Becoming German, englishman abroad

Becoming German?

This Wednesday was the deadline for registering for the only “Immigrant Language Test” in February that I could find. The next available test would have been in April, after Brexit day. So, like any rational person, I jumped onto the train in a mad panic and zoomed down to a test centre in Oldenburg to book my place on this course. Then I high-tailed it to the local community college and booked myself another test: the Naturalisation Test. These two tests are just two of the many prerequisites to becoming a German citizen.

The DTZ (German Test for Immigrants) is a speaking, writing, reading and listening language test, targeted at the A2-B1 levels. I know a little bit about language tests already, having prepared students for all manner of English language tests, often at this level, for years. I think I know more or less what to expect, and I’m reasonably sure that I’ll pass at the required B1 level.

The Einbürgerungstest is a citizenship test of sorts. It comprises 33 questions about Germany, covering aspects such as the German constitution, rights and responsibilities, democracy, society etc. There’s an online test to practise with, and I’ve passed it every time I’ve tried it. I’m certain I’ll pass this, too. There are many other requirements, all of which I am confident I can fulfil.

Yet, somehow, I don’t feel confident that I’ll get citizenship at all. I can’t quite put my finger on why. This bothers me. If I don’t manage to do it in the time that Britain remains in the EU, it probably means that I’ll still be able to become German in future – but I’ll have to give up my UK citizenship to do it.

Would I still do it in this case? Swap my UK citizenship for German citizenship? Trade membership of a non-EU country for an EU country? Exchange my unlikely return to an insular, has-been nation to secure my future as part of an important, European country?

Yes, obviously. Of course I would. But I’d rather it doesn’t come to that; I’d never be able to get my hands on Marmite again.

englishman abroad

Passport Madness

I’m back from holiday and my skin is a healthy, flaky red. It’s amazing what a bit too much sun can do. Tenerife was full of Germans and English, with a scant sprinkling of Spaniards here and there.

Yesterday I decided to go time travelling.

In the year 2032 my daughter will be 20 and might want to travel to Great Britain (I hope it won’t have sunk to the bottom of the sea by then). What might she need to visit in the post-Brexit future? Maybe a British passport, so I tried to get her one. This is where the bureaucracy began.

I’ll say this for the Germans and their famed bureaucracy, there is at least a logic to it and the language is rather more straightforward. Here is what English bureaucracy and jargon looks like:

‘please provide the passport you entered the country from which you are applying’

That sentence gave me a migraine. I read it over and over again, sometimes aloud, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes adding gravitas and emphasis to certain words, sometimes weeping with frustration.

Do you think it means:

a) please provide your passport (the details of which you entered earlier)?

b) please provide your passport from the country you are applying from (i.e. a German passport)?

c) please provide the passport you want to renew?

Well guess what, I eventually called up the passport office and queried it. Apparently this unpunctuated, poorly written and inscrutable sentence means:

d) please provide the passport which you used to enter the country from which you are applying (Germany).

There’s also further jargon like: ‘not British by descent’ to contend with. Immigration law has changed so much in the UK that the law for attaining British citizenship depends on, amongst other things, whether you were born before 1983, after 1983 or after 1 July 2006. Yes, the last two seem to overlap.

The application also requires the applicant’s parents’ birth certificates, and their grandparents’ details. Of course, to get the grandparents’ birth certificates you’ll need to know about their parents, too. How, I ask you, was my daughter in 2032 supposed to know her great-grandmother’s maiden name? My Grandma is ancient!!

Getting hold of birth certificates is also quite a mess, I went onto the General Registry Office’s website and looked for my parents’ birth certificates. Thankfully they have a wide range of records spanning all the way from 1837!

…to 1916! Even my Grandma isn’t that ancient. Born after 1916? Too bad!

I decided to call the General Registry Office to get copies of the certificates needed. It turns out that calling them up and giving people dates and names doesn’t help much. The GRO apparently doesn’t have a database with this info. Everything is on paper, in ledgers, in local registry offices, all across the country. Which means that there is now a three-week period in which my query will be researched. If the GRO finds the birth certificates, they will be sent to me.

I swear, in a digital age this is utter madness. If I call up a business there might be a wait of about 30 seconds before the relevant information is found. Why does a government agency need to ‘research’ a query? You’d think the government would have the answer to “Was this person born in your country?”

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to get a reply soon and to send this application off.

As daft as this process has been, it would have been a lot harder to get it done in 2032.