Risk taking and achievement in London

Risk taking and achievement in London

It is argued by some people that London has more of a risk-taking and achievement orientation. This is compared to Paris and France where it is argued that the values of business and government are more conservative, where people work principally not to achieve the strategic goals of the organization, but rather to conserve their position and the benefits of that position, within the organization. In this sense people are less willing to take risks and rock the boat, not making a mistake is valued over and above taking risks to achieve, because taking risks entails a certain degree of mistake making and failure.

Of course the risk taking behaviour is about feeling disinhibited to the possibility of failure, it is a hysterial optimistic state that the mind needs to engage in, in order to feel comfortable taking risks. This process of disinhibition is said to be experienced as liberating. For example, one French immigrant to London reckoned that, “It gets to a point where these people get so tired of being in a dead end of not finging a job, then they come to London, and then in the UK, its all about the job, no longer about the contract, whereas in France its all about the contract, and nothing about the job, and what is very funny is whats happening in that tunnel, when they cross the channel with the Eurostar, is it like some kind of mind cleansing? And that’s why people feel liberated when they come to the UK, during those twenty marvelous minutes when you cross the Channel”. In some way, what I read from this statement is the notion that in London it is felt that what is prized is the gamble, is going for gold, people loose the fear of loosing, and in so doing are able to go for the gran prix, whereas in France the culture is one of conservatism, of keeping things sweet and pretty stable, without much of a desire for risking it all. The liberation that people talk about coming here, is perhaps a liberation from the fear of loosing what one has. Hamid Seny was reported to have said, “In France you have to fit into the system, you have to fit into a box, you have to behave in certain way, you have to think in certain way… If you come from this neighbourhood then you will live there, you will work there, you will study there, everything is already designed for you, when you are in the UK you have freedom, what I call real freedom.” So one of the big questions is why do people come from France to London. It would seem that it is more difficult to find opportunities to make it in life in France, whereas in London it is easier. It would seem that it is two things, both linked to opportunity. One is that here the sytem makes it easier for you to do things, to try things out, but also, London is full of people who do try things out, which means you are more likely to have a go yourself, and it is that perception of being freer to innovate and the desire to take a risk, and give it a go, which is infectious here, which is inhibited elsewhere, which is a reason for why people come here. Malika Farkh came to Hackney after finishing The Art School in Paris. She thought shed stay a few months, but seven years later she’s still here and much in demand as an illustrator, she said, “I think people are much more oprtimistic about we can do things, if you want to do something you can do it, whereas when I was in Paris, when you want to do something, like a new venture of anything you always think of what is going to go wrong, it’s a shift in the way you think, and I used to think like that as well, I used ot think people are going to try and prevent you from doing something or it seems much harder to set up a project.. I find the system much easier here when you want to do something or set up something you don’t need to do something, fill in these papers or fill in these forms’. Part of this then is to do with the type of contracts that exist in London, and the fact that, in London, there are many short-term contracts, which don’t commit employers to employing staff who they don’t want. Marine said, “In France if you don’t have the experience per se, or you don’t have a diploma, then there is no way on earth you are going to get the job because there are less loop holes, if you hire someone on a permanent contract, you cant fire them, whereas here people are more likely to give you the job, because if you cant do the job they can fire you the next day, its more easy…. I;’ve changed carrer a year ago, and I would have never done that a if I was still in France, because I would have been much stuck to my job, and be happy to have one one….”

