Now repeat with me:
“Many people in the UK enjoy cooking. They often invite each other to their homes for dinner.A wide variety of food is eaten in the UK because of the country’s rich cultural heritage and diverse population.” From Life in the UK. A guide for new residents, page 102
This sentence encapsulates what I think it is wrong with citizenship tests and similar devices aimed at teaching foreigners the core values of the country where they may well have been living for a decade or more. Indeed, if you are a newcomer and more likely to benefit from finding out how to register with a GP, you are not allowed to take the test.
This is not about reiterating the point many have convincingly made that hardly any natural-born Brits would pass the ‘Life in the UK’ exam just by the sheer power of being born and bred in Albion and educated in the British education system and therefore the bar for non-Brits is set far too high. It is more a gut response to the booklet I eventually took with me on a train journey after having kept it for months in a drawer.
Let me start with a disclaimer, this is not a systematic page-by-page review of the book. I didn’t start reading from page 1 because I can’t start my learning journey into Britishness yet. Why is this the case? You ask. Because being a southern Italian our ‘Life in Naples’ book teaches us, in the section on scaramanzia (superstition), not to jump the gun. This, in my case, means to wait for the response to my Permanent Residence application before registering for the exam or even begin studying the book. Passing the test is a requirement for applying for British citizenship.
Going back to the statement ‘Many people in the UK enjoy cooking’. Delusional or aspirational? Discuss. This would be a great title for a student essay.
The problem with the scribes who compile such compendia of what it means to be ‘us’ is that they find very difficult to distinguish between wishful thinking and the often more complicated and contradictory reality we live in. I wonder what kind of society we would be living in if, instead of a claim like the one made above and I’m pretty sure I’ll spot plenty more the more I dig into the pages of the book, the page was reading like this:
“Many people in the UK buy precooked food and can’t even be bothered to warm it up in a microwave. If they are cooking, you can bet they belong to 10% of the population (page 71) with some kind of migration heritage”.
Ten years ago, after a few weeks of dating, my now wife (not in the 10% above, which by the way is wrong and underestimates massively reality, see brilliant piece by Federica Cocco in FT ) invited me to stay for dinner. The menu for the evening was corned beef straight from the tin on a bed of lettuce leaves. I can’t really say she wholeheartedly enjoys cooking now, but she definitely enjoys food, especially if it is me cooking it.
Looking forward to reading the rest of the book. Curious to find out more about honorary titles and what they stand for. I have a suggestion: Deliveroo should be given a knighthood for service to the national nutrition.
PS I received a complaint for ‘stigmatising the Brits using old stereotyping’, so let me fall back into my sociological shoes and back up my lighthearted post with some research on cooking habits in Britain.