Yesterday we brought you news about the 'World In One City' project - two comedians, Alex Horne and Owen Powell, looking for Londoners from every country represented at the UN. We caught up with Alex and Owen to quiz them about their Herculean task.
What is your challenge and what made you take it up?
We hope to prove that London is the best city in the world. There are obviously many ways to measure this, but we went for a stupidly ambitious one – the best city in the world (in our opinion) would attract the most people, so would be the most cosmopolitan, and so we thought we would try to find somebody from every country in the world living and working in London. (There is also a more prosaic reason – we got excited last summer during the football World Cup, seeing all the flags and being in pubs during games where there were lots of nationalities present, and that provided the seed of the idea).
How many country representatives have you found so far?
We’ve met and interviewed people from 85 different countries so far and we’ve got leads on about another twenty. We think that means we’re sort of halfway there. We tend to buy each person we meet a coffee/beer/lemonade and very occasionally a snack so we’ve spent an awful lot of honk on what is basically a glorified Panini sticker book, but it’s been worth every penny to meet so many brilliant people and hear such varied stories.
Is there a time limit on your challenge?
Yes. We have made things more difficult for ourselves by trying to complete the project in a year, starting and finishing on United Nations Day, which is October 24th. This should give us a one-year snapshot of life in London. There are also some other rules, like not accepting anyone who works in embassies, or tourists.
Are you hopeful to finish?
Sometimes. We can’t help thinking the likes of Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu and North Korea might be tricky but the project is snowballing so much at the moment we hope if there are people from those nations there, we’ll be in a good position to pick them up before our year ends. It’s been quite an organic process so far – lots of the people we’ve met have introduced us to other nations they know so as word spreads we’re cautiously optimistic that the smaller countries will emerge in time.
Who was the first non-British Londoner you found as part of the challenge?
On our first day, October 24th last year, we set out in central London and found five people (all our encounters are described on our blog, which is http://www.worldinonecity.blogspot.com). The very first person we found was an attendant at the Trocadero called Carl, from the Philippines. He was in charge of the motion simulator ride, which Alex forced me to go on even though I was hung over.
How do you find these people?
It’s a fairly haphazard process. You’d be justifiably surprised that it took us so long to meet someone from New Zealand (our No. 83) and we still haven’t had a sniff of someone from Uruguay. One of our ideas was to just see how many nationalities we come across in day-to-day London life – our Moroccan, for example, was fixing a leak in my bathroom roof. But amongst many more proactive approaches, we’ve eaten and drunk in several international cafes and restaurants, watched a number of sporting events in appropriate venues, knocked on every front door on my street, attended the Russian Winter Festival in Trafalgar Square and approached an awful lot of strangers on the street. It’s quite scary for two typically reserved English blokes and it’s definitely easier if people find us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is your favourite find so far?
Nice try, but we don’t have favourites amongst the people we have met so far. Many of them have become good friends, and we held our first international party last week where lots of them met each other as well, so we’re getting quite a network going. Probably our most surprising find in terms of countries was Cape Verde, as we thought that lots of the smaller nations would be the ones we’d be desperately rushing round to find in the last few weeks.
How can Londonist readers help with your challenge?
Well, most importantly, if any of your readers are from any of the countries we haven’t yet found, we’d love them to get in touch. We’re not really journalists, so the interviews we do are fairly informal and you can tell us as much or as little of your life story as you want. Have a read of the blog to see the kind of things people have spoken about so far.
Also, if you know anyone who’s moved to London from abroad, please let them know about the project and encourage them to contact us.
Is London the world's most multicultural city?
You’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully by October 24th this year we’ll be able to give you a definitive answer. If we find all 192 nations, it’ll definitely be hard to beat. In the meantime, if you google ‘most cosmopolitan city in the world’ you’ll find at least 24 cities that claim the title, including possible candidates like New York, Toronto, Sydney and Hong Kong, as well as slightly less likely ones such as Geneva, Goa and Baghdad (this link here has the full list: http://worldinonecity.blogspot.com/2007/10/mid-project-statistics.html).
What do you have to say to all those who don't share your enthusiasm for multiculturalism and immigration?
Ah, the MC word. Technically, this is a project about “multinationalism” – multiculturalism perhaps has aspects of ghettoes and segregation which the vast majority of our country representatives haven’t experienced here in London. Most people we’ve spoken to are so excited to be living in London (which ‘native’ Londoners should be extremely flattered by), and they’re really keen to take part in and add to the rich mix of events, foods activities, jobs and lifestyles we all think of as being a defining feature of big city life. London has been an immigrant city since before the Romans arrived, so it’s not really a new story we’re documenting here. It works both ways, really. If the best things about being in London are watching Hollywood film premieres in Leicester Square, eating curries on Brick Lane, watching African footballers at Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal, looking at Italian paintings at the National Gallery and listening to Latin American music, then we’re already in a global city. We can’t really appropriate and enjoy all these cultures without welcoming and getting to know the people as well. And getting to know people is much more fun than looking at paintings. Or watching Arsenal.
Best thing about London?
Simple things: walking by the Thames, rowing on the Serpentine, playing football in Hyde Park. The Pillowman at the National Theatre, about three years ago, was pretty special too. Nearly everyone we’ve met doing this, though, has said it really is the diversity of the people that makes London great (which is quite a self-perpetuating quality: different people come because there are so many different people here who then attract more different people, which should hopefully mean that we’ll eventually find all 192 nations!)
Worst thing about London?
Owen - As a cyclist, there are two things I hate more than anything else: car drivers who wait for red lights in that big green box WITH A PICTURE OF A BIKE DRAWN ON IT; and idiot cyclists who give the rest of us a bad name by doing idiot things, even if the idiot things are prompted by even more idiotic things from other road users. I’m a big believer in cyclists taking the moral high ground. I’m a very smug, militant cyclist. You’d probably hate me.
Alex - I don’t have a bike so can’t really relate to that but as a motorist I don’t like spending so much honk on bollo parking fines when I often don’t realise I’ve parked illegally and even if I do I’m only nipping into a shop to buy milk. Not sure if you were looking for two traffic related answers but I thought since Owen had written about cycling I should follow suit.
If you could give Ken Livingstone one piece of advice, what would it be?
Never eat anything that is bigger than your head.