It was 2006 when Wild Thing and I left Minnesota for a village in Cornwall. It’s ridiculously beautiful and it’s also—well, British. And we’re American. Actually, by now we’re both British and American, but we’ve been Americans for a lot longer than we’ll ever be British, and these things don’t leave you.
When we applied for permanent leave to remain in the UK, I had to take the Life in the UK test to prove that I was fit to stay. Or maybe what I had to prove was that some ministry or political party was sufficiently tough on immigration to appeal to the anti-immigrant vote. The test is silly, but politics makes people silly. Wild Thing is eight years older than I am and didn’t have to take the test. If you’re past a certain age, you can keep your foreign ways without threatening the country’s integrity. Or something along those lines. The logic of it got lost in the twists and turns of some politician’s brain and if you think about it too much it’ll only upset you.
I bought a government booklet about the test and studied it. Since I worked as an editor before I retired, I couldn’t help tracing through the book’s logic, and I’m prepared to testify that there wasn’t much. A part of it explained how to deal with officialdom, and that was theoretically useful, although by the time I had to take the test life had taught me most of it, as I expect it does to other test-takers. It included information on emergency phone numbers, libraries, the National Health System, that sort of thing. But sandwiched in with that were pages and pages of data: what proportion of the population belonged to which religion, for example. I think I’m right in remembering that Jedi had enough adherents to show up on the list. The patron saints of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, and the days on which they’re celebrated, which are no longer official (and are barely unofficial) holidays, so the information is of no earthly use. I suppose if you belong to a religion that believes in saints you could argue that it’s of some unearthly use, but I don’t know if calendar dates remain relevant in heaven, should such a place turn out to exist. But I duly memorized them, and they weren’t on the test. I have now duly forgotten them. (The test is computerized and the questions vary; not everyone takes the same test. So someone somewhere may get asked about them.) The populations of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Since there’s nothing involving numbers that I can’t screw up, I spent a lot of time on this and forgot every bit of it ten minutes after the test, which is okay because, unlike the religions, which were in percentages, these were in absolute numbers and will have changed by now. Although, come to think of it, the religious percentages may have as well.
They also had a list of popular sports. Cricket, which I would have thought was the most British of British games, wasn’t included, maybe because the game takes so long that none of its followers had time to respond to a survey.
Sports weren’t on the test. The only question I still remember had to do with the television license—something along the lines of whether people renting a room in a house would have to pay for a separate television license if they had their own set. The television license pays for the BBC and is, essentially, a tax dedicated to that specific use. Think of it as a toll booth, only it’s not on the highway, it’s on the TV set and pays for the programming, not the road.
All that mess about populations and saints’ days? As far as I know, it’s either in there either to fill out the pamphlet or to distract applicants from learning the information they’ll actually need.
It’s a hell of a way to welcome a person to the country.