We had about a week to prepare. I went in for the Naturalization Test on a Tuesday afternoon. We spent about an hour and a half waiting in a relatively comfortable chair in a large, mostly empty, waiting room. I guess not as many people are seeking immigration and citizenship as they were when the building was designed. L said she had full confidence in me. I had full confidence in passing the civics test, but I had no idea whether there was some obscure rule that would come up that would prevent me from taking the oath.
Finally, I was called by an immigration officer. She saw my wife,
and then I left my wife in the hall, and the officer and I went to her
office for my interview. I was asked to raise my right hand, swear to
tell the truth, and then I sat down and went through the application
The first part of this involved simply confirming the details on my
application. There'd been one change since I filled it in, and I'd
filled it in long before I submitted it, but this wasn't counted against
me. I was asked to take a writing and reading test, comprising of
simple civics questions and answers (this wasn't the same as the civics
test itself.) I think the aim of the test, given the level of skill
needed, was more to ensure that you can read road signs and fill in
forms rather than read a newspaper or anything like that.
The civics test required I answer seven of ten questions correctly.
The ten questions are selected at random from one hundred standardized
questions, and you're given a book, and a CD, containing all these
questions and the right answers, to study before the interview. Some of
the questions are easy, others not quite as easy, but on the day I'd
remembered the right answers to all of them. Questions include "What is
the highest court in the land", "How many US senators are there", "Who
is the President", "Who was President during World War I", "Name a right
given to every citizen", "Name two of the three rights described in the
Declaration of Independence", "What did Martin Luther King do", and,
somewhat bizarrely, "Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for." I
say bizarrely, because the list of "right answers" does not include
either flying kites during electrical storms (or anything related to
that), nor "inventing" Daylight Savings Time. Those would be my first
I answered the first seven questions correctly, at which point the
officer didn't need to ask any more questions. I think most of them were
questions I'd have known the answers to even before I studied. Now, I
know a lot of Americans make the comment to me periodically that most
Americans wouldn't be able to answer the same questions. I'm not so sure
about that, but even if that's true, there's a difference between
knowing the history of a country you're born into, and knowing the
history of a country you love enough to want to be a part of.
And she did something on the computer, wrote something on a piece of
paper, and then casually put the piece of paper in front of me, but
just far enough from me to make it look like it wasn't for me. I passed.
She was recommending I be given citizenship. And then, to my utter
amazement, she printed out another piece of paper and gave it to me -
which contained the date of the oath ceremony. And that date... was one
I found my wife, gave her the form, we hugged, and then I repeated
to her the fact I was almost certainly going to become an American one
week from now. We left rather excited, to put it mildly, making plans,
going to a restaurant we like to celebrate, calling everyone we knew,
and generally feeling a mix of shock, relief, and thankfulness.
So the next six days were fairly nuts. I had to go to work as
normal, and fortunately there was some urgent stuff that kept my mind
busy. My wife was busy ordering everything festive she could find from
eBay. My mother booked the first flight from across the Atlantic she
could find and turned up on Friday evening. L. and I spent the weekend
preparing, getting new clothes and organizing the family. Monday evening
I went to Best Buy to get a new camcorder. And Tuesday morning arrived,
and we rushed to get ready, and then drove down to Palm Beach for the
ceremony, with my mother calling every five minutes not quite
understanding that we were actually busy preparing.
Beyond the security people deciding that my wife's tape measure could be
some kind of weapon, we had no problems at the INS building. Some
people were late, delaying the ceremony by two hours (!), and we spent
the time watching some kind of PBS style documentary on the Grand
Canyon, while we filled out forms for our new social security cards,
passports, and so on. Then the presiding officer's microphone wouldn't
work. And finally it started.
What happened exactly? Well, the front three rows were composed of those
of us becoming Americans. Behind and two the sides of us were family
members, friends, etc, who'd come to wish us well. What happened in what
order I can't recall exactly, but we sang the (first verse of the)
National Anthem, and then we were all asked to stand as our country of
origin was read out. And then asked to hold our right hand up as we
recited the Oath of Allegiance.
