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becoming British

Life, , — January 2017

I am now a British citizen, after a pleasantly low-key ceremony last Thursday in the County Hall.

It being a council ceremony rather than a national one was not just a formality, and a surprising amount of emphasis was put on local participation, not just in the brief talk by the council officer but even in the one page welcome letter from Theresa May (as Home Secretary). (I was most pleased to be given a real book as part of the welcome materials: Diverse Oxfordshire: The County and its People.) And to a great extent becoming British has been, for me, about building local ties.

Probably more than most people, ideas and books are central to my life, and my inheritance there has always been as much British as it is Australian. Even as a child I had read far more fiction set in London than Sydney, for example, and I could probably have passed the Life in the UK test cold, since its questions are mostly about history and culture. (Much of my background is more generally European/Western, since my mother's parents were central European and the influence of the United States is ubiquitous, but I didn't learn German till I was an adult and British culture still dominated Australia in the 1970s.)

Interestingly, there were no Europeans among the ten or so people at the ceremony I attended: as well as me there were people from India, Pakistan, Burma, Israel, Ecuador, and the United States, along with another Australian. Since one needs to have had permanent residency (ILR/settlement) for a year before applying for citizenship, I'm told any Brexit fallout won't reach citizenship applications or ceremonies for another six months.

My enduring ties to Australia are almost all local. They are to people who were brought up and mostly continue to live there, in the distinctive experiences of my own life there, and to its landscapes and flora and fauna (and my experience here is restricted almost entirely to eastern New South Wales). And my British ties are similar. There are now many people here I'd miss if we left. Significant parts of my life have taken place here — my experience of being a parent, for example, and my taking up cycling. And I'm increasingly embedded in the country itself, as I become familiar with its landscapes and broader geography. Much of this is Oxford-specific (and we might not have ended up settling in the UK if we'd based ourselves elsewhere) but I'm also slowly getting to know other parts of the country.

I affirmed (it was about half-half between swearers and affirmers) allegiance to her heirs and successors too, of course, but I'm still strangely pleased that it was the Queen's portrait standing there. And I'm pleased to be a European citizen, even if it's only for two years. (Having that taken away from my daughter is more distressing, partly because when she became a citizen that wasn't really on the cards, but also because she might have benefited more from the freedom to study and work anywhere in Europe.)

1 Comment »

  1. Congratulations!
    Did they give you morning tea? Cucumber sandwiches? I was at a naturalization ceremony in North Sydney a few years ago and participants were given tea and lamingtons.
    I suppose you sang 'God Save the Queen'.
    Happy New Year for The Year of the Rooster.

    Comment by Vera Yee — January 2017

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