E is for Expats
The UK and London in particular, is an amazing melting pot of people. It starts with the fact that the UK made up of a four countries that share a passport, currency and language, so people are quite used to travelling around. Scots, Welsh, English and Irish live around the UK as we may be doing in 50 years around Europe (assuming it still exists with open borders and free circulation of people).
Besides these local expats, there are many from the former British colonies, Europe and other countries that for some reason or another end up here. It is amazing how you can meet people from all over the world. If you spend a few hours in public transport, you will be able to hear at least 20 different languages spoken and see people from every corner of the world. A good past time in a long journey is to try to identify where people are from. Not just by staring at them, but by the language they are speaking, their clothes, the book they are reading or some particular physical traits.
Something that I find cool is the fact that most people you meet are already a by-product of the melting pot. It is common to hear someone saying that “my mom is from (enter country), my dad from (enter a second country) and I was born in (enter third country)”. The result is great, as it makes it difficult to figure out where some people are from. In fact, it completely changes the concept. Are you from where your parents are? Are you from where you are born or are you from where you live? Ultimately, it does not matter, as it is only bureaucracy.
The fact that there are so many immigrants and expats (can someone tell me the difference?) brings a lot of novelty.
Restaurants, shops, cultural events and any other additions that naturally come with migration enrich a place, allow you to travel without leaving and generate unique fusions. In this aspect, the UK is great. People are also used to diversity. Say in a work meeting, people make a big effort to pronounce your name properly. Cultural and religious differences are also taken into account, in particular when it comes to food.
You may not agree with me, but I love it this way. It is amazing how I can have a Thai lunch, go for a Caribbean event in the afternoon and have a Nigerian dinner all in the same city. I believe that this also helps bringing out and defining what is British. It may be a defence mechanism but used in the right way it just enhances what is local and what needs to be preserved.
Being an immigrant myself, and coming from a country where emigrants were seen as wannabes that save money year round just to show off in the summer in Portugal, I believe (and hope) that this concept has changed. I have learned that those emigrants that left Portugal back in the 60s were trying to get a better life away from a fascist regime that believed education was not necessary. I have gained more respect for those people who came here without knowing the language, without much education but determined to make a better life. They have worked in construction and cleaning. Some of them opened a small cafés and shops where a bit of their Portuguese dream survives in the shape of bacalhau (typical dry salted cod), pasteis de nata (oh… best translation would be custard tarts, but that is not really it) and bica (single espresso). However, their kids have grown up here probably with the difficulties of being “foreigners” but you meet them now and they are as British as it comes. They have good jobs and their parents’ dreams have been fulfilled.
Our generation of immigrants is slightly different. The world became smaller with easy access to information and flights. The European borders are open so that we can freely circulate. We all have degrees and several languages on our CVs. Many of us have partners from another country and definitely all of us have friends or colleagues from all the continents. We go for the bacalhau once in a while, in the same way we go for Sunday roast or curry night. So we are also part of the melting pot, and that is great.