Oh, Blighty…

Note: this has nothing whatsoever to do with Shanghai and/or China, but it has to go somewhere.

I saw this great piece by John Walsh in The Independent and breathed a sigh of couldn’t-agree-more relief. I do love a good rant by a Brit.

Walsh was commenting on the questions featured in the test is from Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship, written by the Home Office “Life in the UK” Advisory Group. It’s required reading for would-be citizens, but, here’s the twist: the questions are, for the most part, totally unapplicable to an asylum seeker, migrant or refugee. Amongst them were:

– Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland – True or False?

– In which year were married women allowed to divorce their husbands: 1837, 1857, 1875 or 1882?

– Which members of the public get prescriptions free?

– Do parents of state school pupils have to buy their school uniforms?

– How long must the unemployed wait before they can get onto the New Deal scheme?

– What percentage of the British population say they’re Muslims?

Are these obscurities really the mark of Britishness? I don’t think I could answer any of the above, even though I went to state school and am racking my brains to remember who footed the bill for that scraggly blue jumper I wore from the ages of 11 to 16. As usual, the government is out of touch with the communities and individuals it is targetting through such publications.

I’m repeating Walsh when I say societal integration (based on an awareness of, for instance, the inimitable British queuing style or ability to let people off trains whilst edging closer to the doors) is far more valuable than knowing historical details that most British-born folk would rely on Wikipedia to supply us with. Does the fact that Walsh failed the test mean he is not British (or English) enough? Absolutely not.

What the Home Office and their peers seem to miss is, as Csilla Hos states, “there are many Britains and many kinds of Britishness”. I’m one of them, Walsh is another. My name isn’t English, my mother doesn’t have a British passport, and at primary school I was repeatedly told to “go back to my own country” (bearing in mind these jibes took place ten miles from the hospital I was born at in Cambridge). And while I do have an Italian passport, I also adore Marmite, roasts and tea, I’m a stellar moaner, I say ‘sorry’ far too much, you will spend a LOT of time trying to convince me of something more genius than British comedy, and my God do I worship Stephen Fry. Bottom line? I’ve been born and bred a Brit, and in spite of the dire state my country is in today, I’m still proud to be one.

Fundamentally, the test Walsh is grappling with simply reiterates the lack of infrastructure and debate that goes into the wider issue of dealing with immigration, leaving us with boxes to tick and numbers floating around. The issue requires far more attention than this little atom of cyberspace can give it, but here are some views from third sector organisations and refugees and migrants themselves on how to approach integration, cohesion and refuge.

And if you’re still wondering what British is, Ziauddin Sardar, Piaras Mac Einri and my good friend Zrinka Bralo have some answers for you here.


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