Feature

United Kingdom: What you need to know to be a citizen

The U.K. citizenship exam doesn't require aspiring citizens to know anything of our history or literature, of Britain’s imperial past or traditions, said Libby Purves at The Times.

Libby Purves
The Times

The U.K. citizenship exam is an insult to British culture, said Libby Purves. We don’t require our aspiring citizens to know anything of our history or literature, of Britain’s imperial past or traditions. Instead, we quiz them on things like population statistics, eligibility for welfare benefits, and “the exact number of days per year when schools are legally required to open.” It’s no wonder that so many applicants fail: “After six decades as a citizen,” I failed the online version. Though maybe that’s because I did it in only six minutes, rather than the 45 minutes allowed, “because it was so aggravating, boring, and irrelevant to real life.”

Other countries’ exams reflect much more pride in their cultures. Canada’s, for example, asks the meaning of the Remembrance Day poppy and whether the national symbol is the moose or the beaver. The Dutch demand that you know that nude sunbathing is legal, and they “preface the test with a film of two men kissing.” The French highlight cuisine, asking “not only who was Voltaire but what is a croque monsieur?” Surely we can amend our test to include a bit of the John Bull. How about a question about Shakespeare? Or at least Winnie the Pooh?

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