Becoming a Brit

December 3, 2012
(Photo courtesy of Karla Adam)

LONDON -- My first lesson as a Briton: Never underestimate the enthusiasm of the British for wheeling out Paul McCartney during high-profile events.

Last week I became British after attending a citizenship ceremony in which iPod-wielding officials played “Love Me Do” and other Beatles hits that transported me back to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, both of which McCartney closed with a rousing finale.

Except that this big event was my citizenship ceremony, the final hurdle in becoming British -- a development that means, my husband desperately hopes, that I may soon appreciate the complicated layers of irony Britons can weave into a single sentence.

I grew up on a farm in western Canada and went to university in New York City.  But for most of the last 11 years, I have proudly called London home. I now stock up on British chocolate before traveling to North America, think it’s perfectly normal to fire up the kettle several times a day for tea and increasingly refer to the garbage can as the "rubbish bin."

It was time.

Plus, there are signs that things could get harder here for foreigners. While London is arguably the world’s most international city, bustling with accents and languages from every corner of the planet, polls show that immigration is one of voters’ biggest concerns. The coalition government has pledged to slash net migration to “tens of thousands” by 2015. They are also overhauling the “Life in the U.K.” immigration test every wannabe Brit takes on the road to citizenship.

When I took the test, I was essentially a walking pub quiz for weeks, badgering my long-suffering British friends with arcane questions. For instance: What country in the U.K. doesn’t have its own parliament? (England); what percentage of the population attends religious services? (10); are dogs required to wear in public a collar displaying the address of their owner? (Yes).

The revised test will reportedly be more “patriotic” with questions on Shakespeare, Dickens and key British battles. Aspiring citizens will also have to learn the first verse of the national anthem, "God Save the Queen."

Lasting about 90 minutes, or about two cycles of the "Abbey Road" album, my ceremony took place in a town hall in north London. We started with tea and biscuits -- two major food groups here -- and later pledged allegiance to the queen and her "heirs and successors."

On the way out, I noticed that the new citizens -- there were about 30 of us -- automatically formed an orderly queue (suggesting we were adapting to our new nation) and struck up spontaneous conversations (but then again, maybe never completely). Many remarked on how moving the ceremony was.

And so it is I'm now a proud citizen of a country that has given the world Bond, the Bard and yes, the entire back catalogue of the Beatles.

Karla Adam is a reporter for The Washington Post based in London and holds dual Canadian and British citizenship.

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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