I will always remember the day my husband came back home saying that he had had a nice job offer in London. I was faced with a difficult choice: I could follow him and change job, or change husband. I know that it sounds like an easy choice, but, in fact, it wasn’t. My job in Paris was an important part of my identity: I had spent long years studying in very selective universities (‘grandes ecoles’) to get it. To make matters even worse, I had studied German and not English, as a foreign language. It is a French thing: German is supposed to get you into better classes. What I am trying to say is that I could barely ask for directions in English. It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I ended up following my husband, and we all moved to London.
Fast forward 10 years, and we are still living in Great Britain. We all have British passports. I am asked all the time why I made the decision to become British. After all, I have a European passport –I am French-born-. There is no real need to be naturalised. Most -if not all- of my expat friends don’t want to become British. It is a long and expensive process: you need to get your Permanent Residence first, then pass a test, then pay a hefty fee, then attend a citizenship ceremony, and finally get interviewed for your first passport. Why would you put yourself through such a hassle? Well, quite frankly, it is difficult to explain. It happened gradually, I suppose. In fact, I turned a corner after 4 or 5 years living in the UK, and there was no going back. I didn’t see it coming, but I ended up loving it here. I just caught the British bug, and there is no cure for it.
I didn’t struggle as much as I had anticipated, because there were French people everywhere. Slowly but surely, my English improved and I wasn’t ashamed any more to speak English with my strong French accent. I haven’t stopped ever since.
My children started to answer back to me in English. They were very happy in their respective schools. We had bangers and mash at home. We were becoming a fully-fledged British family.
I also started to resent the negativity of my French friends, who kept complaining about paying the – ridiculously low – French university fees and about the fantastic French healthcare. I started to enjoy a certain British sense of humour. Obviously, I am conscious that I still have a lot to learn, as I sometimes get the joke a couple of days too late.
In short, I am nowhere near understanding the causes of my slow drift towards British citizenship. But I know what sort of symptoms you should watch for to check if you have caught the same bug as me. Here is a short list of 5 easy questions. I urge you to take the test immediately, because, at least, you will know where you stand.
Do you add the tea before milk or milk before the tea?
Now, think of an answer.
Response: It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your answer must be more than 100 words long (and preferably longer) and that you make your position in the class system abundantly clear by declaring a preference for one way or the other (milk first = working class, milk last = middle class and upwards)
Your new neighbour is putting his rubbish in front of his house, for the bin collection. He is in his boxers (and nothing else despite the biting cold). You have to walk close to him as you are going to the Tube station.
How do you behave?
Just pretend it is totally normal to be outside with almost no clothes on. Make small talk, but from a safe distance. Be polite. Think along the following lines:
“ Hello! It is getting colder, isn’t it?”
“Hi! Lovely to finally put a (small pause)…face on a name!”
Don’t blush, don’t stay silent. Don’t make fun of the situation, it would be rude. Even if it is extremely tempting don’t say “I hadn’t realised that stripes were making a comeback!”. You don’t want to take (too much) advantage of the situation just yet. After all, it is all a question of timing, right?
In which section of the supermarket do you find Yorkshire puddings?
Not in the biscuits and pudding section. Try the frozen section, silly!
However the real test of Britishness is whether or not you can make your own Yorkshire puddings. Apparently it is all about the cooking oil being warm enough. That said, for most of us non-natives, it would be wise to assume that mastering the art of making Yorkshire pudding is simply unattainable.
How much time does a British guy need to make a move on someone he likes?
This is a tricky one. The general consensus is that two months is an absolute minimum, and you should expect hours of small talk about useless matters before the guy will give you a hint of his feelings. That said, there are cases where it can be years or even decades. As a general rule, you should also know that most declarations of love happen down the pub after one too many pints, and need to be reconfirmed the morning after the night before to avoid any disappointment.
You are very late for an important job interview because you child threw up on your outfit and you had to change just before leaving home. To make matters even worse, there was a signaling incident on the Tube and you got stuck half an hour on the Underground.
How do you behave when you finally make it for the interview?
Pull yourself together, for God’s sake! Stiff upper lip is absolutely de rigueur, even if you are so upset you want to cry. Play it down, and say things like “There was a little bit of a blooper this morning…”
Make it look like it is one of these things. Apologise, but not too much. After all, it is not your fault. And get the job of course.
So, be honest now: how did you fare? I told you it was hard work to become British, so don’t say you were not warned. If got correct answers for at least two of these questions, here is what I would say to you: watch out! You are getting there without even realizing it! This list will give you useful tips and insights to integrate as painlessly as possible. Believe me: if it has happened to me, it can happen to any of us.