Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tales from Oxford - God Save the Queen

You may remember meeting Nancy Langham a few months ago, where she generously agreed to be a guest contributer to PineappleLuv. Today Nancy describes for us what it's like to become British, officially. Or in her words, "I'm both Yankee and Brit. It's how I feel on the inside, why not have passports to prove it?"

Here is her story:

A few weeks ago I went to Oxfordshire County Hall, in the middle of Oxford. I met my best friend Kerry in the lobby, and we went up to a very 1970s looking desk, with a slightly-unhappy woman behind the counter. I checked in for my appointment, and was lead, thankfully, into a much older and more graceful part of the building.

We queued up, registered and made ourselves a cup of tea. The room had huge windows, a golden chandelier and a long wooden table. On the walls were the pictures of all the past councillors and lieutenant governors, and as we were trying to guess how many people were going to actually take part in the ceremony, the current lieutenant governor came up to us and started to chat. He was very friendly and obviously terribly good at making small talk with soon-to-be-ex-foreigners. He asked which one of us was becoming a British citizen, asked me where I was from originally and if I liked Oxford. We chatted about the countryside and his house in Norwich, but all the time I was idly staring at his waistcoat (vest) and suit, which were very formal, and his gold watch chain.

Finally we were all asked to go into the councillor’s chamber, which was a round room that looked rather like a small version of the US Senate, with deer horns hanging where the American flag would be. We were told to sit on the right if you wanted to swear an oath (“I swear by Almighty God”) and on the left if you wanted to affirm (“I do solemnly and truly declare”). I’m quite good friends with Almighty God, so I sat on the right. To my surprise, most other people did too, and out of about 12 of us, only 3 affirmed their allegiance to the Queen. By the way, the Queen was very present- a huge 2x3 foot colour photograph that was nearly 20 years out of date half smiled at us from a golden easel at the front.

A small welcome was given by the Registrar of Oxford, who let us know the legal and cultural ramifications of citizenship, followed by the very friendly lieutenant governor, who gave us the history of Oxfordshire (in 10 minutes). We were made to feel that we were not only becoming British (and therefore citizens of the European Union) but also full members of our community- so Oxford was adopting me, basically.

Each of us new Brits was from a different country, I was the only American, but there was an Italian, a South African, a Nigerian, an Argentinean, etc. We were a pretty diverse bunch! We then stood up, said our names, and then repeated the oath together. After that, we were called up to receive our certificates of naturalisation- and I was first. I wasn’t really ready for it, and that may account for my super-lame smile as I awkwardly shook the LG’s hand while receiving my certificate. (You can see the blurry photo evidence- but the official photograph reveals more than I want to share with the world...)

As I sat back down I noticed my friend Kay had snuck in late- she had ditched work just to see the ceremony! After the certificates were presented, we were congratulated and told to stand for “God Save The Queen”. I proudly belted it out- I didn’t even need the words!

After the ceremony Kerry, Kay and I took some very silly photos outside the county hall, then went for a drink in a swanky bar, which was empty at 4pm on a Thursday, so we had plenty of time to decide which cocktails to order, and to flirt with the very good looking bartender. He made me the best gin and tonic ever, and I made him fill out one of my “5 Reasons I Love Britain” surveys- the results of which I will share with you soon.

We then headed to the King’s Arms (pub) where we were eventually joined by a few friends. We drank beer, ate bangers and mash, and told funny stories to each other for hours. I love being British already...!

Brilliant Nancy, congratulations! We are looking forward to those survey results. I'd like to dedicate a very special song to you because dual citizenship - now that's punk!


Clare said...

Congratulations Nancy! As you probably know, I was born in Great Britain and obtained my american citizenship in 2000, so I am a dually also! I miss England so much and I am very happy for you. I have a question, I once thought that if an american wanted british citizenship, he or she had to renounce his or her american citizenship. Has that changed? My husband has always said he would like british citizenship like me and our daughter but would never renounce his US citizenship. I would love to know what you know about this. God Save the Queen!

Michael S-A said...

Neat story! I just forwarded it to a very British (but technically American) ex-pat friend of mine who lives in the UK. We walked the same malls in our youth, but now she spells "naturalisation" with an "s," too. ;)

Nancy said...

Hi Clare! Yes, I'm still a US citizen too- the US used to have a "no dual citizen" rule, but they quietly changed it about 15 years ago- so it's okay to be both! Tell your husband to get applyin'!