So you want to be a citizen (part 5)

At the end of the last installment, the citizenship ceremony was about to begin, we were all in our places, and ready to go—

The first order of business, according to an Order of Service leaflet we’d been given, was to stand for the entrance of the “the Surrey Civic Dignitary”. This is not a job title; it’s a generic designation for whoever drew the short straw, or at least for someone who happened to be at loose ends that afternoon. The role of generic Civic Dignitary was played for us by a Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of the county, an elderly lady in a lilac Chanel-style suit, who tottered up the center aisle in white court shoes (US: pumps) and who, after we’d been seated, and been greeted by the registrar, gave us a talk that was meant to be—at least according to the Order of Service leaflet—a Welcome Address.

Nobody had told the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant that she was speaking to new citizens that day, or maybe she just had one speech to use for all occasions. We got a gung-ho address apparently intended to persuade business owners to relocate to our county, with a run-down of what kind of firms were established here already and an equally thorough grounding in the tax situation, amenities, and physical features of Surrey that would make it the ideal place for our companies. We tried not to laugh, watching the other new citizens, most of them from Asia or Africa, looking at each other to see whether they were the only ones who found this peculiar.

A Lord-Lieutenant is the direct representative of the monarch in a region (something like a viceroy, in a small way), whose job is do things that the Queen would do if only she could be in more than one place at a time; since Her Majesty had more pressing matters to attend to, we got a poster-sized photograph of the Queen, which sat on an easel at the front of the room, and her representative in the form of this Deputy Lord-Lieutenant. (The title is Lord-Lieutenant even if a woman holds the position; men get a military-style uniform to wear, but women just get a badge.)

When she finished speaking, it was time for the oath. They’d provided each of us with a card giving the wording in English (in Wales you can swear your oath in Welsh) and in large type so that nobody had to memorize it and risk getting it wrong. We ran through the litany of our names (“I, Aysequl Al-Jurjani”…“I, Harrison Mwale”…“I, Harini Patel”) and then together we all said:

…swear by Almighty God, that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to Law.

Clearly, the UK isn’t extending citizenship to anyone with Republican leanings (which here means those who want to get rid of the monarchy), and I am now bound by this oath to be loyal to Prince William, presumably, in due course.

The affirmers did their bit next, substituting the phrase “solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm” for the “Almighty God” bit. And in Welsh, the oath begins “Yr wyf I, (enw), yn tyngu I Dduw Hollalluog y byddaf I, ar ôl dod yn ddinesydd Prydeinig” and goes on from there. I don’t happen to have a Welsh spell-checker, but I’m pretty confidant that if there’s a typo in there, few people will catch it.

Next came the Pledge of Loyalty to the United Kingdom:

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil [sic] my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

Which presumably means I’ll pay my taxes and accept jury duty if my name comes up.

Suddenly, recorded music poured out of speakers in the walls, an eclectic jumble of patriotic songs, everything from “The British Grenadiers”, a brisk march you can listen to here, to “Zadok the Priest”, a piece by Handl for orchestra and choir, performed at every British coronation since 1727, which you can hear by clicking here (and then at the next screen click again on the photo of Handl on the right-hand side of the screen; he’s the guy in the white wig and lacy cuffs).

Over this patchwork of music, the registrar called out our names. People went forward, individually or in family groups, to shake the hand of the generic Civic Dignitary, to receive from her a certificate proclaiming their citizenship, and to pose with her for an official photo against a backdrop draped with flags: the Union flag and the flag of the Surrey County Council (green and white with the Council logo’s oak leaves). These photos they would later try to sell to us for 20 quid (about 30 bucks); we declined. While posing, the generic Civic Dignitary asked us in which part of Surrey we lived, which was all the chit-chat the time allowed. After the flashbulb popped, we crossed behind the registrar, who was still calling the names, to a table on the far side of the room where we signed our names in an enormous ledger. Back in our seats, which happened to be on the front row (one of the many perks in life given to those whose names come at the beginning of the alphabet; we were listed under my husband’s name, Adams), we could hear the generic Civil Dignitary as she spoke to each group, asking all the white people what part of Surrey they lived in, and asking everyone else what country they came from.

Finally the last new citizens did their bits, the recorded music switched off in mid-flow, the generic Civic Dignitary signed the ledger herself as witness to the signatures of us all, the registrar gave a brief and forgettable closing address, and we stood to sing the national anthem. And even though it’s one of the least imaginative national anthems I’ve ever run across (“God save our gracious Queen! Long live our noble Queen! God save the Queen!”), I confess it was an emotional moment. That’s when it hit: I’m British.

And then we had more tea.



Filed under Law/Politics/Government, My Life & Stuff That Happened

3 responses to “So you want to be a citizen (part 5)

  1. Kristine Krozek

    I enjoyed the citizenship series immensely and have forwarded it around to any number of friends. Phil is currently reading a journal written by Alistair Cooke and I have read many of Janet Flanner’s “Letters from Paris”.  It seems to me that you are following in their footsteps and doing an admirable job of it. 

  2. LOVED the citizenship series, Mary Ellen!

    You are the queen of punchlines.

  3. Valerie

    Hi, Mary Ellen,
    Brilliant tale-telling! (I understand “brilliant” is a term used for everything from great job to off-the-charts?) Your sojourn into the British realm of citizenship was a delight. I hope we have the honour of hearing your British-tinged Kentucky accent in California again. Hugs from 2nd alto, 2nd row….

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