How can the capital of the former British Empire be considered the coolest city on earth? Shouldn’t it rather be Shanghai or San Francisco or Berlin? Why is London the city that receives more foreign visitors of the whole world? Shouldn’t it rather be New York or Paris or Rome?
Is it the history?…. well, after such intense bombardments during the second world war not so much is left…Or Is it the quality of life?…well, not easy to find such an expensive place on earth…
My answer: this unique blend of old and new, of classy and eccentric, of all colors, religions and races makes London today the paradigm of a global city. In other words, it is the Londoners that make it so unique!
Ages, old and new
From the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham palace, from Whitehall to Covent Garden, many people come to London in search of old imperial glory. The British Empire was the largest the world has ever seen, straddling the five continents, from America to Australia, from Africa and the Middle East to India. And London was its epicenter, its political, economic and social heart, deciding the fate of hundreds of millions of people; the pound sterling was the first global currency; and English remains the only global language to this day. This glorious (and also infamous) past reverberates all over the city.
And yet, most visitors today have other things in mind, more recent and sometimes surprising. From the music of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Freddy Mercury, Adele or Arctic Monkeys to the ideas (often without even realizing it) of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or even Margaret Thatcher.
From Pop, Punk and Hipster movements, to Scotland Yard, MI6, James Bond and the war in Iraq.
From Chelsea, Wembley and Wimbledon to the Tate, British Museum, Shakespeare, Austen, Hitchcock, Martin Parr, Turner, David Hockney and so on…
London was once the capital of the greatest Empire, it is still the city where music and new social styles appear and grow, where old and new political and economic ideas flourish, where art and sports still attract crowds.
Stereotypes abound about the Brits, eccentric, understated, distant, tight upper lip …all surely, and partially, true, as Kate Fox wrote in her book “Watching the English, The Hidden Rules of English Behavior”. But the real excitement of being in London is about its people, young and old, open, tolerant and very mixed.
Indians respect no rules, the Swiss and Germans respect all rules, and Londoners are, well…very selective. Most people follow fashion, Londoners creates it.
Is this Europe? Yes, but most Britons have serious doubts about it, seeing themselves more as global citizens than just part of an European Union run by faceless bureaucrats sitting in Brussels.
Races, the united colors of the world
Who are the real Londoners? The Russian oligarch in Belgravia or the Indian grocer in South Hall? , The EastEnders or the cool Soho lot, the Shoreditch neighbor, or the Camden show off?
All of them and many more, create the unique mix that gives London its rare appeal for visitors from all over the world, a place where hip hop mixes freely with international banking, where anyone can feel at home.
A city that is never dull, always inspiring and where there is always something new to interest, motivate and excite. Always on the edge.
This unique blend of people, old and young, of all origins, colors and faiths, give the London experience its unique character, its frantic dynamism, making it irresistible and so cool …
As Samuel Johnson said “tired of London, tired of life”
I greatly appreciate the help and testimony of Bob Owen and Gustavo, as always!