Canadian author, journalist, blogger, Internet freedom fighter and general all-round good guy Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) is apparently having a bit of a rough time at the moment. As he reports via Twitter:

Hired a temp flat through #Foxtons; loo ceiling is leaking and water is ELECTRIFIED. Foxtons claims this isn’t their problem [link]

As you can imagine, this revelation got him about as much sympathy as you’d expect: which is some, but not a huge amount. After all, given the reputation of estate agents in general, going to a notorious bunch of cowboys like Foxtons is like engaging in business with a man who is not only a member of the British National Party, but who is renowned for being particularly unpleasant even for a member of the BNP. Perhaps typical of the reactions was this one:

If only you had consulted the Hive Mind first. Foxtons are scumcrooks of the highest order. Avoid forever more. [link]

I should mention that Cory did point out that he’d been short of options:

I knew Foxton’s were terrible, @white_mischief, but we were desperate and needed a flat on v short notice. What a disaster. [link]

But it did get me thinking, and remembering something else that Cory had mentioned some weeks ago:

Taking my “Life in the UK” test today for permanent residency. [link]

As long as I can remember there’s been a constant debate as to how we as a nation can help immigrants to the shores settle in our communities and integrate into our societies. The current government’s response has been to introduce tests, like the above mentioned “Life in the UK” test. I’m not necessarily against that. But are they asking the appropriate questions to teach the correct knowledge?

With all due respect to Cory, if his unfortunate misadventure is anything to go by, the answer appears to be no, because when we consider the knowledge that a British resident really needs to know, Foxtons being complete and utter bastards should surely be towards the top. So let’s look at some of the example questions one might face in this test:

An adult person receiving unemployment benefit should join New Deal programme if he/she has been unemployed for

  • 6 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 months

Erm, what? I don’t know that. Who would know that? You only need to know that if you’re unemployed, and if you’re unemployed the question implies that you will have at least six months to find out. Will knowing the answer to that question be of any use whatsoever when integrating into British society? No. Let’s take another one:

What percentage of the population live in Wales

  • 5%
  • 6%
  • 7%
  • 11%

Who gives a shit? I mean, really? Most of the population of the UK are English (84% according to Wikipedia) and they’re only dimly aware that there is a UK outside of England. They don’t give a shit about Scotland (a fact that Margaret Thatcher took advantage of when road-testing the poll tax) and probably aren’t even aware of Wales enough to fail to give a shit about it.

You know what, UK government? If you want a genuine citizenship test you should be asking questions like this:

You are queuing in the Post Office. A man pushes into the queue just in front of you. Do you:

a) Push back in front of him;

b) Remonstrate with him;

c) Tut loudly;

d) Do nothing.

The answer is, of course, c, tut loudly. Doing nothing would be spineless, remonstrating would only risk causing a scene, and to push back in front would be the act of an excitable southern European.

Oh well. It could be said that the greatest of all British virtues is to use inertia and inactivity to amateurishly muddle through any problems the world may throw at us, usually drinking tea to pass the time until it all goes away. Looked at that way, actively attempting to help immigrants integrate and settle would be quite un-British.

But still, Cory. Foxtons. Foxtons? What were you thinking of?