I am thinking about committing a crime. Just a small crime, nothing that would really hurt anyone. Like maybe selling an alcoholic beverage to a 17-and-a-half-year-old. Or importing some Polish potatoes to the UK without notifying the authorities (I kid you not, this is a genuine law, which came into effect in 2004).
Actually, when I started looking into the idea of lawbreaking a whole list weird and archaic legal rules came up. For instance, it is illegal to wear armour in Parliament, to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances or to be drunk in charge of cattle. I suspect there is an interesting story behind each one of those making it onto the statute books.
Taken all together – with the possible exception of the potato one – they sound like a recipe for a legendary stag weekend, potentially the plot for the British version of The Hangover. In fact, I am pretty sure that hordes of blokes in Bournemouth, all wearing tutus and T-shirts saying “Dave’s Stag Weekend”, break all of these laws every single weekend during the run-up to the summer wedding season.
But I digress. Why am I turning to a life of crime, you might ask. Because, very soon, I can. I am less than ten days away from becoming British. My application for British citizenship has been accepted by the Home Office and I now need only attend a short oath-swearing ceremony at the local council office and it will all be official.
It has been a bittersweet decision and a nine-month process. I asked British friends how they thought I ought to celebrate the occasion. Suggestions included: wearing a knotted hankie on my head, queueing for something, eating fish and chips, or pie and mash, or peas and gravy (very much depending on the geography of the person making the suggestion) drinking tea, gin and tonic, Pimms or bitter, complaining about the weather, failing to complain about poor service at restaurants, burning on the first sunny day of the year, eating charred sausages at a wet barbeque while making hopeful comments about the rain “starting to ease off a bit”. Which all sound great.
But I have decided that the best celebration will be to exercise my new-found right to commit a crime without fear of being deported from the country. It is funny, there is a lot of talk in the tabloid press about foreigners coming to the UK to commit crimes, like some latter-day version of the pillaging Viking hordes. But the reality is that when you are a foreign national in someone else’s country you have a very big incentive not to commit a crime, because if you do, you can, fairly easily be chucked out. When you’ve settled in a country, have family, property and a life there, it’s not an insignificant threat. Even when you get permanent residence in the UK, that stipulation is there – commit a crime and they take your right to stay in the country.
Now I am not saying the UK should roll out a red carpet for foreign offenders, but it is just one of those differences that is there. Once upon a time British criminals did get transported to Australia, but they can’t do that anymore. British felons they are stuck with.
It is all part of that thing they call “being a guest in someone else’s country”. Guests are supposed to be on their best behaviour, remember pleases and thank yous and make sure not to overstay their welcome. But being a guest is also exhausting. If you live over 20 years in a country, a what point do you get to kick off your shoes and fall asleep on the sofa after dinner?
Deciding to become British was not an easy decision for me. It was a sensible, grown-up, considering-all-the-pros-and-cons decision. I want to make the most of my newly acquired benefits. So I am off to scour the coast for a beached whale or sturgeon and then fail to notify Her Majesty the Queen about it. I might be prosecuted for it – but I am not going to be deprived of my life and family as a result.
Failing that (and to be honest, more likely) I am going to get drunk in a pub. Believe it or not, that is actually illegal (look it up). Lord love this insane country.