And today I am a British citizen.
A pleasant ceremony, a bit long but the mayoress and city administrators were attentive to detail and acted as though they enjoyed it – well done, as it's already their tenth such ceremony this year.
A bagpiper played the Northumbrian pipes – my colleagues who play folk music would have liked his oblique dig when he explained that they were not Scottish bagpipes, and the difference was that Northumbrian bagpipes were for playing music. (Wait for it.... He and I laughed over the line afterward.)
My attitude toward citizenship has always been rather pragmatic: I am not generally impressed by governments and those who govern, on the whole; as far as I'm concerned their jobs are simply to take care of people, period. Not very sophisticated politically, but it puts me firmly on the left.
So it was rather nice that the British naturalization ceremony was less jingoistic than some I've heard – it emphasized democracy and tolerance, obedience to the laws, and allegiance to the Queen without any real strings attached. A fairly rational, modern naturalization for the most part; rather like a lot of modern European attitudes (though admittedly not all of them of course).
But, unexpectedly, something really struck me: a slightly sad, or relieved, sense that some of the other people at the ceremony – African, Chinese, a woman from Venezuela, a group of muscly young guys from an Arabic country, a fragile elderly lady who looked like she was from southern Europe, and a number of others, probably fifty or more – had been through seriously dangerous, frightening experiences in getting to that room, and to citizenship. Some, of course, looked comfortable and happy, or prosperous, or merely a bit frazzled from herding their children around and keeping all those small dresses and sports coats clean. But a surprising number – could it have been as many as half? – seemed to have haunted faces, the faces of people who have crawled away from a war, who have bargained their way past a border, who have been uncertain, perhaps for years, as to whether they would be sent back to a place where their lives would be ruined.
Even the tall, dramatically energetic African woman with two small sons – maybe 8-9 years old, each of them? – and then you notice that one of the sons was albino; and suddenly you'd recall what happens to albinos in some central African countries....
It's all guesses, impressions, of course; I don't know for sure. But a lot of people in the room looked as though they might have lived through something terrible, and survived.
Maybe that's why the city staff looked as though they weren't bored by the ceremony....