Not Saussure

December 6, 2006

How British are you?

Filed under: Community, Foreigners, UK — notsaussure @ 12:23 am

The Daily Telegraph, reporting this new test about Britishness and the ‘the British way of life’ eschews the ‘Migrants tested on knowledge of benefits’ line of the Mail and the Express (hat tip 5cc).

They, in fact, make the damn thing sound pretty difficult, not least because they neglect to tell readers it’s a multiple choice. Consequently, I was thinking I’d have difficulty with, for example, How many young people are there in the UK? or How many people say they have a religion and how many attend religious services? or, if I were trying to give an answer that wasn’t so vague it was meaningless, How are local services managed, governed and paid for?

And, poorly informed though I doubtless am, I’m probably one of pretty small minority who knows, on the subject of What and when are the main Christian festivals? , when Easter is; that is (roughly — it doesn’t work exactly because Ecclesiastical Full Moons aren’t quite the same as anyone else’s) the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after March 21st. I agree, far simpler to look it up in your diary, isn’t it?

The sample questions given in The Sunday Mirror probably better indicate the level (unless they deliberately chose the easy ones, so as not upset the readers):

What is mistletoe traditionally used for at Christmas?

A Burned as an aromatic fuel B Given to friends as a symbol of generosity C Hung above doorways under which couples are expected to kiss D Used as a spice to make Christmas pudding.


According to the Church of England, heirs to the throne are not allowed to marry whom?

A Anyone who is not of royal blood’ B Anyone who is not a Protestant C Anyone who is under the age of 25 D Anyone who was born outside the UK.

I’m assuming, by the way, that the reference to the Church of England is the Mirror’s mistake rather than the Government’s (clearly the author of the article is no true Brit).

But whatever the standard, how on earth does knowing the answers to these questions make you particularly British? I get through life perfectly happily not knowing the number of young people in the UK, and if I ever did need to know, I know where to look it up. Complaints about the test not including history are misguided, I think; OFSTED, and others, are forever complaining about the poor knowledge of history shown by the however many young people it is, with the result that in 2001,

Three-quarters did not know that D-Day was the start of the Normandy landings in 1944, while a third thought it marked the end of World War II, the BMRB poll of 1,000 young people found.

The findings came as war veterans across the UK prepared to honour comrades who lost their lives.

A third of those polled thought Henry VIII had eight wives, not six, and 80% did not know Queen Victoria’s reign lasted for 64 years.

Six out of 10 did not know St George’s Day was marked on 23 April and a third got it muddled up with the Irish patron saint’s day – St Patrick’s Day – on 17 March.

And 75% of those questioned did not know Richard III ruled in the 15th century.

Surely if HMG sincerely want these immigrants to fit in with the locals, they should be positively discouraging them from showing what’s clearly a very un-British knowledge of the subject. The only people in the Union who take history really seriously are in Northern Ireland, and look where it’s got them, at each other’s throats about who did what at the Battle of the Boyne (won, of course, by the chap who had that benefit of a Papal blessing — the Pope, as a temporal monarch in Italy, was a fervant supporter of William’s claim to the English throne because he saw him as a valuable ally against the French).

And, in any case, we have it on the best authority that there are only two dates in English history anyway.

To my mind, the whole thing’s a gimmick to placate the editors of the tabloids and dimmer MPs; if knowledge of British history or when Easter falls or what the powers of the Welsh Assembly might be are so important to being British, then it would seem to follow we should make passing a test in these matters compulsory for everyone who wants to claim to be a British citizen, no matter where they were born. No passports for would be Club 18-30ers until they’ve passed their citizenship exams! Yeah, that’s got my vote.

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  1. Not to mention the fact that the people most proud of being British generally refer to 1000 years of history when it’s actually – even using their own flawed definition of when it all started – only 950… (The modern concept of “Great Britain” itself, of course, dating only from 1603, 1707, 1801 or 1922, depending on your definition…)

    Comment by Nosemonkey — December 6, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

  2. …”under which *couples* are expected to kiss”?

    That’s where I’ve been going wrong…

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — December 6, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

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