It has been observed that London is full of risk-takers and this makes it an easier place to take risks. It is as if risk taking is more socially acceptable in London. Furthermore it is as if the perceived risks of any given gamble, in London, are experienced as less risky or significant or dangerous, because of this culture of risk taking, which means that more people are willing to take risks. That is to say London is felt to be a town of risk-takers, where the excitement of risk taking is encouraged and normalised. In contrast France and Paris is a place of conservatism. There is a culture of playing it safe in France. This is reflected in the fact that in France there is less employment available but what there is comes with great conditions. It would seem that there is little spirit of entrepreneurialism in France. London on the other hand is considered to be a place full of people who are trying new things, taking risks, starting up new businesses etc. It is not just that London has the employment laws and the regulations and procedures for establishing a business, which make risk-taking easier. Its also that there is a critical mass of people taking those risks, which somehow provides more confidence to those who are thinking about taking risks. Malika Favre, an illustrator, who came to London for a few years, after finishing Art School in Paris, but who has been here for seven years, said to Lucy Ash of the BBC, “I think people are much more optimistic about we can do things, if you want to do something you can do it, whereas when I was in Paris, when you want to do something, like a new venture of anything you always think of what is going to go wrong, it’s a shift in the way you think, and I used to think like that as well, I used to think people are going to try and prevent you from doing something or it seems much harder to set up a project.. I find the system much easier here when you want to do something or set up something you don’t need to do something, fill in these papers or fill in these forms’.

Such is the desire to live in and amongst a culture of innovation and risk taking, that French people are willing to give up a comfortable life, a nice flat, a stable job and decent weather for the risk-taking innovative environment, squalor and cramped conditions of London. One woman said “Its very easy to be in France, I used to live in Bordeuaux, twenty minutes from the ocean, two hours from the sea, nice wine, ince food, yeh my life was really easy, and sometimes when its raining in London, I’m thinking whats gone wrong with me, but itrs true we are giving up something but at the same time I think you cannot come to London thinking that you are going to succeed or even just to have a nice life, thinking that its going to be easy, its not easy, we’;ve all had bad times, difficults moments, missing home and stuff, but if you are really willing to give two hundred per cent, and give the best of you, then its going to work’. Another woman said “You know if you want secureity and then you want your holiday and you want something safe then you stay in France. If you have and trying something new, learning something new, skills, cultures, then you come in…’ So the big point here is that French people are not always coming here for an improved material life, they are coming here, to live the dream, of being creative, trying out ideas, of rolling the dice. Another woman, “You know if you want security and then you want your holiday and you want something safe then you stay in France. If you have and trying something new, learning something new, skills, cultures, then you come in…’ London, then, truly is a place of French Dick Whittingtons.

London, then, truly is a place of Dick Whittingtons, take this account from a French woman, who arrived in the city, because she felt this was somewhere where she could make it, in comparison to Paris and France. However making it did not mean living a materially comfortable life, it meant achieving something, self-actualisation, but perhaps in unison with others, as part of a concerted and combined action. That is to say in London there is a sense that the job is something which can enable you to achieve something in the world, rather than is being something that provides you with a secure income of money. She reflected, “How many were we six, seven, if you count the boyfriend that hides in the bbedroom, in brick lane, and we had rats, we had bed bugs, we had everything, it was cold, freezing cold, plus I was smoking and I had to open the windows, it was even colder, and I still thought oh god my friends in Paris they’ve got their own flat for the same price, and I could still hear the rats in the walls’.

So one of the big questions is why do people come from France to London. It would seem that it is more difficult to find opportunities to make it in life in France, whereas in London it is easier. It would seem that it is two things, both linked to opportunity. One is that here the sytem makes it easier for you to do things, to try things out, but also, London is full of people who do try things out, which means you are more likely to have a go yourself, and it is that perception of being freer to innovate and the desire to take a risk, and give it a go, which is infectious here, which is inhibited elsewhere, which is a reason for why people come here.

