What it means to become British

I’m not sure where to start. So much is happening in my life these days.

Yesterday, for example, I pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

As if pledging allegiance to a single human being, a non-elected monarch at that, wasn’t enough, to become a British citizen I also had to pledge allegiance to Charles.

Charles?? Seriously??

I had to pledge allegiance to all of Elizabeth’s successors and heirs. No matter how horrible or evil they might turn out?? Some of you might like that Meghan Markle, but I’m keeping a close eye on that one and her progeny.

Am I the only person who sees something terribly wrong about all this?

Not that I didn’t do it. I did it. I pledged my allegiance. And, as I explained to my personal trainer this morning in the midst of all my moaning and groaning—because of the heavy lifting but more because I was explaining the process of becoming a British citizen to my now fellow Brit—my word is my honor. I mean honour.

Brits who were born into Britishness don’t have to pledge their allegiance to the Queen, her successors, and all of her heirs. Not that I’ve heard. Why do naturalized citizens need to? I mean naturalised.

The citizenship ceremony also included pledging loyalty to the United Kingdom, respect of its rights and freedoms, and to uphold its democratic values.

Now that’s more like it. All that is why I wanted to become a citizen of this country in the first place. Those words were ones I felt strongly about. I am more than happy to pledge my allegiance to a place, a people, and the democratic values they represent.

The Brits I’ve moaned to have told me to just let the allegiance to the Queen thing pass. “Just do what you’re told, Nadia. Do NOT make an issue out of this,” my husband told me when I learned I’d have to do this a few months back. He was just as exhausted from the whole application process as I was. He wasn’t going to let me go all-out political activist over this one small pledge.

But it isn’t small. It ISN’T. I come from a culture that tends to glorify non-elected, autocratic, all-powerful leaders. They have to. The consequences of not doing so are not pretty. So I’ve grown up with a disdain for the glorification of single human beings; even those that don’t have much power.

It’s cute that the British monarch, her successors, and her heirs have a role in supporting tourism in the country. It’s nice that they can represent the country every now and then without getting involved in the politics. I envy their lifestyle. Man, oh man, do I envy their lifestyle. I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by photographers everywhere I went. So I don’t envy them that much.

But, really. So many people coming to this country have fled or decided to leave another country behind where they may have resisted their whole lives pledging their allegiance to a monarch or ruler.

Coming here and having to do just that does not feel right.

Another thing: why the heck will Meghan Markle be able to get British citizenship after only three years of living in the country and not five like the rest of us? That’s what the nice man who officiated our citizenship ceremony implied. He said she has only two years left before she becomes British. I might have misunderstood. Or maybe he miscalculated. I hope so. But this is just another thing to make me angry about the long and arduous process of becoming British.

During that process, I have had to repeatedly, over a course of five years and with every single residency application, prove that I was married to my husband, that we actually lived in the same house, and that I was divorced from my ex-husband. That last bit is what makes me really angry. I understand needing to do that the first time I applied for my spousal visa to the UK. But every single time afterwards? What happens to all these applications that we make? Do they just get binned or something? Is there no large database somewhere where there’s a detailed file on Nadia El-Awady, her marriages, children, finances, and long list of countries travelled to over the years? Can’t the people at the Home Office dig into my file and see these documents for themselves? Do I REALLY need to send the same documents over and over and over again?

And don’t get me started on the Life in the UK test. I had heard about its necessity a long time ago. The general concept of it makes sense to me. If a person wants to become a citizen of a country, they should integrate enough into it that they understand its style of governance, its geography, and its people. Forget for now that British politics makes absolutely NO sense. Even the most specialized experts seem to have no idea what’s going on these days. Put that to the side. Aside from that, I have made a sincere effort over the past five years to understand the country. I’ve travelled to many parts of it, I paid a visit to Westminster and took the tour to learn more about parliament and the House of Lords, and I’ve watched countless documentaries and read books on or related to the country’s history. I have found it all absolutely fascinating. I thought that that sort of integration should be enough for me to be able to answer normal questions about Great Britain on an exam? Was it? No. Not one bit. Most people I’ve spoken to here wouldn’t pass the Life in the UK test without specifically studying for it. This test isn’t designed to make sure you’ve integrated and that you have an average understanding of Britain, its people, its culture, and its politics. It is designed to make you have to sit down for weeks and weeks and memorize word for word information that is then completely forgotten a few days later. Here, try some mock tests out for yourself: https://lifeintheuktests.co.uk/life-in-the-uk-test/

The process has also cost me thousands of British pounds. One day, when I’m feeling less traumatized, I might sit down and tally it all up. Just know for now that it’s really expensive to apply for British visas, residency permits, and citizenship. Really really expensive.