What's the oath? It's not the same as the Pledge. The Oath is a more
specific statement renouncing allegiance to other countries and pledging
to be loyal to the United States of America, including pledging to
engage in various forms of military and civilian service if required to.
At that point, we were citizens. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance
after that, watched two videos, a Ken Burns style montage of various
immigrant themes, and then a message from the President. Finally, a
(rather cheesy I thought, but who cares?) video of Lee Greenwood's
"Proud to be an American/God bless the USA" which we were encouraged to
sing, by immigration officers waving flags.
So that was that. Got a rather nice package of "stuff" too from a
mini-American flag to a book on the important speeches and documents
associated with the US, and also copies of the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution.
The evening was spent having dinner with my family in celebration. It was a very fun evening.
I can't tell you how welcoming people are in this country. Virtually all
countries have concerns about "immigrants", but the reality is that
there's a massive gulf in the US between the advertised fears and how
people actually act. The INS have, always, been positive to me, and
generally speaking the people I've heard complain about them are the
kinds of people who'd make Mother Theresa curse them out. And the INS is
only a part of it, they're a fairly fair representation of how
Americans see immigration in general. The INS doesn't like seeing people
abuse the system, but it's clear to me that they want people who follow
the rules, can contribute, and who love this country, to stay here.
One of the first things that happened, repeatedly, to me in the US is
that I'd, say, strike up a conversation with a couple in a Restaurant,
and they'd ask where I'm from, and I'd tell them, and they'd say "Wow,
that's awesome. We're not from here either, I'm from Nebraska and Ethel
here's from Missouri."
And, of course, I'd inwardly snort and think "That's not the same
thing", but actually that's how most Americans see this country and
people from other countries. It's one of the major things I love about
America. People are treated as people, not as Americans vs British vs
whatever. I'm not going to claim there's no discrimination at all, and
I'm sure the poorer your English, and the poorer your bank account, the
more intolerant people turn up against you. But overall people treat you
as someone who's here, not someone from there.
It's important to distinguish between the people of a country and the
government of it. I don't think we have a particularly decent
establishment right now, and that means not merely a government
disconnected with the values and interests of its own people, but to a
certain extent the steering of people away from viewpoints describing
how things should be. If fifteen years ago, someone had said that the
government was going to spy on its own people, quite openly send
executioners into other countries to dispose of awkward enemies, and -
again, openly - imprison hundreds of people without trial, in many cases
for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I'd have
dismissed it as impossible, knowing what I know of Americans and the
values this country stands for.
Before certain individuals react, yes, I know that from time to time,
all governments - no matter how strongly their country's people
associate their country with peace, freedom, and democracy - do these
kinds of things, but normally such acts are covert, or fall apart quite
quickly as they clash with the values the country stands for. To use my
former nation as an example, the Gibraltar SAS strike became a national
scandal as soon as the details become public. Internment was tried in
Northern Ireland and then quickly ended when it became obvious that such
an open debasement of British values was helping the IRA, not hurting
So why has it happened? Because the wrong people are in power, and it's
difficult to put a dissenting voice in the media. I honestly don't know
any Americans, left or right wing, who are happy with what is going on.
They don't see it as where the US should be, even if those who nominally
support the government of the day are prone to weak apologetics or
denials to hide their embarrassment.
Americans do need to take their government back. That probably involves a
large amount of work that's going to take decades, working to take over
their parties and ensure the grassroots uses its power that, thus far,
its been unwilling or unable to exercise.
3. Our values
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
It really is what America stands for. If you don't believe me, come to
this country and live here a while. America is a country comprised of a
people who believe that they should use their lives and liberties in the
pursuit of Happiness, and that they should be a part of a system that
promotes life and liberty so everyone can be free to pursue happiness.
Ask an American born here who's never visited another country if this is
true, and they'd probably nod their head but not fully understand the
meaning in those words. As someone who's come here from abroad, where
many seem to be convinced that every duty exists except that in the
support of happiness, it's really quite obvious.