Part of this then is to do with the type of contracts that exist in London, and the fact that, in London, there are many short-term contracts, which don’t commit employers to employing staff who they don’t want. It has also been suggested that in London there is more power in the hands of capital and employers, who can demand more and abandon anyone who doesn’t fit in with their plans, meaning that they are more prepared to take risks. This is in contrast to for example France, where once you have a job the idea is that you work to conserve the contract, furthering the strategic purpose of the organisaiton, whether that is making money ot otherwise, comes a distant second. Furthermore the political classes generally work to sure up the rights and benefits of workers, which means it costs a lot for employers to hire someone and then to fire them if that’s what they want to do do, which has the effect of making employers reluctant to take a risk on hiring staff, which arguably makes them more conservative in who they employ, using people who have conventional career paths and sticking to people who socially and ethnically are similar to them. This means that London employers are more likely to take a chance in employing someone who might not ostensibly have the relevant experience, or take a chance on someone who would be excluded on the basis of their race, gender or some other aspect of their identity which is not ostensibly related to their ability to do the job. Marine Schepens explained to Lucy Ash of the BBC that, “In France if you don’t have the experience per se, or you don’t have a diploma, then there is no way on earth you are going to get the job because there are less loop holes, if you hire someone on a permanent contract, you can’t fire them, whereas here people are more likely to give you the job, because if you cant do the job they can fire you the next day, its more easy…. I’ve changed carrer a year ago, and I would have never done that a if I was still in France, because I would have been much stuck to my job, and be happy to have one one….” Coraline Despeyroux, a 28-year-old student at London Metropolitan University, De applied to French and British institutions to study in media after having gained qualificiations in business studies. She said to Lizzy Davies of the Guardian, “In France, because they put people in boxes and because I had business and wanted to do media they were like ‘no’,” Davies explained that Despeyroux subsequently stayed in London, got a BA, and now has a place on a masters course at the LSE.

The Romans created a burning sun just the north of the Thames, a bubble of excitement, of opportunity. Since then London has often proven attractive, people have gravited towards it, having taken leave of their senses, but also of their home, community and family, determined to dip their finger into that thick crust pie with the swirling filling. And in many cases people find the myth of an enriching London tbe correct. Many people find London offers them better chances of material gain than in the place they come from. This is largely due to the fact that it is easier to get a job in London, given the number of jobs that are on offer, compared to where they come from.

One of the reasons London is believed to have more jobs on offer is the employment laws, which compared to some countries, make it easier to employ people short-term and make it easier for employers to sack employees. In this way the laws enabling short-term contracts and the ability to sack people easily, enable a culture of risk taking and experimentation, which makes London’s economy more competitive and allows it to grow. That is to say, these laws, it is argued, mean that employers are more willing to offer jobs to people who might have potential but do not have the career history or experience. The greater risk taking enabled by shorter term contracts means that companies in London are more likely to get it right, and be successful, which means they will grow and be able to offer more jobs. The situation in London is often compared with that in Paris and France. Sandrine Tobelem, a senior quantitative analyst at a London-based hedge fund told Estelle Shirbon of Reuters, “My husband and I both lost our jobs during the crisis. The state unemployment benefit was 76 pounds a week which is a pittance compared with what you get in France. But we found new jobs really quickly whereas in France it’s much harder. There’s a lack of flexibility and dynamism there.”

Generally speaking, some immigrants find that it is easy to get a job in London. I remember a great story told to me by a Nigerian about how when he arrived in London late one night in his all white African style trousers and shirt combination, not having any kind of idea about where he had ended up, he walked into a convenience store run by Indians and asked them if they could give him a job. They offered him one and asked him when he could start, he said he’d go and book into a local cheap hotel he had just seen, and he came back in two hours, still in his white suit, ready to start work. For some people, with the drive and determination, finding work in London does not seem to be hard. A Frenchman called Adrian commented, “When I arrived here, I did not speak much English at all. Without a diploma, my future in France was rather compromised. Here, I found a job in 48 hours.”

Accepted for one’s professionalism, skill and ability to make money

People who come to London find that the enterprises and companies in London value people principally for their professionalism, skill, ability to make money and hard work, and will therefore accept them into employment, in contrast to the place they come from where they feel that those with the power to offer work and wages, conceive their role in employment to be to further the interests of their own social grouping, by denying work to those from other social groupings. In other words people feel that provided they have the skills, ability and work ethic, they can get a job and be successful in earning a living.

Whether employers in London are actually more interested in one’s ability to do the job well and to make money rather than their social identity would make an interesting study. And if it happens to be true, quite why London’s employers are focused more on the ability to do the job well, is an interesting question. Certainly the picture in France seems to suggest that certain classes have quite a tight grip on institutions and companies in France, and use that position to further the interests of their own class, even if that may be at the expense of the profitability or effectiveness of the company or institution. In London the suggestion is that there is more power in the hands of capital and employers, who can demand more and abandon anyone who doesn’t fit in with their plans, meaning that they are more prepared to take risks, which leads to greater innovation and experimentation, which in turn leads to greater efficiencies, discoveries and better services.

