Who is a Londoner?
And as any self-respecting blogstress would, I put the question of 'what is a Londoner?' to Yahoo! Answers, last week's heavily media touted new social research service. Expectations under management, the answers only faintly disappointed: 'born in London,' 'talking with a cockney accent', 'a snob'. This clearly tells us the on-line answer pool was overly represented by the populations of Westminster, the East End and the north of England. But that goes little way to refining our defining.
Identifying a stereotypical Londoner was never going to be as easy as the counterpart New Yorker. The film industry alone abounds with images of NYC played on endless reels to audiences the world over. From the struggling artist come waiter-waiting-on-success, to the brash big-nosed Brooklynite, to the brunch scoffing, man devouring Sex in the City fashionista; Hollywood provides a montage to colour our imaginations. Life in the Big Apple is portrayed as a carnival ride that never stops, but you must know when to get off the carousel. New York does not suffer fools gladly (apart from Monica Lewinsky who is now an A-list Manhattan celebrity); it is a perishable dream of sorts.
But that still hasn't answered what life is as a Londoner for those looking beyond Samuel Johnson's catch-all: "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." And after four years in the Big Smoke, I am left doubting if there is a stereotypical Londoner, after all. Apart from the cloned 20-something female clad in a Debbie Gibson-esqe uniform of leggings, ballet pumps and ironed hair. But that is hardly representative of the populace at large (unless you are riding the Tube after 11PM).
Just looking around this morning at London Bridge station, I was astounded by the sheer diversity of fellow commuters – Somalis, Indians, Americans, Zimbabweans, Scandinavians and a hundred other nationalities vying for their place in the metropolis. And then I thought back to today's question, 'what is a Londoner?', and I recalled a recent trip to Turkey where I noticed the relative uniformity of the population. And how I also realized at that time that I was also looking at the future of London.
A thousand years ago Istanbul was the capital of the remnants of the Roman Empire – home to a variety of peoples from Greece, Rome, central Asia, Arabia and the Russia. Yet now this diversity had coalesced around a mean – almost everyone dark haired, brown-eyed and olive-skinned. And I thought if one could merge all the people in a place like London one would be looking at the future of that place – one would have some notion of what a Londoner is or will become. Then, just then, maybe my friends back in New York will stop believing I am stranded without Abercrombie on some rain battered island with only Hugh Grant types for consolation (only the latter being false, of course).
And in Londoner's universality must be the definition of 'afford' Samuel Johnson was referring to with "for there is in London all that life can afford." I couldn't fathom he was referring to ability to pay. Because if there is anything that unites us Londoners it is the unrelenting instance of being ripped off. Not that a Tube ride is not worth every pence of £4 Ken, why would the District Line suggest otherwise? Don't worry if you didn't appreciate that inside joke. Us Londoners can be snobs, remember?
For a far more esteemed Anglophile's take on life as a Londoner, check out:
White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960's Because if there is one London snob that rises above all others, that is the music snob.