Most foreign nationals who wish to become British citizens take a test called Life in the UK. This is meant to ensure that anyone acquiring citizenship has a good understanding of the way of life in the UK. Prior to the introduction of the test in 2005 it was possible for a foreign national to become a British citizen with very little knowledge of the UK way of life – or even of the English language.
The Life in the UK test covers factual topics that have contributed to the development of the UK – such as history, politics, law and religion; as well as more esoteric topics that contribute to the unique nature of the country – such as popular sports and how to behave in a pub.
The Rights of all UK Citizens
All UK citizens have the right to be treated fairly and equally regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual preference, religious or political beliefs or any disability they may have. This right is protected both by the common law of the country and statute law. Many laws in the UK explicitly or implicitly emphasise the importance in British culture of a tolerance for others. Crucially, there is a balance to be struck – an individual has the right to be treated fairly and equally, but must respect that others have the same right. If an individual’s behaviour negatively impacts on the rights of others the balance is destroyed.
Freedom of speech is another fundamental right enjoyed by citizens of the UK. Difficulties can arise when some UK citizens appear to abuse this right. Whilst UK citizens are entitled to air their views – even if others find them unpalatable or wrong – they do not have the right to encourage people to do harm or be violent. If citizens overstep the mark the laws of the UK may have to be invoked to correct the balance between rights and responsibilities.
The Responsibilities of all UK Citizens
Whilst enjoying many rights, UK citizens also have many responsibilities and must respect the laws of the country. Ignorance of the law is no defence and new UK citizens should ensure that they familiarise themselves with what is, and is not, acceptable under UK law.
Social Life in the UK
Social life in the UK has always revolved around “the pub”. Traditionally, most areas had a local pub where people could congregate in the evening. Almost inevitably this would involve having an alcoholic drink.
Although the concept of having a “local” has weakened in recent years there is no doubt that the consumption of large amounts of alcohol remains central to the British way of socialising. Many pubs and bars now serve a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks. However, the fact remains that many British people simply do not think it is possible to enjoy oneself on a night out without drinking alcohol. This can be alienating for people who come from cultures where alcohol is not consumed or is only enjoyed in moderation.
People in the UK can seem unfriendly as they tend not to engage strangers in conversation – although there are some situations and topics where this changes and conversations spontaneously erupt. It can be difficult to gauge when it is appropriate to talk to a stranger and when to do so would be unwelcome. Newcomers may find it easiest to take their lead from others.
The UK has a relatively large number of national newspapers for a country of its size and these are widely read. There is likely to be a daily newspaper to suit most political persuasions and points of view. Some can be quite prescriptive whereas others purport to provide a more balanced view.
Originally newspapers were either tabloids – a smaller format that generally provided a populist and accessible take on the news; or the, larger, broadsheets – which provided a more serious and detailed look at daily events. Most of the broadsheets are now sold in a tabloid, or other smaller, format however the terms tabloid and broadsheet are still used to differentiate between the two categories of newspaper.
British people have an ongoing fascination with the weather. Indeed, this can be one of the topics that spurs otherwise reticent strangers to engage in conversation. Despite the fact that the UK has a largely temperate climate it may seem as if it is always too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry. Hot weather in the summer or cold weather in the winter will often make the front page of newspapers much to the amusement of those who come from countries where the weather is much more extreme.