Yesterday’s New York Times carried an interesting column about citizenship tests. The most anxious nations—Britain, Germany, Canada and of course, the USA—have been revising their tests to raise the threshold for citizenship, making sure that prospective citizens get with the program before they are admitted to the club.
The new tests are a fascinating Rorschach of official culture. For instance, the Brits, who place so much emphasis on nuances of class and origin, ask this: “Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken?” (Newcastle, the East End of London and Liverpool, FYI.) The Germans, evidently testing for a spirit of liberality, ask this: “Your fully grown daughter/your wife wants to dress like other German women. Would you try to stop that? By what means?” I wonder if they have a different test for women; and also which means would fall beyond the pale: polite persuasion, confiscating her clothes, forbidding her to leave the house, thirty lashes?
The new U.S. test has been in development for about a decade, with $3.5 million having been spent on the effort. Today, the Citizenship and Immigration Service (formerly INS) is expected to announce the new plan. Just in case they haven’t got all the new questions yet, I thought I’d suggest a few. To me, one of the main qualifications for citizenship is a sense of reality, an ability to see through the profusion of veils and obfuscations all the way to how things actually are. Let’s induct immigrants into patriotic realism with questions like this:
(1) An American citizen’s chance of being imprisoned is:
A. No more or less than in any other democracy
B. Greater than in Britain or Canada, but less than in Russia or China
C. Greater than in any other nation
(2) In an American election, the candidate who has the best chance of winning is usually:
A. The one who has the best record for honesty and integrity
B. The one whose platform is closest to voters’ opinions as indicated by polling
C. The one who accepts the most contributions and spends the most on advertising
(3) Which of these countries have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S.?
B. Czech Republic
(4) In the United States, 10 percent of the population owns what percentage of the wealth?
A. 10 percent
B. 25 percent
C. 50 percent
D. 70 percent
(5) How many American citizens are being subjected to warrantless wiretaps at any given moment in 2006?
C. over 500
(6) According to official federal measures, how many Americans under 18 years of age were living in poverty in 2004?
A. 5 percent
B. 10 percent
C. 17.8 percent
(7) U.S. population is approximately 300 million; how many lacked medical insurance in 2004?
A. 10 million
B. 25 million
C. 45.8 million
Answers: (1) C; (2) C; (3) All of these and 36 others; (4) D; (5) C plus an equal number of foreign citizens on the other end of their phone lines; (6) C; (7) C
Welcome to America! Stay healthy, be frugal, watch what you say over the phone and keep out of jail!