Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who is a Londoner?

Whilst yesterday marked a date of global significance, today marks one of only personal. Four years ago this day, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (whaddya say to that Homeland Security?) from JFK to Heathrow, once a New Yorker soon to be Londoner - whatever that meant. And so today, four years in, I am asking: What is a Londoner? Have I made it yet?

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.

30 Comments:

Anonymous Claire said...

I agree City Slicker. London will be the world's greatest melting pot come not too far away. I mean look David Cameron was already wearing punjabi gear the other day. Know that will wind you up :-)

6:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that you in the picture City Slicker? No I guess you wouldn't wear leggings, would you?

6:51 pm  
Anonymous Tim said...

White Bicycles is ace. Any Nick Drake fans head straight to the index there is masses on him in this book!

7:00 pm  
Blogger ems said...

That's the thing. I don't think there is a stereotypical Londoner - that's what makes it such an amazing city. I would answer: anyone who has truly embraced London and made it their home.

7:41 pm  
Anonymous Bill said...

I would say anybody who lives in Hackney. Even Nike is paying to be us these days.

9:28 pm  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Is not the real question are you a Southern Londoner or a Northern Londener? The river does divide us!

10:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Londoner will be white by 2020 is my prediction. A western liberal democracy will give way to fundamentalist Islam which is not compatible with modern liberal democratic states.

I fear there will be no whites left...

11:47 pm  
Blogger Moaner Lisa said...

Slicker,

Are people arriving in New York more willing to embrace the city and become a New Yorker?

Whilst those arriving in London are keener to maintain a different identity and unlikely to ever consider themselves a Londoner?

Perhaps this is why it is easier to describe a New Yorker?

...and don't get me started on music snobs again - you have heard what I think of them before....

12:06 am  
Anonymous gayinbrixton said...

No whites left
You racist b^stard
Never trust an anonymous anything
W^nker!

12:13 am  
Anonymous Jon said...

Definition of Londoners=up their own arse snobs.
Come to Manchester for the real thing.

12:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Londoner is a person who will happily pay the best part of a million pounds for a small terraced house in an 'up-and-coming' area and think that they got a good deal

7:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

definition of a true cockney someone who lives in essex

definition of a londoner someone who doesn't come from london, moves there and thinks they'll make their fortune, either ends up moving back to the suburbs, to their country of origin or staying in their own little ghetto

some great nights out to be had though

10:10 am  
Blogger TRT said...

Oops. Sorry. I deleted your comment. It read like spam.

10:57 am  
Blogger Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

Thanks for visiting my blog :)
Enjoyed reading yours. How dare someone say that women can`t be as happy as men! Humff. Good reading here :)

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11:07 am  
Anonymous PJ said...

Has it really been 4 years without you?

11:07 am  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Blessings to you and thanks for your visit today!
How wonderful to read your journal.
Be well!

11:47 am  
Anonymous Genie said...

Great site blogstress. I consider myself a Londoner but I do plan to leave one day. As you say the sticker shock is killing me slowly.

11:50 am  
Blogger Chris said...

Happy Anniversary CS,
Judging by your missives on tourists not standing on the right on tube escalators and other assorted gripes, you seem to be a Londoner. ;-)

12:36 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

Born in Ealing here. Could almost be Middlesex I guess, but consider myself Londoner through and through.

Yes, I still miss it, despite the way it's treated me in the past!

3:01 pm  
Blogger Gareth said...

London is such a diverse, cultural city which I feel very lucky to live in.

London's a world class city in League with places like Paris, NYC and Sydney.

If you live here then your a Londoner, forget being born within the sound of the bow bells, most londoners come from somewhere else.

3:41 pm  
Blogger Lestat said...

Interesting post. I too have a number of sterotypes of New Yorkers but much less for London. Then there is San Francisco. The sterotype there is whatever you would _not_ see in Waco Texas...

7:20 pm  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

It's weird-- I completely feel like a Londoner but not neccesarily a Briton, per se.

I really started thinking 'OK, I'm part of this, I'm one of them too' was on July 7th, 2005.

London is really accepting of people from all over the world with all sorts of different accents (despite what that nasty racist poster said).

I find when I go out of the city though I feel more 'foreign'. When I went up to Newcastle for work a few years ago it was quite strange to feel so, well, exotic! All sorts of people were coming up to me all the time excitedly asking 'are you from America'? (I was at a tradeshow so they could hear me droning on in my North American accent from a distance).

Though that was fun and sweet for a weekend I don't think I could handle living anywhere seriously outside of London just because I'd feel like too much of a rare bird-- and I'm one of those enough already-- ha!

4:13 pm  
Blogger Gareth said...

I think I may well be one now after 12 years. Although I will admit to not having made as much of the city as I could or should have. It's ethnic mix to me is a joy, I love the fact taht my local cost cutter is run by men of Pakistani origin, in a Portuguese neighbourhood, and has a huge section devoted to Polish food.

7:37 pm  
Blogger HieuThao said...

cute teen leggings

Middle East Events DirectoryI agree City Slicker. London will be the world's greatest melting pot come not too far away. I mean look David Cameron was already wearing punjabi gear the other day. Know that will wind you up :-)

5:57 pm  
Blogger HieuThao said...

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ETERNAL LIFEIs that you in the picture City Slicker? No I guess you wouldn't wear leggings, would you?White Bicycles is ace. Any Nick Drake fans head straight to the index there is masses on him in this book!

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That's the thing. I don't think there is a stereotypical Londoner - that's what makes it such an amazing city. I would answer: anyone who has truly embraced London and made it their home.

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hat's the thing. I don't think there is a stereotypical Londoner - that's what makes it such an amazing city. I would answer: anyone who has truly embraced London and made it their home.

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That's the thing. I don't think there is a stereotypical Londoner - that's what makes it such an amazing city. I would answer

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Blogger Luis said...

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Travel Photographer take a bit of an issue with his dislike of the pretentious though. You absolutely need to balance it and be tough on yourself, but pretentiousness has a lot to offer, in that it represents our urge to try out being something we’re not. Which has a good pedigree in the theatre community

3:40 pm  

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