"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." — Samuel Johnson
Just over a year ago I arrived in London (and more specifically New Cross), wide-eyed and ready for all the incredible experiences this global megacity would throw my way. My expectations of ‘London life’ were overwhelmingly positive, perhaps even a bit naive. A year ago I chronicled these feelings in the following blog post, entitled ‘New Cross Calling!’.
One year on and I’ve begun to ask myself: How much of that early enthusiasm and hope do I still maintain? Or has the excitement and gleam of moving to a new place worn its welcome and jaded my gaze?
First thing’s first, a disclaimer: One year is by no means enough time to become acquainted with a city as expansive, as diverse, and as deep as London. I’m sure there are people who have been here their whole lives, yet have only scratched the surface. So I won’t pretend to be omniscient about what London life is wholly comprised of, and what it means to those who live it. That would be a foolish claim. I will, however, give an update of sorts to my first analysis — one that is perhaps a bit more realistic of what London life entails as I see it.
So to start, London is culturally, linguistically, socioeconomically, basically EVERYTHING-ly, incredibly diverse – I’d argue more so than any other city in the world. It’s the centre of so many different worlds — from academia to arts and culture, from business to gastronomy, and just about everything else you can think of. The only thing it’s missing is good weather, and if it had that well let’s just say London would win the entire universe. Given all this, there is always something to do, people to see, and places to visit. After all, as Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I swear, I’ve been here over a year and haven’t even gone farther than Zone 5.
Due to the obvious nuance that is everywhere here, saying that ‘London’ is (insert adjective here) is always going to be both true and false, regardless of what you describe. The statement may be relatable for someone who lives near to you, is of the same age, occupies a similar tax bracket, or shares an ethnic and religious background – but to someone else might be completely untrue.
For example, as I described in ‘New Cross Calling’ a year ago, London for me is “diverse, colourful, gritty, noisy”. I’d definitely stand by that statement today as I’m still living in the same neighbourhood of New Cross, in South East London. Yet there are certainly pockets of London where diversity still hasn’t reached, where colour is monochromatic, and where the grit and noise are distant and dull. London for someone living in a student house in New Cross and someone living in a Chelsea penthouse might as well be worlds apart. I’m absolutely certain that a working-class immigrant family living in the East End and a well-to-do upper-class family living in Richmond would have a difficult time finding common ground in a conversation beyond the cup of tea. In this London one can witness a city with major socioeconomic disparities. A year ago this was something that the gleam of a new city blinded me to. However seeing the same homeless guy on the street corner day after day, and knowing that it’s a year later and he’s still struggling to survive while my life moves on, things like that can really shatter the rose-tinted glasses we all wear when moving someplace new.
Linguistically, too, London is a mishmash. For the capital of the British Empire, very little of the ‘Queen’s English’ is actually spoken… even by the British themselves! One year on and I’m still learning to differentiate and understand the dozens of different dialects and accents of English spoken here, let alone other languages. Two or three beers in at the local pub, and the barkeep’s banter typically begins to sound more Greek than English with an accent to me.
Then there’s the food. Say what you will about British food being bland and unimaginative (and believe me, it is), London food is NOT the same thing. As one would expect from a city of 8.6 million people (especially the former capital of the worlds ‘greatest’ empire), the food here is as good as it is anywhere else in the world. Whatever you prefer — be it authentic Italian, Continental, Thai, Indian, good old American BBQ, or some sketchy late night meal from the ‘Best Kebab/Fish/Pizza/Chinese/Chicken Shop’ to soften the future hangover — it can be found here. Probably the only food that hasn’t saturated the London market yet is Mexican food, but it’s only a matter of time before taco trucks start popping up in Shoreditch.
The linguistic and gastronomical diversity of London goes along with the colorful cultural milieu the city is famous for. People from all over come here to find opportunity, education, and some form of a better life from whence they came. In this, various cultures, religions, and ethnicities all generally coexist peacefully within this ever-changing city. To be certain, London is not friendly to all, and not everyone settles in perfectly. It can be a harsh city, an expensive city, and a bleak city at times. I can definitely understand and relate to the more negative aspects of London life given my experiences over the past year. But more so than any other comparable metropolises like New York, here in London people of difference more or less come together in a true melting pot of diversity – something that is always for the better. Generally speaking, London is the ultimate incarnation of global city.
So then what actually is London? Well in short, and to avoid taking on a fool’s errand, London is whatever YOU make it. It can truly be anything and everything for anyone and everyone. For me though, London is still — despite its blemishes — an incredibly interesting, enchanting, and invigorating place. No, Sir, I am not a man who is tired of London. I won’t be leaving anytime soon.