FAIRLY soon now, immigrants to Britain seeking UK nationality will have to pass two tests: in using spoken English, including following instructions on the telephone, and on knowledge of British customs and way of life. To help with the latter, the Home Office has just produced a booklet that includes a wide range of “how to...” information and also a 25page overview of history of the United Kingdom. Immigrants' fears that they are going to have to learn the dates of British monarchs through the centuries are without foundation; history will not be part of any test but those responsible for the booklet rightly decided that the opportunity to provide historical background should not be missed.

Those of us who have been living outside the UK for a decade or two may be surprised by the kind of information thought useful to would-be citizens. There is sensible advice on how to buy a house, rent an apartment or claim for compensation (naturally!) but also on how to behave in a pub: “Groups of friends buy rounds of drinks, where the person whose turn it is will buy drinks for all the members of the group” and “If you spill a stranger's drink by accident, it is good manners (and prudent) to offer to buy another.” Christmas Day, St Valentine's Day, April Fool's Day, Guy Fawkes Night and Remembrance Sunday are explained but the most interesting section is perhaps the picture that the authors draw of themselves: “The British are famous as a nation of animal lovers and a land where police officers are protectors of the public and are expected to be friendly and helpful to anyone who seeks their assistance.” And is there honey still for tea?


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