According to Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian, Nick Farage head of the UK Independence Party recently said mass immigration was making parts of the country appear ‘unrecognisable’ and ‘like a foreign land’. Farage was quoted as saying “In scores of our cities and market towns, this country in a short space of time has frankly become unrecognisable…Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact in many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more. This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.” According to Andrew Sparrow when asked at his press conference to justify the comments, Farage cited a recent experience on a rush-hour train leaving Charing Cross. “It was a stopper going out and we stopped at London Bridge, New Cross, Hither Green, it was not until we got past Grove Park that I could hear English being audibly spoken in the carriage,” he said. “Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes it does.” Asked why he minded people speaking in foreign languages, he replied: “I don’t understand them … I don’t feel very comfortable in that situation and I don’t think the majority of British people do.”
Such comments are similar to those made by Nick Griffin, head of the British National Party, the vanguard of an aggressive group of White Caucasians, fighting to put what it considered the interests of its ethnic group before others, who claimed London was no longer a city for the British. A couple of British National Party followers, with Welsh accents, filmed the streets of Wembley. The filmmakers suggested Wembley had been a quintessentially British place, for the fact that it was the home of the stadium where the English national team plays. They expressed horror at the sheer number of people of foreign extraction walking up and down Wembley High Street, and in particular, the number of Muslims, Asians and Black people.
All of this is reminiscent of various comments made of immigrants and a love of the foreigner in the in the nineteenth century. It was said that in 1851, the time of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, the exhibition for which the legendary Crystal Palace was constructed in Hyde Park, there were a good many opponents to the exhibition, many of them from the House of Commons, who in the view of Geoffrey Cantor, “viewed the whole affair as a hideous celebration of the vulgar forces of capitalism that were ripping out the soul of Christian England; worse: the moment an alien prince – for the Great Exhibition was very much Albert’s project – opened the gates to a flood of dangerous, revolutionary foreigners, in a move calculated to overturn the time-honoured English way of life”. Around about the same time the House of Lords regularly refused the passing of a Bill to allow a person who was religiously Jewish to take a seat in Parliament, without reciting the required oath, which included the words ‘on faith of a Christian’. Cantor added, “Traditionalists, often Tory High Church Anglicans, they saw the same dangers in Jewish emancipation. Lionel de Rothschild, the Jew elected as MP for the City of London whose refusal to take the oath had brought matters to a head, was, after all, scion of the foreign banking dynasty that was a driving force of despised nineteenth century capitalism. John Ball, a periodical that railed against Jews, Turks, infidels, heretics and Catholics, argued that Rothschild’s admission would unchristianise the legislature and attract the wrath of God. A Jewish campaign in the 1840s and 50s to allow Sunday trading to make up for the fact religious Jews could not trade on their Sabbath, Saturday, only amplified its writers’ anger. They likewise fulminated against Albert and his Great Exhibition, which would lead to ungodly foreigners and revolutionaries swarming the streets.”
What these comments remind us of, is that not everyone in London is keen on the notion of the melting pot in London, but the interesting thing is that it’s not just the English who feel reluctance about inter-ethnic mixing. I’ll never forget the look of panic that spread over a sixteen year old Algerian boy’s face on Blackstock Road, near Finsbury Park, the evening of 1-2-3 Viva Algerie’s World Cup reverie, the evening Algeria drew 1 all with England, who had up until that moment been walking with a spring in his step, smiling at all the dancing and celebration, only to find the set up infiltrated by an Englishman, looking for a shot of joy. A few years back at a wedding of a Turkish Cypriot woman and Englishman in London, one of the invited English guests, a man, dressed all dapper like, was lifted off his feet by the father of a Turkish woman whose number the man had asked for, after which he was ‘carried back to the English corner of the hall’.
Others can rebel against any processes of Londinificaiton or Anglicisation that they may find themselves undergoing as a result of their exposure to the wider social milieu. An Algerian Londoner commeted on, “Was thinking the other day about how British one can become after a few years living here and realised it could really go either way, one can easily withdraw into oneself and refuse all signs of “Britishness” as a repudiation of the former self, some panic when they realise that they started thinking in English so they grow a beard and start wearing boxers, others refuse to speak English to their compatriots but mostly they grow more neurosis and despite their long London tenure they refuse to be labelled a Londoner for fear of what that might represent. Poor lambs!
