Monday, February 2, 2009

London vs. NY vs. . . . Brussels?

The relative merits of London vs. New York have been the subject of endless debate (e.g., here). But heading to London this past weekend, I was curious to see how the city would feel - coming from Brussels rather than New York. Survey says: it feels like America. Big time. Yes, the English are still English - pouring out of pubs despite looming snowfall. Whilst in the suburbs, we even saw a typical (aka clearly bombed) English lass squeezing herself into her car, cigarette hanging from mouth, wearing nothing but a tank top, despite the freezing temperature. Some of these people put Britney Spears to shame!

My point is - London feels a lot like New York, especially coming from Brussels. Let me count the ways:

It is fashionable. Some people think NY is more so than London and vice versa, but the point is really that they both are. Belgium, particularly Antwerp, may be the seat of great design, but a lot of people here look like a prototype out of a Medieval hamlet, pre-mass-distributed self-care regimens. (Which is probably also why the gym is strange here.)

People speak English. I realize this is completely self-evident. And that some would argue they don't really speak the same language (see cockney rhyming slang). Don't get me wrong, I love learning and speaking French. But it was also really nice to be somewhere where making (or receiving) small talk was effortless, and where I could walk into any store and buy what I needed without playing charades with the shopkeeper.         

Real estate is crap. Finally, an area in which Brussels outshines its rivals. Despite supposedly falling rents in New York, we do not miss you, New York apartments. Not from our architect-renovated floor-through in a Bruxellois maison de maître. (It's true that we had fleas. And the weather outside is usually the same color as our smoky chic interior. But still.)

It is multi-ethnic. Walking around London, what struck me the most was that I was not surrounded by the repetitive cross-breeding of the members of one, maybe two tribes. No, London is teeming with the sights and sounds of multi-ethnic, multi-racial existence! Just like New York. Which makes me feel right at home. 

People are sometimes quite obnoxious. You know the sayings, the myth making: multiple variations on the "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere" theme. London has the same spirit, to a degree, resulting in part from the collection of a great number of people who are really good at what they do. The global financial crisis has moderated the narcissisistic tendencies of both cities, but only to a degree. There remain an outsize number of large personalities - and personality disorders, too. (Witness DABA, an absurd showing of Wall Street widow self-promotion and book deal grabbing. She could only have been born in New York, but would consider moving to London). On the other hand, almost everyone I've met in Brussels is modest and nice - even if they are quite reserved or shy (without a doubt, traits non grata for the NY-London set).

1 comment:

Alana said...

This is so funny to me. After watching- "Summer Heights High"- the new HBO comedy (any mutual Maisie/SHH fans out there?)I kept saying to Dave- um- this is basically California- SoCal specifically in the landscape/outdoor HS courtyards, ethnic diversity...but with fucked up commonwealth accents...even the intonation of SE australian is similar to the valley girl/ how is it that you ozzies relate more to English culture than west coast American culture?? Anyway- I know it's TV and your journal entry was actually lived...but whatever, it is mockumentary! what's more real than that?