In some cases Londoners focus on producing artefacts, which others desire, and in so doing find a proxy for love. Such people believe that one’s ability to give an artefact that others desire, is a sufficient motivation for people to continue, to feel that they are loved and wanted. And that, “Researchers have shown that some people cope well with being alone when they know that they have a role in life. When asked what mattered most to them, elderly people said it was less the presence of their family that mattered, more the fact they knew that their lives had value. Losing one’s symbolic place in a family or other community can have devastating effects. It can turn a bearable isolation into a nightmare of loneliness.. Workaholics and pop stars can also bear testament to this. Darian Leader provides a perfect explication of this point, by making reference to the film Castaway. He explains, “Tom Hanks plays a Fedex worker stranded on a desert island with a package. Completely alone, he draws a face on a basketball. After he is rescued he sets out to deliver the package, and we realise that even though he talked to the basketball, the package has been his real support. It gave him an identity, a social role, and he is only truly lonely once it is gone.” Being able to produce artefacts desired by others keeps people hanging on, makes them believe they can be loved and wanted by others. Isolated people in one London project made it clear that they didn’t want to receive help for free. Instead, they wanted to partake in a system of tokens, so they were “buying” the time of their helpers.

Blogging of course is another currency of London’s great distracted. Many blogs are obsessed with being able to provide other people with insights into hidden worlds. Little London Observationist aims to “uncover the side of London that many visitors and city-dwellers don’t get to see.” Blogging can be used as an attempt to find a new relevance in life, thorugh creating an artefact, narratives of experience, which one hopes will attract attention and affect. The new arrival who responded to his depression by visiting 100 independent coffee shops and the woman who went on a new date each week for a whole year both blogged their experiences.

Some people who wish they could express their pain and anger, but who feel that it woud lead to further attacks on their person or being shunned, produce artefacts to highlight a feeling, which they can distance themselves from, and which people can leave or take, without having to leave or take them. When this occurs the person producing the artifact effectively removes any possibility of the value of their emotions being validated through love given by others, and instead the most they can hope for is that love from others can be projected on to the artifact that they have created.

Blogs also offer a mediate form of communicating one’s own feelings. This can be done openly on the page. Rachel North, blogged about her feelings and life following the shock of being in one of the trains that had been bombed during the co-ordinated bombings of London’s Underground and Buses during the 7th July 2005. Rachel North noted, “The raw shock, anger, puzzlement, the furious drive to understand, amend, rebuild, which had so animated me, forced those hundreds of thousands of words tumbling out of me, left me too wired to sleep, shaking with tiredness as well as passionate urgency”. She spent all her time sitting at a computer, writing, or looking through documents, or going out and talking to people about terror, horror, justice, freedom, fear. The artefact becomes a way of mediating human relationships, of communicating with a protected veneer. This is not to deny that it can’t result in meaningful interaction and emotional engagement. “The kindness, the comradeship, the advice, the support, the inspiration, and everything else… so generously shared” Rachel wrote in a paen to her readers, “There were times when you kept me from going under. The hope you gave me was the antidote to the despair. I was grateful, I always will be grateful.” Another thing to be said about blogging about personal experiences, is that you drain yourself of the satisfaction of privacy. The satisfaction of privacy is that feeling of contentment you have at being at ease with your most difficult feelings and experiences, the satisfaction of having learned how to manage them, now that you are in a safer place. The satisfaction of privacy is the ability to interact with others without feeling that you have to reveal everything about yourself, the satisfaction of knowing you will be accepted, even if you do not reveal everything, and the satisfaction to be gained, in rewarding people, every now and then with insights into that well of privacy, that you so proudly guard. When you put your life on to the page, into the public domain, you may benefit from the feedback that people provide, but you have no well of privacy, of which you can be proud, of which you can say ‘this is me’. So blogging kind of drains you of the satisfaction of privacy. Rachel North, who stopped blogging about the aftermath of the London underground bombings, commented, “It was a strange kind of relief to pull down the shutters… And I realised tha the desire to turn inwards and focus on my family, my private life, was OK, that was healing”. She added, ” The raw shock, anger, puzzlement, the furious drive to understand, amend, rebuild, which had so animated me, forced those hundreds of thousands of words tumbling out of me, left me too wired to sleep, shaking with tiredness as well as passionate urgency – all that had faded away. I no longer had PTSD. I was out of the tunnel. I gave myself permission to stop, to say no, to close the door and exhale. It felt good.”.

