I thought about it for a second. “Um…no?”
We were on our way to the local Town Hall to obtain our British citizenship. Though I don’t usually stand on ceremony, something told me that showing up to pledge your loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen in neon cycling attire might not cut it in our adopted country.
I was right.
I have no idea how they do citizenship ceremonies in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, it’s a big deal. You process into this grandiose chamber that looks like a mini House of Commons – replete with a horseshoe of ornate green chairs centered round a main dais – and then stand – in unison – as the Mayor of your Borough (county) is announced and marches in.
I don’t say “marches” lightly. She was dressed in a bright red cloak with fur lining. Around her shoulders was a Chain of Office covered in silver shields. The gentleman escorting her into the chamber was carrying an enormous, four-foot long golden mace which he set on a table in front of the Mayor. This over-sized scepter had the curiously menacing effect, as if none of us would-be citizens should dare speak out of turn whilst it was laid before us. A large photo of Queen Elizabeth II sat to the right.
The Mayor gave a short speech about the history and splendor of our borough, Camden, and then proceeded to the main business of hand: the oath and pledge of loyalty. What’s interesting here is that they separate you into two groups – those who wish to merely affirm their loyalty to the Queen and those who wish to do so by swearing an oath to God. I’m sure that this is meant as a nod to Britain’s long-standing tradition of multi-culturalism, but it did feel oddly divisive on a day that was allegedly about unity. (For the record, the atheists had it, 2 to 1. The day I went, anyway.)
There were about 40 or 50 of us in the room, and nearly as many countries: Kosovo, Somalia, Australia, Canada…the list went on and on. Some of the initiated were in their 60s. Others were but toddlers. We proceeded to recite our respective oaths of loyalty in unison (believers vs. non).
The only off note…no pun intended…was when, just before the swearing in, a tinny version of God Save The Queen rang out in the chamber and we all stood up to fumble our way through the national anthem. I must confess, after all the medieval finery, this was a bit of a let down. As a friend of mine who went through this process several years ago remarked: “I expected a full orchestra! Not some a Toshiba blaster from the 80’s.”
Afterwards, we went up individually to receive our certificates of citizenship from the Mayor while a photographer snapped a photo. The ceremony concluded with – guess what? – tea and biscuits in the adjoining hallway. Natch.
Do I feel any different that I’m a subject of Her Majesty the Queen?
Not really. In truth, I’ve never been all that patriotic. My husband and I didn’t decide to do this either because we hated America (we’re now dual citizens) or because we’re life-long Anglophiles. (The Royals do very little for me). Instead, we did it for practical ones:
1. Taxes. Call me a Revolutionary, but I really object to taxation without representation. We’ve been paying taxes in this country for nearly seven years and not being able to vote – not even for the local councilors who affect things like the budget for schools, libraries and parks – really stinks.
2. Kids. We wanted our two children to have the option to live, work or study anywhere in Europe for the rest of their lives.
3. Healthcare. We are currently permanent residents here. That means that if we go back to the U.S. (or move anywhere else for that matter) for more than a couple of years, our right to free healthcare courtesy of Britain’s National Health Service will expire. I’m a huge fan of the NHS and socialized medicine more generally. But even if I weren’t, if I ever moved back to the States and contracted cancer, I’d like to know that I’d be well cared for and not thrown under the bus.
4. Travel. If you’ve ever logged anytime in Heathrow airport, looking on wistfully as the EU citizens whisked through their queues at airport security while you stood there with your exhausted, crabby children for hours on end, you’ll know why this is a no brainer.
So God Save the Queen and all that good stuff.
(Note to self: Must learn the words…)
The Broad Side’s newest regular contributor Delia Lloyd is an American journalist living in London. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Guardian. She was the London correspondent for Politics Daily and blogged about women and politics at The Washington Post’s She the People. She blogs about adulthood at RealDelia.