Don't Panic

What does being British mean to you?

Now that the dust has settled on a summer of Queen-related jubilation and breathtaking sports prowess, has our idea of Britishness changed?

After all, new citizens are required to take a test that most Brits would certainly fail. Are multiple choice questions on Shakespeare and empire really an effective way of qualifying Britishness? Globalisation means that national identity is in constant flux. So should this test cover wholly modern, practical concepts?

I did a straw poll of ten or so Brits I know on what it means to be British, and the following three answers narrowly won out: monarchy, multiculturalism and empire.

How interesting that two of the three have distinct historical relevance, whereas the other - multiculturalism - appears rooted in modernity. The Olympic medal success may have influenced this choice, where ethnicities from the full spectrum of Britain were represented. You might not draw the same association looking at a Cabinet stuffed with white Etonians.

Beyond these though, what does that other aspect of nationhood - the national anthem -  mean to most Brits? The most frequent national gatherings - sports matches - are an opportunity for us to represent their national pride most emphatically; with their voices. Personally, I see ‘God Save the Queen’ as a hopelessly outdated and mawkish drear-fest which monumentally fails to represent modern Britain.

One in four Britons supports an elected head of state, whilst one in three doesn’t believe in God. I do a Henman-style fist-pump when I see footballers refrain. The national anthem reveals an old-school manipulation of group-think.

I’d happily offer ‘All You Need Is Love’ as an alternative.

Despite my ire, it’s undeniable that the Queen’s jubilee was good for Britain, and the Olympics even better. From the royal concert, to Danny Boyle’s eccentric jamboree, which I couldn’t take my eyes off, this year has been about performing when the world is watching.

British cultural output is flourishing. Major film releases such as Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises both had Brits at the helm (on and off screen), and the likes of Andy Murray, Rory McIlroy and Bradley Wiggins have courted global recognition with their outstanding work. Lest we forget Chelsea’s Champions League win.

So it is with renewed confidence that Brits go into the final quarter, and I must admit, I feel that this pride is tangible. Continuing my straw poll, the other night I asked a black cab driver what being British meant to him, assuming a cabbie would never be short of an opinion.

‘Getting naked at parties’ he quipped, referencing Prince Harry’s recent photo mischief, ‘and going out on penalties’. I was a little irritated at the latter - given the sporting success I mentioned (Chelsea won on penalties, after all), but held my tongue. Later, as we approached Shoreditch, he went on - ‘You’ll never guess who I had in my cab the other night - that Michael Fassbender.’

Brits love to share their cultural touch points with each other, and the more of them there are, the better as far as I’m concerned. For this reason, Shakespeare should certainly remain in the citizenship test - I just hope new Brits understand why his work is important to us, and take their learning beyond multiple choice tests.

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