A True Global City

The first thing I noticed when we moved to New York City was the sheer number of languages you can hear in a matter of a few blocks or a few stops on the subway. It is surely a global city.  We had previously resided in Maine, the least ethnically diverse state in the US. Outside of Portland where we lived, the only foreigners you would find were Canadian, which isn’t very sexy (sorry Canada). The transition to New York was an eye opening experience to say the least and I expected London to be no different. I was wrong. Within a short period of time, the true global scope of London became blatantly apparent.London has the same pockets of cultures like NYC, or any large city for that matter. From Chinatown to the large Cypriot/Turkish area near Manor House in North London. The borders are slightly less defined compared to NYC, and the cultures and the people mix much more. Dive into Central London, with multi-national companies, hundreds of foreign embassies and of course loads of tourists, you can hear a dozen languages within one block.

The most glaring example of the global scope of London occurred when we first arrived and Julie met with her new UK team. While she had always worked with a global team, her immediate NYC-based office consisted entirely of Americans. In London, things were different. On her team here were people from Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Poland, India, Russia and Belarus, with only a few actual Brits. She was now dealing with an office where a majority of the employees spoke English as their second or sometimes third language.

I too experienced the cultural diversity of London rather quickly. I joined a tennis and soccer league shortly after arriving, looking to meet people and stay active. My soccer (or football) team had two Brits, a Russian and an Indian. My last two tennis matches were against a Finnish and a Brazilian. I have actually come to befriend the Finnish player, and a few weeks back he invited me to watch a football (or soccer if you will) at his local pub. We ended up drinking for the next five hours, hanging out with two other Finnish guys, three Irish woman and a Pakistani-Irish co-worker of my Finnish friend. So within our drinking group, there were four different accents between eight people, if you include my American accent. There was nothing shocking about it either. No one commented about our UN-like group. It was normal for everyone.

Obviously a comparison between the two cities is a little unfair. The small size of the UK, it’s close proximity to dozens of other countries and the EU makes the flow of employees across borders easy. With every new economic crisis, scores of foreign workers come to London and the UK, looking for a new opportunity. The Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Italians have come over to London in huge numbers in the last five years. And since the EU makes the transition easy and cost effective for the employer, companies are open to looking for qualified employees in other countries and relocating them.  Trying to obtain a work visa in the US on the other hand is challenging to say the least. Unless a large corporation has the funds to manage it, most employers do not want to deal with the logistical nightmare and the piles of paperwork to relocate an employee to a non-EU country.  And while NYC also has a large immigrant population, the majority tend to be from Mexico, Dominican Republic, India and Bangladesh and have established  themselves for multiple generations in most cases.

I adore both cities, but there is something magical about how truly international nature of London.  The people blend and mingle more freely than in NYC and the majority of the foreign accents you hear are people that actually live here, not just tourists (though London as plenty of those as well).  The EU has allowed London to become an international crossroads of sorts, with people seeking a stronger economy than their home country.  Especially with what has happened with the economy in Europe in the last six years, London is only getting bigger and more diverse.  I love it.