HOW often have I had to bite my tongue to remarks such as "Oh, if you've been here for 25 years and have bought a house, you must be British!"
Such simplistic assumptions! But I always managed to assert my Malaysianness in that truly Malaysian style: "No-lah!" If buying a house and being on British soil for yonks can qualify you as a citizen, then Mohamaed Al-Fayed with his magnificent world-famous street corner shop at Knightsbridge wouldn't have a problem, would he?
These days, it is almost impossible to switch on the telly or read the newspapers without listening to or reading someone's opinions about who is British and who is not. Yet the question is not as simple as it sounds. Even if you're white and speak with the best BBC pronunciation, it still wouldn't guarantee you the status.
But then again, our corner shop newsagent, a Mr Patel (for almost always a newsagent in Britain is a Patel), is proud to admit that he is British. He calls me Mrs Van, for even after all these years, his Indian tongue still twists the letter W.
In my own household, the question of being British was raised, I think only once.
"Am I British, Mama?", questioned our youngest, who was then 10. He asked because his British-born best friend who was of Indian origin told him that he was entitled to a British passport as he was born in London.
We put his confused mind to rest by telling him that because his parents are Malaysians, he and the rest of his siblings are Malaysians even if his sister spoke and behaved like an Arab.
Making Britain our adopted home was never part of our initial plan but back in the Eighties, getting a job was easy and becoming a permanent resident wasn't so difficult.
The thought of changing our citizenship never entered our minds even at a time when it meant that we had to queue up behind the signs that for a time said "Aliens" or "Others" at the immigration.
To borrow a phrase from George Mikes (pronounced Me-cash), the author of How to be a Brit, I came of age in Britain four years ago. But how much of my Malaysianness have I retained and how much of Britishness have I adopted during all these years?
I remember a remark made by someone I had not met for a long time. He said: "After all these years away, you still have a thick Kedah accent"
To be frank, had I stepped off the plane all kitted with gloves and hat like the Queen Mother and spoke like her daughter, I would still get the critical treatment - I would have been termed as angin or putting on airs. So one can never win, can one?
And how British can one get when I still can't understand why lunches are called dinners and dinners, suppers. Why is it that children go to public schools which are actually private? Why is it that anything that is served is "luvly" even when it tastes like the dog's dinner which is actually lunch?
Why is it so important that milk is poured in a cup before the tea, and plates are heated up before being served? Such riddles, I believe, are meant to confuse foreigners enough and make them leave British shores. Diehards, however, stay on to try and solve the mystery of Britishness.
It's impossible, however, to stay this long and not get some Britishness rubbing off on you. Some you really have to learn the hard way. For example, I've stopped using the two-finger sign when ordering, say, two pounds of grapes. The first time I did that, the fruitseller said: "Same to you, luv!" and
proceeded to serve the next customer.
I've learnt to queue patiently for a bus, a taxi, a sales counter and even toilets even if I was bursting to go! It is a no-no to pick and choose your own fruits as you would at Pekan Rabu or at a pasar malam, and the same goes to speaking to a sales assistant who is serving someone else.
I've learnt to stand on the right of escalators to allow others to walk up or down. I'm also becoming used to a "potluck" meal that actually means you going empty handed to finish off whatever's in the pot of the host and not, as in Malaysia, to expect it to be an occasion to bring your own.
And when a man says, "Shall I play mother", I know that he's dead serious about his role to pour the tea and serve the cakes and nothing more than that!
As immigrants, legal and illegal, still come teeming to this land of opportunity where the streets are supposedly paved with gold, the British too have improved their knowledge of geography and about the population of the world that are arriving at their doorsteps.
In earlier days, I have been called an Iranian in Scarborough, a Filipino in Brighton and a Thai at a garden party in Buckingham Palace. Now, not only do they know where Malaysia is, they have even learnt to go native and share dishes at Malaysian or Indian restaurants. The amusing way Britishers used to tackle their ethnic meal was quite individualistic - they just plonked whatever was theirs wholesale onto their rice heap.
And YESSSSS!!!! Recently, we went home and took possession of our brand new smart card IC! Our son now carries it proudly in his wallet!!