December 16th, 2010

Fishy Circumstances


As of today, I am a British citizen.*

The weather got itself together, and was stereotypically grey and rainy. Despite stereotypes, this is not actually all that common as weather conditions go around here, especially when it's been snowing as often as it has lately.

The ceremony was in Chelmsford, in the Council Chambers at County Hall. They are charming, in a 1930s somewhat brutalist fashion, lined with the names and dates of the Kings of Essex, a listing and portraits of major personages of Essex, gilded maps of Essex, and illustrations of four major events in the county's history, most of which involved people revolting or fleeing the country. My favorite, thematically, was the painting of an Essex man and his family sailing off to America on the Mayflower.

We had been speculating on who the dignitary for the ceremony might be. To my surprise, it was someone I recognized, from when I visited his family seat last year as a tourist, and he was out walking the grounds. I had been told to say hello to the man officiating over our ceremonies, thanks someone I know through the local history group; when I did, he remembered that he had been told the same, and we complete the social connection with a handshake. The official photographer turns out to be based in my town: he knew exactly where my house was from my address, down to the nearest pub. I had thought this would be a ceremony with strangers**, but found I was, in small ways, already connected to them.

There were perhaps 35 of us, divided into two approximately-equal groups based on whether God or lots of adverbs were involved in the words with which we became citizens. The speeches were generally good, county-specific when good, and more general when less so. I didn't really need to be told about the concept of citizenship going back to the ancient Greeks, because it meant I sat there thinking about how women, such I or the mother with toddler beside me, would not have been citizens. The dignitary made jokes about us not needing to swear loyalty to the Kingdom of Essex. It's been defunct for about 1300 years now, after all. We finished with the first (usual) verse of the national anthem; for a rarity, in this country not given to patriotism, plenty of people sang along. It was, after all, appropriate. On the way out of the chamber, we were given Union Jacks to wave.

The county gave thoughtful and appropriate gifts to welcome us to citizenship: a small, heavy medal, commemorating the occasion, and a box of several souped-up*** jams from a major Essex jam company. One momento to keep, one to eat: a good distribution. Speaking of welcomingness, they laid on a good-looking spread of sandwiches, rolls, scones, and mince pies, in addition to drinks. We were full from lunch, and didn't partake. They also had a little fake Christmas tree set up, and played tastefully-subdued Christmas carols.

My welcome pack also included a county employee's official ID card. Kind as it is of them, I'll be mailing it back to County Hall tomorrow.

* This makes me a dual citizen. Neither country requires me to give up my other one.
** In the ceremony itself: I was delighted to have C. and fjm there with me in the audience.
*** Not literally with soup.