Immigrants to London often feel a sense of ambivalence having arrived in London, which means at first they don’t want to mix too much with those around them, and prefer to stick within their own ethnic group. French people, like may immigrants arriving in London feel a good deal of ambivalence with regards to their new home. True, French immigrants, like many immigrants, arrive in the Big Smoke, anticipating opportunity, excitement and stimulation. However these feelings mask a deep sense of uncertainty about their identify, belonging, future and their acceptability and desirability. It has been suggested that French people deal with their insecurities by telling themselves that they will only be in London for a few years, as if their relationship with London will never mean anything, will never be more than a fling, they will eventually return home to their true love. Furthermore they adopt the attitude that rather than them needing London, it is somehow London that needs them, or that somehow they had never asked to be in London in the first place. This results in an attempt to create a world within a world, a home from home. This can be seen in the remit of French Radio London who aim to accompany press review of French newspapers with a “heavy dose of nostalgic music” to give listeners a “sense of being home”. One Frenchman, Hamid Seny, living in London for ten years, noted how his compatriots and he would, when first arrived in London hold on to a “belief of le grandeur de la france, let us teach you savoir-vire let us teach you food, let us show you how great we are”. Furthermore French people would tend to not get too involved with Londoners, congregate together and speak in French with each other. Seny noted, “I remember we were speaking English in the workplace we had to and then outside we would speak French, and we would shout in French, like we are French were different were more sophisticated because we are French.” It is common for anyone who comes to London to think that they are coming just for a few years.
The result then, is not the melting pot, but the frozen pot. The moniker Paris on Thames, given to the French community in South Kensington, is not just a suitable metaphor for the size of the French population in London. It is also a good metaphor for the preservation of French social networks in London, which appear to be encouraged by the fact of a critical mass of French people, allied to technological advances, which allow French people to stay in touch with the mainland relatively easily, and which are reinforced by the provision of French services by private concerns and the French government. For example London now has its own French speaking radio station, 80% of the tracks have French lyrics, that’s a larger percentage than on most radio stations based in France. Genevive Roberts, writing for the Independent noted, “For those happiest creating a Cockney-tinted Paris, websites such as Chanteroy online and French Click sell such gastronomic comforts such Camembert, saucisson sec and Béarnaise sauce. And just as Anglophones can find English-language services in Paris, the equivalent is available in London, from French vets who will talk to sick pets in their native tongue, to a French dentist who travels in from Paris for a few days each month to treat Francophones in the British capital, advertising through the magazine Ici Londres. The French state subsidizes private French schools in London, by sending French teachers. The French state allows London based French expatriates to participate in presidential elections, the consequence being that in the last presidential election in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy was said to have have bombarded expatriates with emails promising more places in French schools abroad, and Francois Hollande went electioneering on the streets of London, with teams of London based campaigners, door knocking and delivering leaflets, in what had effectively become a French constituency.
Further, now in the twenty-first century, some areas of London are clearly developing large populations of one kind of ethnic minority or another. Shadwell and Poplar in East London have a large population of Bengalis, diminutive people, who are marked out from their more westernised neighbours by the numerous women that walk along the streets dressed in hijabs and burkas. In recent years aggressive youths, claiming Tower Hamlets to be some kind of Muslim land have physically and verbally harassed and intimidated anyone who looks to be breaking with what they consider to be Sharia Law.
Furthermore irrespective of whether there are geographic ghettoes in London there are undoubtedly psychological ghettos, whereby people of a given provenance tend to stick together and communicate uniquely with one another. I have heard stories of Bengali women, who have lived in the UK for over a decade but who have yet to learn a word of English, because they have yet to need to, which in part, is a reflection of the control that Bengali men exercise over their life, their inability to be able to venture into any sphere of life beyond the domestic, and possibly their lack of confidence and education. The Spanish are well known for congregating with other Spaniards, the Iberian climate promotes a more outward and gregarious manner in the Spanish, which means new arrivals to London find it difficult to bond with foreigners but very easy to bond with other Spaniards and similarly minded outgoing types. There are countless ethnic groups in London, which have their own radio station. For example there is a Greek radio station that is run from some second floor terrace just off the North Circular, and recently a new French London radio station was launched via the Internet. These psychological ghettos have been made possible by the critical mass of immigrant groups in London, public transport, which allows birds of a feather to flock together, and the internet, mobile phone and satellite television which allows compatriots to maintain a cultural and information bond with the homeland, their mother tongue and each other in London.
Nevertheless it would seem that with time, people do begin to accept influence form those around them. Hamid Seny, who, has seen the French community in London, for more than a decade, commented in a recent documentary made by the BBC that, “Ten years ago we were all young french kids thinkgin we are learing english getting a little bit of work experience and then we can go back to france, and now I see people married with kids and settling here buying houses and that’s it, we are immigre, we are foreigners, we are expats, but that’s it, we are home, this is home England is home’. Who knows, maybe if Nigel Farage takes off his welly boots, puts on some Converse boots, has a few beers, goes for a few pints down the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, and then gets a Turkish down Kingsland Road at 2am in the morning, he’ll come round.