August 17, 2019

Boring Old London

“A little over a month ago, after I returned from a marathon trip to the British Isles, a friend asked me how I’d enjoyed London.

I said London is now New York, with better scones.

Apologies to Brits and New Yorkers who object. And I admit that the characterization isn’t really true. But it seems much truer than it did a quarter-century ago, when I first laid eyes on the place — or for that matter, even a decade past. Every time I go to London, the newer buildings, the shops and the people feel more and more familiar. And that’s not because I’m getting used to them; the longer the interval between visits, the greater the shock of seeming familiarity.

I suspect that this was what actor and comedian John Cleese had in mind on Wednesday when he wrote on Twitter, “Some years ago, I opined that London was not really an English city any more.” A social-media firestorm followed as people accused him of making racially coded remarks. It’s possible his critics are right; I can’t crawl into Cleese’s subconscious to check. But I read the tweet as a lament over the erosion of London’s singular character — as has happened with New York and Paris and almost every other global megacity.

Noting the increasing sameness of so many international cities is not an original observation. There is the luxury shopping strip, populated by the same international brands as the high-rent district of the city you just left. When you’re tired of shopping, you can sit down at virtually the same cafe for a nitro-infused cold-brew coffee and chocolate macaron, then catch an Uber to refresh yourself at a hotel that could be anywhere — and probably is, with a virtually identical footprint.”

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