And then there is all the sifting through pages and pages and pages of online links to try to figure out what each application needs me to provide. You start on one page. It contains multiple links that send you to many other pages that also contain links. And soon you’re just lost and you have absolutely no idea what anyone wants from you. Lots of my friends hire immigration lawyers to sort it all out for them. That’s how complicated the process can be. I wanted to save the money by doing it myself. Figuring it all out was hellish, and I consider myself a relatively smart and educated woman. I communicate science to general audiences for a living. All I could think during this whole process was: the Home Office seriously needs someone like me to simplify this process so that normal human beings can understand it.

I’m probably a bit hormonal. I know that there are people all around the world that would give up an arm and a leg to become citizens of developed, democratic nations. I am in a very privileged position to have been given the opportunity to do this. I know that. And I am tremendously grateful for it.

But now that I am British, I feel that it is my right to speak up and express myself. I finally have the right to freedom of speech without having to fear reprisal. Well, beyond potential social media backlashes, that is.

I am grateful for the privilege. I really am. But this process needs an in-depth review.

Unfortunately, the British government and its members of parliament are currently too busy saying no to anything and everything.

Listen. Let’s just blame the hormones for this blog post. I’m blaming the hormones.

On another note, I am SERIOUSLY excited about being able to vote, and for my vote to actually mean something. I cannot wait for the next elections.

 

 

 

 

 

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50 comments

  1. Dear Nadia,

    Firstly welcome and congratulations for choosing to become one of us Brits, we can be a bit quirky but I’m sure that you’ll not regret it in the long run.

    On the monarchy thing, don’t worry about it as it’s just a test to see how serious you are about joining us and you’ve clearly passed. I’ve just been watching a really swivel eyed loon of a Brexit supporter on the news saying that the Queen should tell parliament to get on with just getting out of the EU at any cost but that can’t happen as we stripped our monarchy of power so they are just a token figurehed to represent the British people.

    On making the process of becoming one of us, of course it’s tedious and convoluted, it’s designed to keep out the riff-raff so that’s something else you’ve passed!

    I hope you enjoy your new status; become a political activist if you must but I’d give it a while until you’ve become used to being British and won’t be seen as an interfering ex foreigner, twenty or so years should do it.

    Have a wonderful time being British, we know that we’re the best (as anyone can see from Parliament now). Not! And just remember that no British lady ever goes outside without her hat and gloves, that’s the law.

    Welcome Nadia. Love from Richard

  2. Yes, becoming British is definitely an arduous process – my wife is currently halfway through it and the tedium of each hurdle is increasingly intense…

    Welcome to this rather bizarre club, you’ve certainly joined at an exciting time!

  3. HEY!!!
    I recently applied for residency in NZ and I can understand just how arduous the entire procedure is. Not to mention expensive.

    It would have been more expensive if I had hired a lawyer but I just didn’t have the money to do so and now all i have to do is wait ( until Oct!!! ) to know if I am accepted or not.

    Lastly, your line: ‘I finally have the right to freedom of speech without having to fear reprisal. ‘ I felt that. I know that I am always going to be afraid of talking about laws and stuff because I am not a citizen. I don’t even know if I want to be.

    Good luck!! 🙂

    1. Regarding fear of reprisal, that refers to my original country. Even as a normal resident or before even as a visitor, I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind in the UK, as long as it’s not about my own country.