One extreme version of this kind of relating is to completely engage with the world of human arefacts. This is the schizoid state, the state in which people invest all their energies in the intellect and sensations, attempting to fully starve their emotions of energy. Again blogging can be used to project one’s feelings on to other objects, issues and events going on in the material world. One expresses feeling through arguing about the qualities of a film or a piece of art. Intellectual engagement, a perspective on the rights and wrongs of other peoples’ lives, becomes a safe metaphor for one’s own particular suffering, so one can be reduced to tears by someone who sees things differently, it is a denial of one’s own experiences. This is the obsessive university academic, this is the London historian. This is the character in one of Irvine Welsh’s novels, who watched every film in the film guide, before topping himself.

In London music and games are often used to turn off from the crowds and the traumas of underground travel, emotional armoury includingnewspapers, IPods, Ipad, amazon kindles, Smartphones (silently please) and game consoles. “We are all plugged into a device or escaping in a story” observes one commuter”.

Some people never tire of tasting new things in London, running away from themselves, using London to hyper stimulate their consciousness, throttling the air supply to the screams of their subconscious.

Consequently, Londoners become addicted to institutionalised and culturally contrived situations for their sense of belonging. Work, nightclub, pub, but not chilling out with a friend, doing nothing with a partner, going for a stroll with a dog. They talk about art, style, fashion, food, places, but not about how they feel, and who they feel for. Its all about whose paying you, what you’re doing, how you look, but if you’re left alone with your feelings then…

The challenge with relying uniquely on artefact dependent relationships, is that there is always a burning sense of dissatisfaction knocking at the door, the smoke from which seeps through the floorboards of one’s soul. However the terror induced by confronting the notion that one is not loveable or that one induces disgust in others, combined with success in being able to produce or obtain artefacts that others desire or enjoy sharing with you, can lead to the entertainment of the delusion, that by producing or amassing more artefacts one can finally be loved. Indeed people come to London hoping to become a better person as a result, thinking that being richer, more successful, linked into social networks involved in the production of cultural artefacts and the social and material construction of reality, will somehow make them a better person, give them a better life.

This makes it a real help, a great place to come to turn off one’s feelings. One can loose oneself in London, it is said, loose oneself in London. It is full of people with trauma, who arrive in the Big Smoke, hoping the fumes will put them to sleep. Some try their hardest. Exhausted by the distractions of London, Londoners can rationalize that there is simply no time and possibility of engaging in a committed relationship with someone. Londoner Carine Bee recounted to journalist Christopher Long in the late 1980s, “You’re so tired at the end of a day that it seems impossible that you could cope with a job, children and domestic chores. It’s a vicious circle. The less dependent you become on relationships to keep you occupied the more you find alternative ways of enjoying yourself. The fewer relationships you have the fewer you want”. The culture of casual sex, and the large population of men and women happy to engage in sex as a leisure pursuit, is cited as some as reason for why a committed emotional relationship is unnecessary. Imi Bickford-Smith, a
model, TV actress and wildlife film-maker, explained to Long, “We [women] can almost always ring up and ‘get it’ if we want to… Instead of hot frustrated nights alone, a woman can order up alover and it takes the pressure off having to find a committed relationship.”

