Fish and Chips, all the time?

Michael R. Czinkota

Applicants for British citizenship face a rigorous test with some questions too obscure even for natives. According to a mock test for its British staff, the Wall Street Journal found that many couldn’t answer the questions correctly.

The compulsory citizenship test was first announced in 2002. Lord David Blunkett, home secretary at the time, initiated the test. Originally, it aimed to help people know things which make local life easy and safe. Tony Blair’s government also wanted to show encouragement and welcome immigrants via the test. Now, the test is up for review. What does it mean to be British? Here are some examples.

Where did the people of the Bronze Age bury their dead? Who first introduced “shampooing” to the U.K.? Does “having the ability to laugh at oneself” represent an important part of the British character? Do the British eat fish and chips for every lunch?

Immigrants must pass such mandatory questions in order to obtain British citizenship. The test has become harder in reaction to the surge of aspiring Britons from emerging nations. Given Brexit and Britain’s possible drop-out from the EU, more Europeans are also taking the test to ensure their right to remain in the U.K.

By comparison, Switzerland also has a naturalization test based on acculturation. The State Secretariat for Migration examines whether applicants are integrated in the Swiss way of life, familiar and accepting of Swiss customs and traditions, able to comply with the Swiss rule of law, and not threatening to Switzerland’s internal or external security.

The Swiss government also makes its naturalization test harder as of 2018. Swiss migration regulations seem stricter than the U.K.’s. A non-EU citizen can apply for a Swiss permanent residence permit after living in Switzerland for 10 years. Naturalization as a Swiss citizen takes 12 years, while in the UK it takes only 5 years. Passing the test is only the start of a process rather than a guarantee of citizenship. 

The oral test for language assessment seems to be a particular obstacle for many applicants. But yodeling is not required. “What would you say is typically Swiss?”  is a question on the Swiss citizenship test. Swiss women with a gold lace cap preparing the Cheese Fondue for her family might be the first image to pop out your head. But is that always true?

It’s interesting that when you search the term of “British citizenship test” or “Swiss citizenship test” on Google, the first page results will mainly offer test preparation services. The cottage industry coaching applicants for the citizenship test has become increasingly popular.  Due to harder tests and stricter application processes, this industry will likely expand substantially in the near future.

Is it time to rethink the concept of a citizenship test? Should there be only one version of a country’s culture? How can governments identify different characteristics of citizens and translate those into behavioral norms, especially in the diverse European environment? Diversity makes life more interesting but also more unexpected. There is much enjoyment nowadays with many different foods, fashions and habits in the UK and Switzerland. What is the value and price of homogeneity? 

There might well be a need to insist on a common spirituality supporting national underpinnings. Some criteria may need to be adjusted and individual support of them affirmed for citizenship to work! Otherwise people are visitors, a fine and useful role, but different from citizens. Not everyone needs fish and chips for lunch. How about dumplings? Or hot dry noodles?

Professor Czinkota ( teaches international marketing and trade at Georgetown University and the University of Kent in Canterbury. His latest book is “In Search For The Soul of International Business”, ( 2019

Shiying Wang ( of McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University contributed to this commentary.

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