Anorak News | Test The Nation

Test The Nation

by | 2nd, November 2005

‘AMERICANS talk in lifts. Perhaps it’s nerves. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that it takes a lot longer to travel down a skyscraper than it does a small office building in Pontefract.

‘Q: If Gary and Bianca both sign on, how much tax will Osman have to pay?’

But wherever the lift, Americans will talk in it. And even if you won’t talk back they only need minimal eye contact to carry on talking. This is what marks them out as American. It’s part of their Americaness.

British people do not talk in lifts. When a lift stops between floors, British people look at their feet. The more daring ones who have holidayed in Miami may wiggle their toes. Old soldiers will rock very lightly back and forth on their heels. Some will furrow their brows and pretend to be lost in thought, keen to appear oblivious to the dwindling oxygen supply and snapping sounds from above. It’s a mark of our Britishness.

But lift etiquette is not part of the test that must now be taken by foreign-born immigrants keen to be British.

And there are some other things wannabe Brits need not learn. They need not learn how to eat lasagna and chips. They have no need to learn how to stay “thank you” at each and every stage of a transaction in a shop. They don’t even need to know the chorus to Hi-Ho Silver Lining.

The “life in Britain” test is more like a Highway Code – the exam is based on a 145-page pamphlet, Life in the UK, written by Sir Bernhard Crick, David Blunkett’s former university tutor.

There are rules to living in Britain that must be learned. After you’ve passed the test, you can get into some bad habits as you put the moves you’ve learned into practice.

And the tests won’t be too hard. Tony McNulty, the Immigration Minister, has promised that they won’t be so rigorous as to deter people from trying to be legitimate British citizens.

And the questions are pretty dull: “How many people live in the UK?; What are Bank Holidays? Others may prove useful, especially if the immigrant fails the test and then goes on the run: Which court uses the jury system? Which number do you dial to get the emergency services?

And others offer room for debate: What is the Church of England? (A milky tea party for God); What is the Queen’s official role? (Stamp model); What is the Commonwealth? (A good way for British athletes to win medals).

But why think up new questions when you can just crib them from other countries? Over in the States they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years.

Would-be Americans are required to pass a quiz on the basics of U.S. history and government. Although given America’s supreme cultural status it would be almost impossible for anyone to answer “What is the White House?” wrongly.

Arrivals in Britain have no such luxury. They have to do a little studying. Modern Britain has new rules. The British Empires is gone, taking with it some of those things foreigners still believe occur when football was a game for gentlemen and Brief Encounter was as close as things got to dogging.

But isn’t that the thing. A dynamic country like Britain is always changing, a product of the times and the people.

Learning the facts is no big deal. The important bit is how the arrival lives. And it might be that the hard working, keen-to-get-on new Britons prove to be more native than many of the British already here…’

Posted: 2nd, November 2005 | In: Reviews Comment | TrackBack | Permalink