“Today’s London is a perfect hub of the globe. It is home to over 30 ethnic communities of at least 10,000 residents each. In this city tonight, over 300 languages will be spoken by families over their evening meal at home. This pluralism is not a burden we must reluctantly accept. It is an immense asset that contributes to the cultural and economic vitality of our nation”, Robin Cook – Foreign Secretary in 2001
Photo: Courtesy of W10 on flickr
When I walk through the corridors of my university, I hear Greek, Swedish and French. On my way home, I pass by Indian, Italian, Turkish, Thai and Malaysian restaurants. Since I started studying at City University I have made English, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, French and Singaporean friends. This certainly spells out multiculturalism.
However, coming from Luxembourg and having attended the European School of Luxembourg, sharing different values and traditions is nothing new to me. I’ve always been used to having a German neighbour, an Irish teacher and a Spanish friend.
A recent French TV programme (Echappées Belles…au Luxembourg) did a piece on Luxembourg, placing emphasis on multiculturalism and the fact that 43 % of its population are foreigners. It used a band on the rise, The Signies, as a metaphor of the multiculturalism phenomenon that is part of Luxembourg: Ben Lowe, the singer, is English; Renaud Deyber, the guitarist, is French; Pedro Ramos, the bassist, is Portuguese; and finally, Javier Pedraza, the drummer, is Spanish. Funny thing is, there is nothing unusual about this for people who live in Luxembourg. Pedro Ramos explains why: “Here, we have a daily contact with people who are not of the same nationality as us.”
This had always been my idea of a “melting pot”. I always thought to myself “Why isn’t Luxembourg seen as the world’s melting pot? Just because it is one of the smallest existing countries? Unfair!” But now that I live in London, I understand why. Don’t get me wrong, multiculturalism is a big part of Luxembourg too. Just like London, it would be impossible to understand its development without examining the history of immigration. Just like London, it is now impossible to conceive it without the presence of immigrants; without them, its physical appearance, demography and culture would be completely different.
But London is simply a world apart. Actually, it is really a world of its own. While Luxembourg has welcomed people from all over Europe over the years, London is a living sample of every culture in the world. In this sense, it wasn’t a culture shock to me, but I felt like I was expanding my horizons even more.
“At the start of the 21st century, London has become the global multicultural city par excellence“, says Panikos Panayi in the book “London: from punk to Blair” (2003). Panayi goes on to explain in this chapter of the book that “immigrants in London have deeply impacted people of native British origin”. Intermarriage, for example, helps break down ethnic barriers; “Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish”; and London’s immigrant communities have actively contributed to its “intellectual and cultural life in fields as diverse as politics, music, architecture and literature”. London therefore represents a true global city, which, “without its ethnic minorities, would be a London without blood”.