Here's an Idea: UK's Citizenship Test to Cover Queuing

By David North on February 16, 2010

The British Government is going to introduce a little behavior-modification into their citizenship (naturalization) screening process.

The London Telegraph reports that the art of queuing – which the Brits are so good at – will become part of their citizenship tests.

To help along that process the Telegraph, a conservative broadsheet (i.e., not a tabloid) asked Jo Bryant, the etiquette adviser to Debretts (as in "Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage") to offer some advice on the subject.

She made some common-sense suggestions, such as: "Be aware of other people's space and don't stand too close to the person in front of you," and "Even in the most disorganized of queues, there will still be an unspoken order."

The immigration minister, Phil Woolas, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, told the Telegraph: "The simple act of taking one's turn is one of the things that holds our country together. It is very important that newcomers take their place in queues whether it is for a bus or a cup of coffee."

The reporter added that there is: "a lot of tension in communities is caused by immigrants not understanding that they must wait in line for services rather than barging to the front."

The story reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago when I was doing a study about the Hmong refugees in the U.S., our allies in Laos during the Vietnam War. I was with a Hmong colleague in a situation where a line was forming quietly. He admired what was going on and then told me – "that would not happen back in Laos, the strong would push to the front of the line, and the weak would be left behind."

Presumably the standardized British citizenship test will include one or more questions about queuing. Currently, according to the Telegraph, the 150-page book distributed by the immigration authorities to newcomers, "Life in the UK," already covers "the thorny question of what you should do if you spill someone's pint in the pub, with the correct answer being to buy them another one."

Most of the publication, however, deals with more formal aspects of British life and government.

Until a generation ago the U.S. did not have a standardized naturalization test; INS lawyers would interview the applicants and decide whether they knew enough about the country and its civics to qualify for citizenship, meaning that pass-failure rates varied considerably from office to office, and from examiner to examiner.

The current test asks very basic civics and history questions. For older applicants who have been in the country for a long time, the test can be offered in their native language, rather than English. A high proportion of applicants pass it.

How to behave in America has never been a subject for our naturalization tests.