Better place for investment

Rich people with a lot of money come to live in London, they find the financiers and bankers, together with the tax regime and laws, make it a place where they can make more money from the wealth that they have, than in the place that they come from. It is said that the United Kingdom does not require immigrants who are only resident in United Kingdom and Great Britain do not have to pay taxes on their residences in London, which sets the UK apart from other European countries, and which makes London the cheaper option, at least in terms of the tax compared to other cities, which the global wealthy might choose to live in. The United Kingdom is said to be welcoming of wealth immigrants, compared to other global cities. For example it is said that London’s visa regulations and security procedures are much thinner than those of New York, which means for some people London is preferred over the Big Apple. Some people move to London, or at least move their money to London becaue they view that it is a more stable environment for their savings, or that they can earn more on their investments if it is invested in London business concerns.

In particular London’s house prices are proving to be an attractive investment option by people all over the world. London’s house prices have been rising steadily since the beginning of the twenty-first century, with some areas experiencing a short period of stagnation during the first few years following the financial crisis. The continuing rise in house prices in London has however fuelled investment from speculators and people looking for a secure investment, which has, in turn meant London’s house prices have continued to rise throughout the financial crisis. In fact some believe that the financial crisis, by making many people around the world insecure about the economic environment, in which they live, has caused people to move an/or invest in London housing, and so has led to an increase in London house prices. It has been said that Greeks, French and Italians have all either moved to or invested in London housing over the last three to four years following worried about the stability of their own economies, the Eurozone economy and the possibility that their savings will be appropriated by the state. In 2012 Leon Watson of the Daily Mail reported that, “In areas like South Kensington French investors were the second biggest group after British buyers in the first quarter, accounting for 8 per cent of property purchases. So far this year they say enquiries from French clients have soared 19 per cent. At nearby Douglas & Gordon demand is so buoyant they are setting up a special French-speaking office. The new branch is hiring four French staff and will be up and running this summer.

Quality of services and life

For the world’s most wealthy London is said to offer a range of services, leisure and entertainment, which cannot be surpassed elsewhere. Russian businessmen, who own property in London, and whose families are resident here, and whose children go to British public and private schools, are said to work in Russia during the week, and return to London by jet on the weekends, to enjoy the London life.

Gateway to the global world

The global world is a pretty weird concept, what is there about the world that isn’t global? However the notion global often refers to a proportion of the world’s activities and interactions, which involve people who are in a position of influence, status and who through that influence and status have a better purchase on the world’s resources, who can, in these days of air travel, container ships, satelletite and cable communication, co-ordinate the mass movement and manipulation of resources and people all across the world. It feels sometimes as if such people have risen above the earth, an have been able to reach out to each other, to create a celestial city, a place where God or Mammon resides. Getting into this city, this ethereal, celestial virtual city, getting in amongst the global jet set, getting into the control tower, so as to allow a better purchase into the honey opt below, is an ambition of many of those who remain grounded on planet earth, constrained by the limitations of everyday life, the borders of their country, unable to get any higher than they can jump. There is a sense in which there are certain cities in the world which have been given special access to this ethereal global city, which reach up and whisk people up into the sky, and London is one such city. This, it is argued explains why many people from France come to London to work. According to Genevive Roberts, “Edouard Braine, consul general at the French embassy in London, said the UK is considered by many of his compatriots as “the best gateway towards the global world, just across the Channel,” leading to a growing number of French people living in London.”

In fact sometimes some people feel as if the whole of the global economy is somehow contained within and controlled by forces within London. Vincent Drapeau, a Frenchman who moved to London says, “East London leads London and London leads Europe, and maybe the world!” he declares, chuckling.

Certainly many people arriving to London feel like they’re in the centre of the world, they feel a buzz.

A sixth reason for why French people come to London is that they want to improve their English, because it is perceived that English is now the language of global business, and that to learn English will open up more opportunities, and London is the nearest English speaking city to France, although having said this given the general poor standard of English spoken by both London’s sizeable immigrant population and its indigenous Brits, there might be better choices.
Better place for greed

People who want to earn more money, who have material ambition feel better accepted in London. Adrian, a Frenchman who works as a manager in Muswell Hill, explained how he knew a lot of people and how everyone liked him, quipping, When selling wine, you make friends fast!

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