  4. I still wait for the time when nations will ask me to join their citizenship. Even the British proud. Otherwise, I see this in the following way: Let’s say that I am a man lacking the means of climbing and come to the banana world, I look with envy at the indigenous people who easily collect their bananas. “Hey! I call them. I’m a friendly man, but I can not climb like you. Do not you want me to eat bananas as well? “And they give it to me, but on the condition that I accept them on my throat.

  5. I feel you Nadia. Here in India too we have to do all the documents thing, standing, waiting for our time to come in the hot sun. I am sorry for what happened and good luck with being a Brit. It really is a great place.

  6. I am a naturalized citizen for the United States. It was also not easy dealing with Immigration, forms, proof of this, proof of that, but all this said, it was a piece of cake compared to trying to “keep” the citizenship I was born with.
    German citizenship is lost the second you become American citizen if you have not gone through the lawful steps, “keeping” it and just because you apply for it, does not mean you get to keep it.

    In the end it worked out and I have two citizenships now but I totally hear you. Loud and clear!

    1. Interesting. I thought Germany didn’t allow dual citizenship period. People I know who have become German were not allowed to keep their other citizenships.

      1. To keep it you have to “proof “ that it is of disadvantage to “not” have it.
        If it is approved, you get to keep it.

        If your reason is not good enough in their eyes it will be denied and even though it was denied, they keep the fees.

        The entire process has to be completed before you become another countries citizen.
        Even if you sent in your forms and it is being processed when you take on the second citizenship, you will loose the German citizenship.

        I always thought it’s complicated taking on a different citizenship. Turns out it wasn’t. Keeping my own was the real pain in the butt. But I did it.

      2. That is so interesting, Undine. I wasn’t aware of it. I am very happy it all worked out in the end for you. And can only imagine how difficult all that must have been. Going through two citizenship processes instead of one! Nightmare!

  7. Hormonal blogging.
    Congrats on becoming a citizen and all the privilege such a title bestows. I’m super glad you ended on a palatable note. While the freedom to speak out is cathartic and exhilarating, I invite you to explore the responsibilities inherent in citizenship. I assume you will vote, but have you considered perhaps taking it a step further and running for public office?
    Your post was an awesome read. It was funny and gave me a glimpse into a process I knew nothing about. It very much evokes emotion, but mostly that of sadness and anger. Maybe I’m jaded coming from a place where Donald Trump holds the highest office, but what I learned was passive citizenry does nothing to change status quo, and petty attacks such as the umbrage taken against Markle only distract from bigger, more important grievances you brought up.
    Oh, do forgive me for being so disagreeable. I know it’s just your own personal blog. I just would’ve liked to see someone with your gift of storytelling deliver a more uplifting and encouraging depiction of becoming a citizen.

  8. British traditions. The Queen. Biscuits. Tea. A fry-up. Moaning. Queuing. Complaining. Realising your mistakes when it’s too late. Stubbornness. Refusing to ask for help. Talking about the weather. Secretly being proud and excited when someone wants to join us. Never admitting that. Always keeping our emotions at arms length. Loving people in a weird, complex stealth-like manner. Caring deeply what others think. Pretending not to.
    Welcome. I completely agree about the monarchy. Such an odd thing to have to do.

  9. First of all welcome to Britain. Secondly, apologies for the rigmarole. The British people have no idea how difficult it is to get a visa and or citizenship. Thanks to Brexit – there are about 3m EU citizens living here and they will have to go through a shortened version of what you have just experienced. Thanks to social media, the the enormous amount of public support these EU citizens have, these archaic pratices are coming to light. It is possible that some aspects of this process will seem too cruel and irrelevant that may eveyually be stopped. I do hope so.

    If you are born here then there’s no pledges of allgience. It’s assumed that we will be loyal and complient. We just eat the cream teas and do what we are told.

    We are pleased to have you here. Tea anyone?

  10. Exceptional blog Mrs El-Awady, insightful, and learning just how arduous the process actually is, is, as an indigenous sole; naturalised mind you, was something of a comfort to me.

    Welcome to your new home and indeed congratulations on successfully negotiating the road map for a better future for yourself and your families abroad, who you may now lawfully seek to be repatriated with on humanitarian grounds without fear or favour.

