Podcast Review: London Expat: Trying to Become British

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Cecilia Gragani

Director: Gabriele Carrer

London is the greatest city in the world and Cecilia Gragani couldn’t wait to move here, welcomed with open arms as an Italian ex-pat. Ten years later her relationship with the UK has changed as attitudes to European residents shifted dramatically from 2016 onwards. Now through the citizenship application process, Gragani explores the reality of being in the capital city in the aftermath of Brexit in her new podcast series London Expat: Trying to Become British based on her tour show of the same name.

In Episode One, Gragani outlines the purpose of her podcast series to explore what it means to live in post-Referendum Britain while maintaining her Italian roots. The podcast mixes an essay-like structure, comedy tips and tricks for fitting in, interviews with fellow ex-pats on their changing experiences and extracts from her stage show asking the audience questions from the Life in the UK citizenship test book.

It all begins with such optimism and arriving in the UK Gragani dramatises her excited anticipation: the sheer modernity of everything from the physical environment, the people and even the dog poo bins. But the rose-tinted glasses are very quickly smudged as fairy godmother Allotta London (Jonny Woo) reminds Gragani that eye contact with a stranger is forbidden, other people are nothing more than obstacles and politeness always had a double meaning.

In Episode Two, Gragani topically looks at the Royal Family both as an integral part of national identity and as a business. As Italian friends demand photographs of Prince William’s wedding, the republic-born Gragani struggles to accept the need to swear allegiance to the Queen within the naturalisation ceremony, subverting her equal citizen status to become a subject.

In the academic portion of the podcast, Gragani incorporates interviews with Colin Crouch from the University of Warwick, who expands on the key institutional pillars of British identity including monarchy, the church and Empire nostalgia in current concepts of nationalism. Grant Harrold is asked about behavioural expectations behind the Palace doors and the Queen’s eating habits.

London Expat: Trying to Become British is an amusing exploration of our national culture and its characteristics – none of these is perhaps surprising or revelatory, while some of the Life in the UK test questions are famously clichéd, simple and impenetrable in equal measure to natives. However, contributions from fellow Europeans on the growing xenophobia and abuse they have experienced since 2016 is stark. Generally, Gragani keeps the tone fairly light throughout, gently mocking the adopted nation whose quirks she both loves and finds ridiculous.

With new 30-minutes episodes available every month until June and three currently available, Gragani’s series enjoys exposing the contradictions within national identities, structures and society that makes the UK so perplexing to new arrivals. Gragani and her guests have so far concluded that London is not always an easy place to be, but keep tuning in to find out if being ‘British’ gets any better.

Runs monthly until June. Available on Storielibere, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts and Spotify

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