recent years have been intensely interested in the future of Great Britain, along with the Great Euro Debate.

Back to the ceremony: when we were asked to move to the majestic Council Chamber for a rehearsal we passed the Lord Mayor, Jan Prendergast; I was knocked out by her splendid attire and ceremonial hat. My silly grin must have made her wonder what sort of eccentric creatures are being accepted by the Home Office!

It was a delightful gesture for Westminster Council to provide refreshments to all before the ceremony. Many of us had arrived too early and were anxious, so that ?cuppa? to calm one?s nerves came in handy for both nervous inductees and guests. A string quartet serenaded us and then the big moment arrived.

When it came time to take the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty and Heirs I had to hold back tears. Our UK citizenship certificates were given to each of us by the Lord Mayor. Her speech about the great and unique history of Westminster, as well as her observations about becoming a citizen were moving; her invitation to us to run for MEP or MP made my ears perk up! It seemed as if I was the only one singing God Save the Queen, but that comes, I guess, from too many nights in front of the footy and wine-laden Proms in the Park. (I knew I had to become British last year when I was dissolved in tears at the Last Night of the Proms when we sang ?Jerusalem.?)

There are certain events in one?s life about which one recalls every detail, and I do recall feeling so comforted that I had brought my Bible for the Oath. I was wearing my Union Jack brooch and the Lord Mayor told me how much she liked the pin when I came up to receive my certificate. People who know me well will say ?doh?? if I say I was tongue-tied but I was at that moment. I was in a dream world for the rest of the day.

When I came home my neighbours presented me with a Union Jack flag and a friend gave me a ceramic bulldog wearing a Union Jack collar. The event was very beautiful and I will never forget it. Westminster made us all -- from as far away as Eriteia and Canada -- feel welcome and special.

My trip to the Passport Office was another kettle of fish. It was nervewracking and the clerk was not happy with the way my referee had completed the form (he is 78 but she was not about to give him any leeway) The more I stood there the more I felt I might end up in a pool of tears and indeed I had to go home with a new application and had to find a new referee. I had tried to make small-talk with the clerk and that just made matters worse. It brought me down to earth after the glorious and self-esteem -boosting experience of the Westminster Citizenship ceremony. She seemed really annoyed that I wanted to show her my beautiful new Naturalisation Certificate. I had so wanted to get my new Passport in time to make a ?ceremonial channel crossing? to the Cannes Film Festival but it was not meant to be. (I had not been abroad for seven years.) I think it useful for citizenship applicants to know that the Passport process is an exacting one and that they should not expect it ?instantly? after their ceremony.

Eventually after a second application I received my British Passport. I am fascinated to see that it elegantly orders the person inspecting it to let me pass ?by request of her Britannic Majesty? and indeed I crossed the channel on 5 June with a group of D Day veterans on the ?Normandie? and spent D Day 60th at Omaha Beach. It has been a moving and meaningful time for me.

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