I recently failed the UK citizenship test.
Luckily, it was no big deal because I'm a UK citizen by birth and was only playing around online when I should have been doing something more constructive, but it was a little discomfiting.
On the positive side, I passed the (sample) French one with flying colours.
So what was the difference?
The French test consists of a language exam (I got full marks but some of the questions would be tricky if you didn't have a very sound grasp of grammar) and a history test, which is supposed to be at the level acquired by a French child by the time they leave primary school. My knowledge of French history is a little vague, but I do know why the Eiffel Tower was built and that Victor Hugo was not a French president. It's the kind of information you could easily pick up by being in France for a few years and paying attention to your surroundings, especially if you're European, although someone from a country with less of a shared history with France might find it a bit harder.
The UK test, on the other hand, has far more questions to do with everyday life in the UK and what the country is like now, as opposed to several centuries ago. It asks, for example, about what the speed limits are and who has the right to vote in elections.
So far so good.
Unfortunately, it seems to have been designed with the attention to unneccessary detail one more commonly associates with elderly French schoolmistresses than the UK government. You are expected to know, for example, the exact percentage of Muslims in the country, and whether the number of children and young people is 14 million, 15 million or 16 million. There are also some archaic historical and political questions which very few British adults probably know the answers to, never mind ten-year-old children. Since I posted the link on Facebook, none of my friends has claimed to pass it.
If I had to choose between the two, I would definitely prefer to do the French one, because it seems so much more achievable and because the information is interesting, if not exactly useful. But, as so often seems to be the case, surely the best citizneship test would be a happy fusion of the two ideals?
And so I decided to create my own test for French citizenship: simple questions about what you really need to know to get by in France. Unfortunately, British humour got in the way and it came out a little tongue-in-cheek in places ...
1. When you phone somebody, the first thing you should do after saying who you are is: a) ask how the other person is b) check that you are not disturbing them c) say why you are calling
2. Which of the following people should you definitely not tutoie without asking? a) your brother-in-law b) your mother-in-law c) a stranger you have just met in a youth hostel
3. Does the cheese course come before or after dessert?
4. Is port an aperitif or a digestif?
5. Which of the following is acceptable for a person in their thirties who is going to the supermarket? a) to take their own wheeled shopping trolley to bring the shopping home b) to wear a tracksuit c) to go out with wet hair
2. Rank the following in order of priority: a) the right to shop on a Sunday b) the right of the workers to have a day of rest c) the need to buy fresh baguette regardless of whether it's Sunday or not.
3. Which is most important? a) that the state should remain entirely secular b) that the state should accord everyone a public holiday that just happens to fall on the religious holidays of Pentecost and Ascension Day c) your right to openly show your religion in state establishments
5. In all aspects of life, but especially grammar and motoring, rules a) are there for a reason b) are made to be broken c) always have many exceptions
6. In order to pass this test, you must wait in a queue for three hours to speak to an official who will tell you that you are missing a vital document to complete your application dossier. Will you a) go home and look for the document, if necessary obtaining it at great expense b) tell the official that they are wrong and that you have everything on the list of required documents that is published on their website, if necessary pulling out your smartphone to prove your point c) explain why obtaining the document will make not only your life but also theirs more difficult, flirt if necessary and attempt to find a solution?
And, if you want to try the real tests, here are the links:
UK Citizenship Sample Test
French Language Sample Test
French History (with answers and critical commentary!)