London has a long history of being a meeting point for people from around the world, an international port. In recent times it has become the meeting point for two classes of multinational provenance.
The first is a class of super rich profiteering and tax avoiding wealthy people, whose wealth manifests through major banks, institutions and corporations, but also in a bewildering network of shell companies, any one of which can be set up and registered within twenty-four hours, to ferret wealth from around the world to off-shore havens, out of the reach of the common man and any tax collector.
The second is an itinerant global workforce, serving the interests of the super rich, providing the institutions, big and small, known and weasel like, cleaning, building, feeding, clothing, entertaining and sexing; often needing to take on and therefore service loans provided by the super rich, both personally, and also through the taxation that they are subject to, by the state. Of course the quality of life of this itinerant workforce varies enormously, and the most successful can find themselves being elected into the super rich themselves.
Guided by greed the super rich haven’t the least interest in tradition, history and place. They will go anywhere, they will take their money anywhere, and they will deal with anyone that will allow them to make more money.
This expectation, the primacy of profitability, can be experienced by many new arrivals to London as refreshing, revolutionary. It separates London out from almost every other place in the world, with perhaps the exception of New York. Here, in London, your ability to make money, for shareholders or boss, through graft, intelligence or slight of hand, is more important than who you are, what you look like, where you came from, where you were born, the colour of your skin and whether you have a penis dangling from your legs.
Many people find that so long as they show themselves willing to work hard, opportunities open up in London. A Nigerian, who had made a speculative pitch for a life in London, a city he knew nothing of, arrived in the city, late one night, eighteen years ago. He was dressed; head to toe, in an all white African style trouser suit. Not having any kind of idea about where he had ended up, he walked into a convenience store run by Indians and still with his suitcases in either hand, asked for a job. They asked when can you start? The man ran off, booked into a hotel, and within two hours presented, ready and willing to art, and still in his white trouser suit.
Often people contrast the ease of finding employment in London, compared to the place they’ve come from. This seems especially the case for young French people. Seventeen year old Frenchman Adrian, who without a degree felt his future in France was ‘compromised’, arrived in London, and within forty-eight hours had found a job in a restaurant. After two years in London, he returned to Paris, but found few opportunities. In the end he returned to London, where he ended up working as the co-manager of a wine cellar in Crouch End. He said, “Here, if we work hard they trust us. I do not have a degree and I manage a store A to Z while organising private wine tastings. Here, you make more sales, the more you win!” Its all about the money Adrian.
Finding employment for many French people, means more than just an income, it means acceptance, and an opportunity to escape from the stigma of belonging to a social grouping that results in their exclusion from employment. It is a truly ecstatic and joyous experience for some, a feeling of freedom; a place where you can become something, where you can follow the American Dream. Hamid Seny, who moved from Paris to London, described to the BBC how, “In France… 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.” Cleo Soazandry who also moved to London from Paris said seeing black presenters on British television made a deep impression, “It’s like my eyes opened up when I came here, I think the American dream is also present here in the UK.”
However, a caveat, should be introduced at this point. Whilst London’s employers may be more interested in ability and profitability, they are not immune to influences of social class. Young people from Tottenham, epicentre of the 2011 London riots, complain potential employers throw their CVs into the bin as soon as they see the postcode. This is the same complaint made of French employers by young people from Saint Denis in Paris of French. Perhaps residents of Saint Denis find London so liberating because London’s employers are ignorant of the significance of a Saint Denis postcode? Maybe young people from Tottenham should try their luck in Paris?