Girl, Interrupting

February 13, 2011

On becoming (naturalised, half) British

Filed under: America — sylviamclain @ 8:21 pm
Tags: , ,

I am undertaking ‘a journey to citizenship’ and happily (thankfully) I just passed the test and can apply for citizenship soon.
Fortunately I can be a US/UK citizen; the UK isn’t particularly concerned with dual citizenships and the US wants to keep us:

In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Broadly meaning that unless you actually denounce your U.S. citizenship, or become a citizen of certain (mostly communist) countries – having dual citizenship is ok as was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1952 (Kawakita vs. the US)

My mother, like I assume many Americans, didn’t know this- she sent me an email:

Are you applying for British Citizenship? I am surprised but understand if that is what you want to do.

As if I was telling her I was joining a fascist regime.

I reassured her that if I had to choose I wouldn’t do it – I would stay American. Why?
Because I am from “GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD”!

Ok, I am actually kidding about that (yes, really) but this sure is what you learn growing up in the US- We are great Great GREAT and everyone wants to be like us. As embarrassing as it sounds now, I definitely grew up believing this. If the US is good at nothing else it is damn good at indoctrination. Its like Disney, its easy to make fun of Disney when you are old and wizened but as a child it was magical – the wonderful world of Disney with singing birds and dreams that came true.

I wouldn’t say I am particularly patriotic but I am rather attached to my country – its a visceral thing – and I am proud of the idea and indeed ideals of the USA (even though I think we don’t often live up them) – the Constitution is an amazing document. I am also pretty attached to the UK and in particularly to England – I have lived here for a while and plan to stay. I wouldn’t describe myself as an Anglophile, I don’t have a particular love of all things English but I am fond of England and there is alot I like about it.
For example:

1 – Tolerance – England is an incredibly tolerant society
2 – Gentleness – the Police here are amazingly gentle; the Doctors and Nurses at A&E’s here are wonderful – and they have a certain gentleness about them in a way that just doesn’t happen in the US from either public service (in my experience)
3 – the availability of books – books galore, cheap books, good books… everywhere everywhere –
4 – Newspapers – Newspapers in this country are great, relatively
5 – the BBC – which has REAL documentaries – REAL
6 – Cheap food, in grocery stores here you can get decent veg for a decent price even in places like Tesco’s
7 – Trains
8 – you can have a pint in the pub and read a book and people leave you alone.
9 – Manners and moderation – if you don’t appreciate the scrum queue at a pub, go to the US in a crowded college bar on a weekend

The Quiet Pint

There are so many more things I could list. But what I find curious, from an outsider’s point of view, is that most of the English people I know are quite shy about telling me what is good about England – in fact many of them have nothing good to say at all, its like a negative patriotism and wonder why on earth I would want to move here
My butcher summed it up the best:

“You paid over a £1000 to live HERE?!?!?!”

And I am aware that to any point on my list a negative example can be provided- like ‘Yes but the bloody trains are never on time’ and ‘we aren’t that tolerant, look at the BNP’.

Why does patriotism have to be a bad thing? Just like you can be a patriotic American and not be Sarah Palin, can you not be a patriotic English man or woman and not be a member of the BNP? I think you can. There ARE some exceptional things about England and I think alot to be proud of if you are English. And it doesn’t mean you have to turn into someone who is worried about
“the immigration invasion of our country’ or ‘the threat to our security posed by Islamism”

You really don’t. Being an American, which is hardly the nationality du jour if you live just about anywhere in the rest of the world , I am attached to the idea of ‘take back the patriotism’. Why not? It seems reasonable to me that you can love your country and hate some of the things it does.

I am really excited to (hopefully) be becoming a UK citizen, though I doubt I will ever refer to myself as British (though it might be fun for the irony as I have a definite Southern US accent), or go out waving a flag at the upcoming Royal wedding – I am very proud of becoming a part of this country, a country which, in my opinion, has alot to be proud of.

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7 Comments »

  1. Happy for you and hope your Mom can enjoy being a sort-of-Brit by association. I wonder how long it will be before we get graded global nationalities – passed for ‘any country’, passed for ‘X-countries’…? I’m convinced people still need roots and one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was a girl 30 years ago who came “back” to the UK at 16 ONLY because she could claim benefit while looking for work – but a sense of self value can be informed by nationality but nationality should not define self. Does that make sense?

    Comment by Gillian — February 13, 2011 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  2. Well said, though wouldn’t you by default be an Anglophile, considering who you married? 😉

    Comment by Claire — February 14, 2011 @ 2:12 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for wanting to enrich the UK even more!

    I think most of us do take a pleasure in being British and English, but I think we have a general ignorance about just how lucky we are and take a lot for granted. I think we have a complex idiosyncratic society with enormous potential for forgiveness, generosity and opportunity. We like the underdog, value fair play and respect that people have privacy. We do of course break all those principle views too!

    As to shouting about our patriotism, I think there is a belief somewhere in the collective psyche that anyone who shouts about how good, great and free they are, probably is not. Somehow if we are quieter and get on with being English and ‘quite nice’ the best of people will notice without being told 🙂

    Comment by Kevin Dontenville — February 14, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

    • What a kind comment and very well-put. it really helps define yourself when you move abroad – I for instance realized just how American I am.

      Comment by sylviamclain — February 14, 2011 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

      • Several of my relatives lived in the US, Missouri (St Louis), others in Canada (Toronto) and the other half are from Alsace in France/Germany. It seems to help identify your strengths and weaknesses when you are no longer part of the majority. I remember being the only white guy at a large Jamaican wedding once. Never had I felt so white, never had I felt so black.

        Anyhow, to paraphrase a lager commercial, welcome to best country on earth… probably!

        Comment by Kevin Dontenville — February 14, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  4. A very cool perspective on national identity!

    I’m in a similar position, as an American living in England (although I don’t think I’ll ever be here long enough to want citizenship), and I’ve gotten in the habit of telling people that I like living here because I can remember what I love about Britain better if I’m here, and I can remember what I love about America better if I’m not there. So much of what I love about America is how it understands itself as essentially inclusive, that all men are created equal, but being there, patriotism always ends up about being a particular kind of person, generally the kind of person who is fearful of the unknown and resistive to anything inclusive or diverse. Definitely time to take back patriotism, as much for the US as for Britain!

    Good luck with the citizenship process!

    Comment by askanislamicist — February 21, 2011 @ 3:02 pm | Reply


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