The phrase “British culture” is often used carelessly, as if it completely and comprehensively defines all of the 63 million people living in Great Britain as well as their culture. People who use terms such as this either willingly or unconsciously forget the fact that Great Britain is a culturally diverse country, the biggest representative of this being its largest and most populated city – London. In order to understand things better, we should take a few steps backwards and attempt to define these two important terms – (1) culture and (2) cultural diversity.
According to “Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English”, culture is primarily defined as “the beliefs, way of life, art, and customs that are shared and accepted by people in a particular society”. If we take into consideration that the “particular society” here is the city of London, because it is, after all, the topic of this assignment, we immediately run into the need to expand on this definition. This is where cultural diversity comes in – a term which can be identified as “the existence of multiple cultures and cultural differences within a society”.
This term is almost synonymous with London, which is, aside from Los Angeles, New York and perhaps a handful of other cities in the United States, the most culturally diverse city on the planet, and has been so longest of all. The main reason for this is the simple fact that London’s ethnic, religious and linguistic structure is so exceedingly varied and colorful. These three factors (nationality, religion and language) are undoubtedly the most prominent features of any culture. LONDON DEMOGRAPHICS The official population of London is 8,173,194, according to the Office for National Statistics.
This non-ministerial government department conducts a national census every ten years, the latest of which was in 2011. When it comes to ethnicity in London, a huge variety is present, based on the results of the 2011 Census – 59. 8 per cent (or 4,887,435) are White, most of which are British White (44. 9%), with “Other Whites” accounting for up to 12. 6% and “Irish Whites” – 2. 2%. As for Asian or mixed-Asian ethnic groups, the percentage goes up to 20. 9 (roughly 1. 7 million people). This includes Indians (6. 6%), Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (2. 7% each), and Chinese people (1. %). Finally, 15. 6% of Londoners are of either Black or mixed-black descent (numerically speaking – 1,273,544 people), Black African (7%) and Black Caribbean (4. 2%) being the most prominent groups here. Other notable nationalities are Latin Americans and Arabs (1. 4 and 1. 3 per cent of the population respectively). When compared to Belgrade, where the largely dominant ethnic group is White Serbs who make up for 90. 7% of the population (based on the Census carried out in 2011 in Serbia), it is clear that London is on the opposite side of the scope of ethnic diversity.
As for religion, there is an equal level of multiplicity. The largest religious groups are Christians (48. 4%), followed by irreligious people (20. 7 per cent). Islam is the religion of 12. 4% of the city’s inhabitants, while citizens who offered no response account for 8. 5 per cent of the population. London is also the home of large Hindu (5. 0%), Jewish (1. 8%), Sikh (1. 5%) and Buddhist (1. 0%) communities. In Belgrade, on the other hand, there are 86. 1% of Orthodox Catholics. Obviously, no faith is as dominant in London, where there is also a much wider variety of religious preference.
In regards to language, it is believed that around 300 different languages are spoken in London. According to the 2011 Census, the top ten foreign languages spoken in the capital are Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, French, Urdu, Portuguese, Turkish, Spanish, Arabic and Tamil. What is also interesting is that in most London boroughs, the majority of pupils speak a language other than English at home. For example, in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Westminster and Brent this amounts to more than 60%.
Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, Bexley, Bromley and Havering, where the rate is less than 20 per cent, are exceptions to this rule. The biggest contributor to such a huge level of diversity in all major cultural aspects is without doubt immigration. London had been the trade capitol of the world for a long time, and its numerous colonies provided it with abundant workforce in the past. Even today, when this is not the case, “London is the city with the second largest immigrant population (after New York)”, as no less than 36. 7% of its population are foreign born people.
LIFE IN THE MELTING POT It is now perfectly clear why London is often reffered to as “the melting pot of nations”. However, it is necessary to say that this term is also wrongly used, as “melting pot” suggests a homogyny in culture, i. e. a common culture for all people in a society, which does not apply to London. But how do exactly all these nations, with all their personal beliefs and traditions, get along in this so called “pot”? The capitol’s culture has been shaped over time by the many nationalities and their cultures into a highly heterogenous yet progressive environment.
Testament to this are the numerous annual festivals such as the “Carnival de Cuba”, which celebrates Cuban culture, “Carnaval del Pueblo”, Europe’s biggest festival of Latin American culture and “Notting Hill Carnival”, led by members of the West Indian community and one of the biggest festivals in the world. London has also held an annual St Patrick’s Day parade since 2002, in celebration of the biggest patron saint of Ireland and Irish culture. Apart from these multicultural events, evidence to support cultural diversity is the sheer number of foreign food restaurants in London.
Out of the 11,465 restaurants around the city, 1318 are Italian, 522 French, 485 Chinese, 363 Asian, 342 Thai, 314 Japanese etc. Needless to say that food, as a basic trait of any culture, was brought into London by people from foreign soil and that these various cuisines have been carefully nurtured for generations. London, as the major representative of the whole of Great Britain, is a city that portrays itself and its country as one with strong Britsh heritage, but also with a diverse mixture of people, all of whom live together respectfully and with the right to freely express their own identity, cultural heritage and religion.
It is a city with a perfect balance of tradition and openness to change. It is safe to say that Londoners have been used to such diversity for centuries now, and that both immigrants and natives have assimilated fully into a tolerant, highly functional metropolis with ample possibilities to both express and look upon one’s culture. In the words of Samuel Johnson: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. ”