    Our views and opinions are not so free to articulate as you would presume, for on the contrary, you could so easily fall into the false apprehension, of believing, that having the democratic right to vote and then witness it’s absurdity on delivering that mandate to the electorate, just as BREXIT should mean EXIT is currently being thwarted by your PARLIAMENT adequately demonstrates, to now know that it is not in the strictest sense of the meaning, actually true at all.

    Enjoy the lush green grass of your new home, respect.

  11. I am still away but on the way to this allegiance make-up. To top it up, the news from their parliament everyday doesn’t add to my excitement of being a Brit one day. Your post comes as a reliever to me for now am not the only one walking this trail. Still I hope you enjoy being a Brit now after all your patience.

    1. I know. It is the dream of millions who would sacrifice almost anything to get citizenship of a Western democratic country. I think that’s one of the reasons why these countries should do better. We, people coming from non-democratic countries, expect better of them. They don’t need to make it easy for us to become citizens of their countries. But they shouldn’t be stupid about it either, asking for the same documents year after year after year. And I really do take issue with pledging allegiance to the non-elected monarch of a democratic nation. Britain can do better. It should.

  12. Have you been watching the Channel 4 series, Home? (That’s not a question from the exam by the way…) Just that now I understand why the main character, a Syrian asylum seeker, had to answer so many silly questions during the citizenship interview (during which he put the snotty interviewer to shame). Funnily enough, when I got French citizenship many years ago, I was actually disappointed that nobody asked me a single question to test my knowledge of the French language and culture. But I can sympathize with the frustration of spending time and money to pass muster.

    1. I love Home! I think it’s brilliant and incredibly funny. I also love the main character. He plays it really well.

  13. I fully understand you! And I still haven’t gone through the whole process! Currently opened a blog to express how traumatising as you say can be to be an immigrant! I’m currently marrying a British person and the process has been awfully tedious! I’ve studied in the uk for over 6 years and is almost as if they didn’t have a single file with my name
    On it! We’ve spent thousands of pounds hiring immigration lawyers after our first application was refused just because the officer wouldn’t think we were legit! And as you mention the things you have to prove show and learn just to be able to be there are not even relevant at times to a day to day over there!
    Well done for speaking out! Just as you I felt the need to do so and I want to share all my process with other people! These things help others to at least be prepared and have a small look into what comes for them if applying to a country as UK!

  14. No matter how tedious the whole process is I think I love it because it’s not easy to accept a total stranger into the family without proper checkmate., meanwhile congratulation.

  15. You’re already moaning like a true Brit, welcome aboard.

    I would like to try and offer my explanation as to why you have to pledge your allegiance to the Queen and Charles, it isn’t fact, but I think my opinion would be quite synonymous with lots of Brits.

    We are quite proud of our monarchy, heirs and all that goes with it, it’s a deeply-rooted element of our country’s culture; past, present and future. Pledging your allegiance to the monarch is just as important as doing so to our democracy, as it shows a respect and understanding of that which we hold very near and dear to our hearts, British history, our first monarch was in 802 so it’s an understandably compassionate subject for many, and the continuation of this proud British culture in the future for all that join us.

  16. Dear Nadia,
    Really welcome to you. As a Brit born I had a little go at the UK test link and did have to guess at many answers but still scored 22 out of 24. I can imagine though that many Brits would not know the answers either.
    The monarchy is anachronistic but part and parcel of the UK. Some people agree with it some don’t, even in the UK. I do think that the Queen has done a fantastic job, and there are not many still working at her age, even part time. Anyone with a bit of sense would realise that being any royal is not altogether a picnic, and you’d really have to love someone to marry into that family! It’s highly unlikely that they are likely to call in your allegiance if that’s any consolation!
    I apologise for our bureaucracy although that’s not my fault (another way to tell a Brit) that is also something you will have to get used to I’m afraid. I do like the suggestion about running for office. There are too many people that will moan about how things are done without making an effort to change them. I try not to do the one, because I’m not prepared to do the other. Unlike the US, you don’t have to be born in Britain to lead the country (but who’d want Mrs May’s job just now?).

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