Edward L Fox: Why I'm becoming a British citizen

I observe America from a distance now, and see it as a place where you win big and you lose big

Share

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be going up to Haringey Register Office for a citizenship ceremony where, with a group of others, I will swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, and pledge to "give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms", among other reasonable undertakings.

I am an American, New York City born, as were my fathers before me. Isn't American citizenship good enough for me? Well, yes it is, but having by now spent a greater proportion of my life here than in the US, I feel I want British citizenship too, and not just because I will be able to join a faster queue at Heathrow.

When I filled in the application for UK citizenship (which, at £280, doesn't come cheap), I expected that there would be a question on the form that said "Please state why you want to be a UK citizen. Continue on a separate sheet if necessary." But the question was not asked, and my reasons were not sought. So here is my answer.

First of all, I want to be able to vote here. I'm a member of the Labour Party (which allows foreigners to be members), so it would be nice to be able to express this preference other than just by having a bumper sticker on the car. There are local elections in May of next year, and I'm keen to vote in them, to take my revenge on local councillors. Not that it will make much difference, mind you. Local democracy in the UK is moribund. Where there should be democracy, instead there is "consultation". This is the process whereby local politicians listen to their constituents at public meetings, smug in the knowledge that they are under no obligation to do what the public are asking them to do.

Nationally, it's all quite lively, as we know. This situation is inverted in the US, where local democracy is strong and at the national level we see George Bush in the top job, and senators and congressman who, with rare exceptions, don't dare say boo to a goose in public in case it harms their chances of re-election. They praise their own timidity, calling it "civility", "collegiality" or (less often recently) "bipartisanship". I don't want to say I'm becoming British purely out of disgust with the unfolding disgrace of the Bush II era, but let's say it helped me to persevere with the application.

The fact is that I do feel a bit British after all these years. National identity is defined by the historical events you feel badly about: I came to realise that I felt worse about the dissolution of the monasteries than about the American Civil War. I feel bad about the Forgotten Army in Burma. I don't feel that bad about the Beeching Report and its consequences, but I sympathise with people who do. Mind you, I still feel bad about the Brooklyn Dodgers moving to California, and that happened before I was even born.

I like the British idea of patriotism, especially compared to the American, because of its virtual absence: herein lies a kind of freedom. The UK must be the only country in the world whose public holidays stand for nothing in particular. They are not named after famous victories or historical grievances. They are called "bank holidays", which means blank holidays: holidays with no patriotic burden.

On the other hand, this summer my family and I went on holiday in the States. It was great to be back in my native land. One night we went to a minor-league baseball game in Lynn, a suburb of Boston. The game was preceded by a lady singing the national anthem. We all stood with our hands on our hearts as the singer pealed out verse after verse of patriotic gore. Then halfway through the game there was another patriotic song, and a second moment standing solemnly with hands on hearts. I thought I had had quite enough patriotism by the time the game ended.

I also listened to right-wing talk-show hosts on the car radio from morning to night talking about "liberals" as if "liberals" were an enemy nation and the country were getting ready for civil war. The patriotic songs don't seem to be working there.

I guess my scepticism about the country of my birth shows how British I have become. In going to the trouble of getting UK citizenship (which I did not need) I am expressing a cultural affinity that has grown since I have lived here. I observe America from a distance now, and see it as a place where you win big and you lose big, and the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the constitution and the volume is up rather high. Here, people live according to what I call the principle of 60 per cent: no one is more than 60 per cent happy, no one is more than 60 per cent unhappy, no one expects more than 60 per cent of the pie or 60 percent in the polls. The result is a social consensus; it's hard to define, but it's there, and there is a kind of freedom in that.

So let's not fret too much about whether we need to tighten up the definition of British citizenship. Best to leave it as a loosely defined, elusive amalgam of the values of a shaggy consensus, a modest, muddled compromise. While an allegiance ceremony is a good idea, we shouldn't try to imitate the grand, formal, strictly-defined character of American citizenship, with its stern symbols and rites.

An American friend has been through the ceremony I'm about to go through. What was it like? I asked him. Oh, it was very nice, he said. It was very short. Everyone was very embarrassed.

edwardfox@f2s.com

The writer is an author and journalist

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Richard Bishop: Accounts Payable Clerk

£11 - £13 Hourly Rate: Richard Bishop: Are you looking for a purchase ledger r...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Analyst

£50,000 - £60,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with previou...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
Anthony Burgess, the author of 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Earthly Powers,' died 17 years ago  

If Anthony Burgess doesn’t merit a blue plaque, then few do

John Walsh
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor