This is a project that Owen Powell and Alex Horne started on October 24th, 2006 (United Nations Day), and finished on October 24th, 2007. Our aim was to prove that London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, by endeavouring to meet and chat to a citizen from every country in the world who currently lives and works in London.

We managed to meet people from 189 countries. According to the UN, there are 192 countries in the world, so we've proved that at the very least, London contains over 98.4% of the nations of the world!


We are still looking for people from three countries:

Marshall Islands; Palau; Tuvalu.

The final encounters during our year appear below, but to follow our story from the start please click on the links under 'How we're doing' on the left-hand side.  The countries appear in the order in which we found their representative. (Any country with an asterisk * next to it has a brief account of the interview - longer versions will appear in the future!)

To find out more about the project, including our self-imposed rules, then click here.


Follow this link if you have the urge to see us looking awkward on Channel 4 news.  Or just below you can see us when we were half-way through the project being interviewed by George Alagiah on BBC World.


Please email us on worldinonecity@hotmail.com if you want to get in touch, or if you know any shy Londoners who are also Tuvaluan, Palauan or Marshallese.

George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC

Friday 22 December 2006

No.24: Ireland

The Irish Rover

Alex Horne – December 22nd 2006

Aman Chandra and I were close friends at school. We were in a lot of the same classes, found some of the same things funny and I thought both his names were very cool. After five years we'd got to know each other pretty well. So despite only seeing each other once or twice in the decade since leaving school it was with some confidence that I emailed him for the very first time since emailing had been invented and asked him to be our Saudi Arabian representative.

"That's fine", wrote Aman the next day, "except I'm Irish".

Ah. Awkward. I couldn't really say it was a typo… But Owen and I still hadn't found our Irishman and were dangerously under our required run-rate so I ignored my embarrassment and ten days later headed down to Elephant and Castle/Colombia to find out just a little bit more about this close friend of mine.

Aman Chandra is now Dr Aman Chandra. In fact, between contacting and meeting him he'd received the biggest news of his career so far with the offer of a job in London for the next five years – a boost so big he spent more than £200 on champagne in the course of the next week which, when combined with the arrival of a severe winter cold, meant that by the time I dropped by Aman had a temperature of 38.5 degrees (I know as much about body temperature as I do about baby weights but Dr Chandra assured me that's a high one). Still, he was wearing his scrubs for pyjamas which I thought people only did in the movies so I faced away from his sneezes and pressed on with the interview.

My own dad is also a doctor, as is my brother-in-law, and just occasionally I do feel slightly insecure when I think about what I do for a living compared to these life-saving professionals. This was one of those occasions. I soon found out that Dr Aman Chandra is actually an eye surgeon in much demand all over the world. As well as the London post, he'd also been offered the top job in two other British cities, was flying out to work in Sierra Leone on Boxing Day and had spent last February in Sri Lanka helping those affected by the Tsunami. (Luckily, I did make him admit that some of that work actually boiled down to assisting people who'd last their glasses in the water which made me feel just slightly less like a wimp in the presence of a hero.)

In fact, Aman has spent a lot of his life travelling. His name is actually Indian, as are his parents. Before med-school in London he'd lived in Croydon from the age of sixteen, Saudi Arabia since he was seven, Richmond for the previous two years, America for most of the five before that and the very first two weeks of his life in Belfast. Four years ago, whilst avoiding revision for some of the many exams professional life-savers have to sit, he was browsing the internet and discovered that if you were born in Ireland (North or South) you can apply for an Irish passport. Aman was born in in Ireland (North) so applied for one. £46 and a couple of weeks later, he was officially an Irish citizen.

There are currently 6 million people living in Ireland. There are twice that number of Irish passports in the world.

In fact, as a husband of an Irish citizen I started thinking that perhaps I was Irish too. And because I don't save people's lives or eyes for a living I have a lot of time to browse to the internet. Unfortunately, after some initial excitement I soon found out that I've got some time to wait and places to go before I can officially change my nationality. According to the Citizens Information service for Ireland: To claim citizenship by marriage, you must meet the following conditions:
- You must be married to the Irish citizen for at least 3 years
- You must have had a period of one year's continuous "reckonable residence" in the island of Ireland immediately before the date of your application
- You must have been living on the island of Ireland for at least 2 of the 4 years before that year of continuous residence
- Your marriage must be recognised as valid under Irish law
- You and your spouse must be living together as husband and wife
- You must be of good character and intend to continue to live on the island of Ireland
- You must have made a declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

For 70 euros, however, it might just be worth the effort.

By now we'd both forgotten all about Aman's gigantic body warmth, and the two of us were having a very nice chat. It was almost like being back at school. He told me that he thought Elephant and Castle was ok, if occasionally scary. He'd once seen one of those yellow police signs by a cash machine explaining that someone had recently been "attacked by a meat cleaver". Neither of us could understand why they would mention the meat cleaver so specifically.

It was only when I optimistically quizzed Aman about other foreign doctors in a bid to squeeze another nationality or two out of my well-traveled school friend that his temperature started to rise even further. It seemed I'd opened an international can of worms…

I didn't know all that much about the government's immigration policy for medical workers. Aman does. I know a little more now:

Trainee doctors used to be given a permit to work in the U.K. which bypassed the usual formal visa requirements. People like Aman's parents where therefore able to come over here and take up invaluable positions in our understaffed hospitals.

More recently, however, the number of medical schools in this country has increased and the number of British doctors coming through has risen accordingly so in April our government changed the rules. From that point on, if you didn't have a formal visa and you weren't from the EU you had to get out. A friend of Aman's from Singapore was ejected from the in June, despite having worked for the NHS for the last six years.

At this point, Aman was getting hotter and hotter, using phrases like 'embarrassingly xenophobic' and 'shockingly outrageous' to describe the government. No wonder he changed nationalities. "It's not only embarrassingly xenophobic and shockingly outrageous", he said, "it's also unsafe". Indeed, that very day's Metro newspaper featured a story which opened with: "Doctors who cannot speak English should be banned, a coroner said yesterday, after hearing that a patient died because his French GP could not make himself understood."

This isn't unusual, according to Aman. Anyone and everyone from recent EU countries like Estonia and Lithuania are welcomed with open arms despite often not having the language necessary for responsible medical care, whilst Australians, Indians and Singaporeans are being kicked out after years of dedicated work.
They can get a visa if they get a permanent job, says the government. But they can't get a permanent job if they don't have a visa, says Aman. Angrily.

And I agreed with everything he said. He seemed to have a lot of good points. Luckily for me, he also had a Zimbabwean friend who'd managed to get hold of one of these formal visas and who I'd hopefully get to interview in the new year.

*For those that know me, yes, my wife is Irish, but for some reason one of the few rules of this project is that people found must not be your wife.

Thursday 21 December 2006

No.23: Holland

Dutch Courage

Alex Horne – December 21st 2006

My friend Ed lives in a library near Finsbury Park. Unfortunately the books themselves moved out some years ago before a group of squatters moved in so the address is now slightly less quaint than it sounds.

Ed is effectively house-sitting while the owners negotiate the best way to make the most money by knocking down the 1960's municipal building and replacing it with as many compact modern flats as possible. It's quite a common and economic way of renting property in London. He doesn't have to pay a lot and has enough floor space for his flatmate to run a bicycle repair shop in what could well have been the children's section but there are plants growing though the ceiling, buckets on the floor collecting drips from the light fittings and the squatters do occasionally drop by to menacingly check on what was once theirs.

My friend Ed's girlfriend moved in two weeks ago. She's called Joni and came from Holland. So far, she's our most recent Londoner. She has, however, been to stay countless times over the last few years and is already au fait with such London-centric complexities as the Oyster-card (although I think she's still brave enough to warrant the title of this article) so when Rachel (my wife) and I headed over for some pre-Christmas breakfast any plans to grill her about First Impressions of London were quickly abandoned. Instead we ate a delicious fry up fried up by Ed, served through a hatch where once tea was once passed to thirsty readers, and chatted about bikes, bacon and bowling.

It probably goes without saying that Joni's English is pretty much perfect. Every Dutch person I've ever met speaks pretty much perfect English. Apparently the first language in Holland is Dutch but I suspect that's an urban myth. I'm pretty sure Dutch people all speak English and pretend they've got their own language to make us feel even more inadequate. But then I also think the Netherlands should really be a faraway kingdom at the base of a great tree where little people ride mice and the occasional troll gets a bit enraged.

Despite her language and tube-travel skills, getting round London is still not simple for a Dutch newcomer. Joni often travels by bike* and has quickly discovered that cycling here is a little different to the famously laid-back mode of transport frequently photographed in Amsterdam. Here motorists treat you like a fly to be swatted with their doors while pedestrians step into your path then shout at you for getting in their way and buses loom out of the fog, a never-ending obstacle to somehow overtake. She's currently having cycling-proficiency lessons from Ed's flatmate.

British fry ups, she says as we tuck into an enormous plate of murderous food that was meant to be breakfast but will prove to be almost all of the meals of that day, are similarly stressful. While Londoners seem to have an ingrained knack of cooking then eating at least eight different food items at the same time, the Dutch are generally less able or inclined to fry and consume several types of pork, a couple of potatoes, a number of eggs and various other miscellaneous items before going to work in the morning.

To me, these are important cultural differences. I'm proud of British fry ups and am probably a little envious of their safer cycle routes. Unfortunately, however, throughout the brunchterview (breakfast + lunch + interview) my mind was generally occupied by the disappointment of a sight that Rachel and I happened upon on the way to Ed's library that morning. A sight that for perhaps the first time made me nostalgic for a London of the past.

Anyone who's driven in either direction along the Seven Sisters Road, past Finsbury Park Tube Station and the Happening Beigel Bakery, will without doubt be familiar with Rowans Tenpin Bowling – a Mecca for skittles enthusiasts and air-hockey fans alike. Admittedly many will never have set foot inside this magical complex but their attention would surely have been drawn to the neon lit building by an enormous landscape poster angled gently towards the Arsenal World of Sport shop, featuring the tremendous Bowling Girl – perhaps Rowan herself – lying leisurely across a lane, head resting on a bowling ball, clad in regulation bowling socks and hotpants. A sight to make all North Londoners proud.

Until now. Just before turning right to Ed and Joni's idiosyncratic home, Rachel and I glanced up expecting to be warmed by Bowling Girl's wonderful smile, a smile that would literally, yes literally, have made Mona Lisa green with envy… only to be greeted instead by an advert for Lidl. Lidl! It seems they'd bought the shop below and had somehow got permission to replace our beautiful Bowling Girl with their own simplistic but ugly logo.

And so throughout our morning meeting, my mind raced with angry thoughts. How could they do this? Where was Bowling Girl now? And most importantly, was Lidl Dutch? And if so, how could I carry on with this sham?

Thankfully, they're not Dutch. They're German. And so I'd like to be among the first to welcome Joni to our unhealthy, unsafe but charming capital city.

*A month previously I'd dropped off Rachel's bike at the library in exchange for a song that Ed said he'd write especially for me – a fair swap I'm sure you'll agree.

Tuesday 19 December 2006

No.22: Nigeria

Searching the Globe

Owen Powell – 19th December 2006

One of the other things I do, when I'm not doing this, is work at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre as a tour guide. The story of the Globe is full of cameo appearances from people who came from overseas. Some of the best evidence we have about the way theatre worked in Shakespeare's time comes from the letters and diaries of visitors from France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. People in London, I suppose, thought it wasn't worth recording the details of what went on in the theatre – it was always going to be there, so why bother? (They were wrong – the Globe burnt down in 1613, only fourteen years after it had been built). Without these writings, it would have been much harder to rebuild the theatre.

The rebuilding would have been impossible without one of the later non-Londoners in the Globe story, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker. It was Sam's idea to reconstruct an Elizabethan theatre, his drive to raise the money and his commitment to the project over the last twenty years of his life that finally saw the new Globe built. Naturally, he faced an astonishing amount of opposition, and put up with a lot of sneering, from the London establishment, who didn't want a 'foreigner' coming over here and telling us how to treat our own culture. Thankfully, many more people were supportive, and the Globe is now recognised as an important building that can tell us a lot about London's history. It has also kept its international flavour. Over the last ten years, the Globe has hosted a Japanese Comedy of Errors, a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, and a Zulu version of Macbeth. Many of the staff, too, are from abroad, and it's my intention, over the course of the year, to speak to as many of them as I can. I started off with the person who, far more than any of the actors who work here, is the face of the Globe – Benjy, the security guard.

I first started working at the Globe in late May 2002, just as the World Cup was looming. Forget the idea of 'Arts' people being uninterested in sports – I have never known a group of people so obsessed with football as my new colleagues. Within a few weeks of joining I found myself sitting in the middle of a huge crowd at the Old Thameside Inn at seven in the morning, weeping into my Guinness as the ten men of Brazil knocked us out.

Sven's first squad for a major tournament contained the then little-known Canadian-German-Welshman Owen Hargreaves. With this sudden appearance of two new Owens on the stage, many at the Globe took to calling me 'Hargreaves' in honour of the curly haired substitute. Times have changed, people have moved on, but occasionally as I cross the courtyard in front of the theatre itself, the glass doors will open, and a cry of 'Hargreaves!' will issue from a smiling man in a loud shirt and maverick hat. I quite enjoy having a nickname that is so specific in time and place that only a few know the origin, or even the existence, of the moniker.

Benjy has been working at the Globe for five years, and has been in London for twenty. He first came over from Nigeria to study, a two year course at the London School of Journalism followed by a further course at Portsmouth University, but a career in journalism didn't happen, and he moved back to London to look for work. He's living in Croydon, and recommended a Streatham restaurant called Safaris that serves Ghanaian food as a good place to eat and meet people.

By now, he's pretty settled at the Globe, describing the people he works with as his "family", and enjoys his job. He's often the first person that many of our visitors meet on site (in fact, his official job title is 'Visitor Services'), and one of only a few people who know all of the other Globe staff by name. It's not all fun, however. He has to work Christmas Day, keeping an eye on the theatre – even though it's closed – and making sure the new Globe doesn't go the way of the first …

Wednesday 13 December 2006

No.21: Brazil

The Weather In Sao Paolo

Owen Powell – 13th December 2006

I was late for lunch. Most of my entries here seem to involve me being late in some way – this time it was the fault of the telephone company T-Mobile, who failed to deliver a phone to my flat despite giving themselves a window of five hours to do it in. Hopefully, this mention of their poor customer services on a blog that no-one reads will be a wake-up call to them.

So, I arrived at the Turkish restaurant just in time to say hello and goodbye to Mike, then to take a photo of Alex and a waiter. With renewed optimism, we stepped out onto Upper Street to try to find ourselves one more person before our other tasks that afternoon (Alex: driving to Bournemouth; me: buying Christmas cards). I had passed a Brazilian restaurant on my quick walk from Angel tube station, but we fancied a coffee so headed up towards Highbury Corner. The first place we went in had a Latin American feel – there was an office Christmas party in full flow with what sounded like Spanish shouts of celebration flying about, as well as a mural of a very nude orange woman on the wall. However, they didn't serve coffee, and it seemed a little rude to interrupt the party.

At last, what looked like a good stop for a coffee, the Euphorium Bakery, a café that very subtly declared its Frenchness in a carefully written sign outside that stated "Artisan Boulanger". I ordered our coffees from a man with a (to me) unidentifiable foreign accent, but a nametag that read "Bert". A more English name, I thought, would be hard to find. How wrong I was.

When the late lunch rush was over, and I saw that Bert was free behind the counter I sauntered up with my folder of flags and faces, and introduced myself and the idea. Bert seemed very excited. Though the café was French, his colleagues were from Portugal and Italy, and Bert himself (Bertrand, of course) was from Brazil. Though we had seen quite a bit of South Americana about on Upper Street already that day, Bertrand told us that the true Brazilian heart of London was out West, near Queensway. He has lived for one and a half of his 27 years in Maida Vale, a bit to the north, and quite near to Alex. When Alex mentioned the tornado that had hit Kensal Green last week, Bertrand rolled his eyes. His mother, sitting at home in Sao Paolo, had seen the freak weather event on Brazilian news and had called Bertrand to check he was ok. Alex and I rolled our eyes back, as if to say that our mothers would have done the same.

The customers were starting to flow back in again now, and Bertrand looked over his shoulder as his Portuguese and Italian workmates began grinding the beans. After establishing that summer's World Cup had been a disappointing affair for both our glorious footballing nations, we let Bertrand get back to work, and finished our coffees.

No.20: Turkey

Turkey for Christmas

Alex Horne – 13th December 2006

My way of staying in touch with my friend Mike (a different Mike, not the Mike whose job it is to edit fruit-based journalism on a monthly basis) is to meet for lunch every few weeks. He has a job, I don't really, so a midday meeting is convenient for his work and makes me think I'm giving my day some 'structure'.

Mike works in Highbury and Islington and we've tended to eat at the very British 'Manzies Pie and Mash Shop' round the corner from Angel on Chapel Market. It's what people call a 'good, honest, no thrills caff'. You don't really have any options when you order, except single or double pie and whether or not to have a ladleful of liquor all over your generous potato helping, and you only need a fork to eat it with. Perfect for catching up on each other's lives over.

Today, however, I tried to set a trend which I hope will last just under a year, by asking Mike to 'find me some foreign food!' Upper Street, the trendy but drunk-and-scary-at-midnight-when-everyone's-drunk road that links Angel and Highbury Corner, is full of international bistros. It specialises in world cuisine. It's ideal. I figure that if we visit a couple of eateries a month we'll get to eat a lot of different foods, have slightly more animated conversations as a result, and hopefully tick off about twenty countries in the process.

In what I suppose was a victory for the company's Starbucks-like clustering policy (see Owen for more details) our first choice was a Turkish gaff called Café Gallipoli. A remarkable 16.6% of all buildings between 102 and 120 Upper Street are part of this chain so after walking past Cafe Gallipoli (No. 102) and Café Gallipoli Bazaar (No. 107) we finally succumbed to Cafe Gallipoli Again (No. 120), mainly because it had the same adverb in the title that we'd thought of just 13 buildings previously. Ok, we're through a tricky numbers-based paragraph.

I like going to restaurants at lunchtime because it makes me feel sophisticated and frugal at the same time. You often sit next to businessmen making business decisions but you know they're probably choosing from the same "two courses for five pounds lunch deal" as you. Cafe Gallipoli Again was no exception. Mike and I went for a whole load of Turkish meat for hardly any money, my favourite being the Troy Chicken which was described as 'fried chicken dipped in egg' - a complicated moral recipe for poultry fans to get their heads round. It was all pretty Turkish, except for the Abba Greatest Hits playing throughout the meal and the large table full of female office workers celebrating Christmas with too much midday wine and paper hats singing along behind us.

But if that's what it takes to fill your restaurant at lunchtime then Murat, this particular restaurant's manager, has clearly done what he had to do. At the end of our delicious, filling and economically viable meal, I approached him with confidence drawn from catching his eye a couple of times during starters and some brilliant banter with our mains (Him: "Watch out, the plate's hot". Me: "Uh oh! Ok!" Not bad. Him: "Would you like some chilli sauce?" Me: "Uh oh! Yes!"). Thankfully, he was more than happy to help.

In the short time since Murat has moved to London, a lot of things have happened. He arrived about twenty months ago and started working for Armani. A few months later he followed the same insistent call of the Gallipoli chain as we had earlier and moved into the food industry. Almost exactly twelve months ago, civil partnerships became legal in the UK. Six months later Murat and his partner were among the first gay couples to tie the knot in Islington Town Hall, just yards from this very restaurant. Yes, it's another number-based paragraph but I like it when things add up and work out.

"It's much easier here", he explained animatedly. "They've introduced a system and it works. It's very simple". I guess it is. In all honesty, I'd never really given civil partnerships a lot of thought but when he went on to describe the sort of anti-gay discrimination common in Turkey I felt strangely proud that Murat's life is so obviously a happier one here in London.

Unfortunately I then made things a bit awkward by not being that good at conversations. Murat originally comes from Istanbul. I've recently been to Istanbul and as often happens in this project, I resorted to sport in a bid to find some common ground: "Ah, I went to Istanbul on May 25th last year to watch Liverpool's miraculous victory over AC Milan in the final of the Champions League, probably the best European Final ever and possibly one of the greatest football matches of all time. Do you like football?" "No." "Ok".

I tried again. "When we were there a lot of the fans went to the line that runs through the city dividing Europe from Asia and jumped from one side to the other shouting: "Oi, look, I'm Asia! And now I'm in Europe! Oh no, I'm off to Asia again! Bye!" in a scouse accent. Do you do that?" "No." "Ok" (he's from the European side, by the way).

In the end it was Murat who got things back on track by diverting the 'interview' back to the more important issue of relationships. "The main thing in my life now is my partner. Since coming here I've changed the priorities in my life", he said patiently. "It's difficult in the food industry not to work all hours. But now, I'm putting my relationship first so I don't work in the evenings or the weekends. My personal life is my priority".

After that we bonded a bit about how much better it is to spend time with our spouses than working (although we agreed that sometimes you've just got to spend time apart otherwise you wouldn't make any money). My Rachel's coming down to Sussex for her first English Christmas next week. Murat's off up to Nottingham with his 'very English' partner's family. We're both very much looking forward to Christmases with our other halves and without petty distractions like work, football or aggressive homophobia.

*While legal now in Turkey, male homosexuality is still outlawed in 83 countries including India, Cyprus, Jamaica, China, Malawi, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tanazania and Iran.

Friday 8 December 2006

No.19: Portugal

There's only one Jose Rosa?

Alex Horne – 8th December 2006

On 30th October we met our Italian, a jovial chef called Piedro Magnavacca in a café on Buckingham Palace road. What I didn't mention at the time was that his equally jovial co-worker, Jose Rosa, was from Portugal. Yes, of course we were excited. Two Europeans in one café, who wouldn't be? Unfortunately, after three of four questions about his enthralling journey to the UK it emerged that heartbreakingly for us, Jose Rosa lived in Kent. Not in London. We just couldn't accept him. Frustrating.

On 8th December, following an exceptional lunch with our Colombian, a brilliant graphic designer called Ligia Duran, I decided to approach another Portuguese café employee. I'd very much enjoyed an economical plate from the buffet - stuffed full of as much lasagne, beef, stew, chicken, spaghetti and mushrooms as I thought could eat without Ligia thinking I was a bad person - she hadn't thought I was a bad person, so I thought to myself, "while I'm here, let's get ourselves a man from Portugal." And yes, those are the actual words that I thought in my head.Having photographed and bade farewell to No.18, I therefore stepped back into the Madeira Café (46A-46B Albert Embankment, Vauxhall – I really do recommend you pop in if you're nearby and it's lunchtime) and set my sights on the friendliest looking potential No.19.

Luckily, it was almost half two so the midday rush had died down and I hit my target first time. After the briefest of 'hello's', I used my usual introduction: "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" He sensibly said: "Of course". I then explained the project as he nodded, taking the whole exchange much more in his stride than I was able to.

In fact, on opening our funpack to the Portuguese page (which they share with Qatar, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Moldova, and Romania, by the way) our unflappable man nonchalantly plucked a pen out of his breast pocket and started filling in his details, without any prompting from me. If only every country could be this easy.

"That is not my age", he then said.

"I'm sorry?" I replied.

"I'm not 39, I'm 30", he said and pointed to the Portuguese entry where I saw I'd already filled in the couple of details Piedro's colleague had started to share five weeks earlier before his Kent confession called things to a halt.
"Oh yes, sorry, just cross that out", I adlibbed, brilliantly.

"OK. The rest is fine".


It then took me about twenty seconds to work out what that meant.

"The rest is fine? But, your name is…""Yes, my name is Jose Rosa. People call me Hugo but my full name is Hugo Jose Rosa".

As far as I was concerned, this was incredible. The only Portuguese person whose name I'd ever written down had the same name as this man, the second Portuguese person I'd ever met. Both worked in cafes in London. Both were called Jose Rosa. Incredible.

As far as Jose Rosa the Second was concerned, this was not interesting. So what, I'd miraculously already had his name written in the Portugal section of my funpack, but the age was wrong – what was so exciting?Well, I couldn't really cope with (Hugo) Jose Rosa II's laissez-faire attitude so took his photo, shook his hand and rapidly left. If I'd been in his position I'm sure I would have found the coincidence just a tiny bit creepy. Not him though. As I watched in a state of shock from the window I saw him pop his pen back in his pocket, purse his lips and then fill up a buffet tray with extra spaghetti whilst whistling. Amazing.

No.18: Colombia


Alex Horne – 8th December 2006

If you're a regular reader of 'Eurofruit' – "The International Marketing Magazine for Fresh Produce Buyers in Europe" you'll probably be wondering who's responsible for the inspired front covers on the three most recent editions. This month (Issue 391 - also featuring "Apples, Grapes, Southern Hemisphere Berries and Airfreight"), for instance, the headline "Green light for red kiwifruit"* was brilliantly brought to life by a simple line drawing of traffic lights, complete with various shades of the famous traditionally green fruit.

Well, one of the people responsible is Ligia Duran, the newest member of the design and production department who's come all the way from Colombia and whose surname is just one letter away from the name of another, less popular, fruit. And while sometimes hard not to tease the trade magazine in a manner similar to the 'Missing Words' round on Have I Got News For You, it should still be said that Eurofruit is lucky to have her.

I met Ligia thanks to a friend of mine called Mike who edits the fruit-based publication and therefore has to put up with the occasional bit of fruit-based banter. I joined the two of them for their traditional Friday lunch at Madeira, a fantastic Portuguese café just round the corner from Fruit Towers in Vauxhall (see the Portugual entry for more mouth-watering information).

So far I've tried to shape these entries in a way that cleverly combines individual stories with important and intriguing issues about the countries themselves. I occasionally even try to be funny. On this occasion, however, I'm pretty much going to jot down exactly what Ligia said in the order that she said it because it was a very entertaining and enlightening lunch hour and that's probably more than I can hope for with my own pretentious stylings. It might come out a bit rambling and unstructured but it was that sort of a chat so it's going to be that sort of an account. Good.

Before that, however, I should mention that on the day before our lunch, Kensal Rise was struck by a tornado in what was an extremely un-British minute of winter weather. One street half a mile away from us was utterly devastated and the BBC's helicopters are still circling above my (unaffected) house. People say it's been over-hyped because it's London and a lot of journalists live in or near the area but I was strangely proud to hear Ligia say on the way to the cafe that her family would probably have seen the pictures back home in Colombia.

Apparently, the Colombian news normally opens with some fairly strong coverage of whatever war is currently waging nearby followed by a serious look at the most recent political scandal. This barrage of gloom is then counterbalanced by a handful of scantily clad girls who tell the country about much more light-hearted stories, many of which seem to feature London. Last year's River Thames Whale was particularly popular. With a bit of luck our very own Kensal Twister may well be being given the South American treatment as I write this.

But that's enough about me and my hurricane-blasted home. This is about Ligia, Colombia and how she ended up drawing pictures of fruit-based travel signals for my mate Mike.

Despite her official title of 'Junior Designer', Ligia is an experienced professional. She trained in the country's capital Bogotá for five years and then worked for a well-respected company for another four. She could quite easily have continued to live in Colombia, or moved to somewhere like Spain or Chile, where she could speak her native Spanish and eat much better food in a much nicer (and less windy) climate. But she decided to move to England and, ultimately, London for three reasons.

First, Ligia is ambitious. In Colombia there are few opportunities for designers and she'd already reached the peak of her profession. To stay would have meant remaining at that plateau for the rest of her career, with only the slight annual pay increase to look forward to.

Second, she knew that the more challenging opportunities lay abroad. Whilst in Bogotá she spend most of her time and money attending weekly English classes but knew that she would never really become fluent without living in an English-speaking country.

Third, she didn't like Colombian men. Because, and this is music to the weedy ears of people like me and Owen, they're far too macho. Colombia has a particularly high female to male ratio and those males know the odds are in their favour. At any party a man can virtually pick and choose one of the many single women. They therefore cheat a lot and people like Ligia get pissed off and want to leave. I know that looks odd written down but that's what Ligia said and any place where less manly men have even a slight advantage over masculine hunks is alright by me.

And so a few years ago she made her way to the UK and, initially, Brighton, where she worked in hotels and bars whilst improving her English and meeting the man whom she would eventually marry and move to London to be with (the next sentence has three sets of brackets – apologies if they're unnecessary). In between cleaning the first toilets of her life (nearly every household in Colombia has a maid) she posted an advert offering her design talents for free on Gumtree (an invaluable website for people arriving in the UK hosting free adverts for housing, friends, jobs and business services) and fairly soon got picked up by The Voice (a weekly tabloid mainly aimed at the British Afro-Caribbean community). She then spent the next few months working all hours, seven days a week, earning enough money to survive, building up her portfolio and ultimately applying for work on the next rung of the ladder.

It paid off. Three months ago, the phone rang and she was invited to come to talk to the people at Fruit Towers. Three interviews later, the job was hers, Ligia screamed, stopped screaming, screamed again then phoned her mum in floods of tears.

Since then she's been getting to grips with the European design industry whilst improving her English and picking up a fair amount of 'bad' language from her potty-mouthed boss. Impressively, she still goes to an English Language school in Soho twice a week. In an oversight typical of our tentative start to the project, Owen and I had not yet thought to try one of these centres for other nationalities. I'd also not realised that non-EU pupils can pay as much as £4000 per year for classes. That's a huge amount of money for people often earning very small amounts of money. Luckily Ligia herself is now exempt after having lived here for more than three years and marrying a Brit (incidentally that particular Brit is from County Down, Northern Ireland. My wife is from Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. I can't quite detect a Northern Irish twang to Ligia's now near-perfect English but I do hope she eventually picks up the occasional Belfast vowel to complement her South American consonants).

Ligia says that Colombians love to work hard and she herself certainly embodies that ethos. The majority of London's Colombian community is based in Elephant and Castle. According to Ligia there are so many South Americans around the area that you can get a bus to Brixton, speak Spanish all the way and be understood by nearly everyone. But because Ligia is so keen to integrate herself into the British way of life, that's all I'm going to say about Elephant and Castle. Except that it must be a confusing and perhaps disappointing name for all those South Americans when they first arrive ("Che? No elephant? AND no castle?!" etc etc).

For Ligia, learning English is more about the culture than the grammar and her education is largely based on willing trial and error. On her very first night in Brighton she went to a pub and found the experience so novel that she fell fast asleep in her chair. For in English bars, as she quickly discovered, the custom is to drink beer or wine and then sit and talk. And talk and talk. Back in Colombia she would drink rum or shots but then dance and dance. And drink and dance. So people never really got so drunk they fell asleep in their chairs.

In fact, dancing, and salsa in particular, is incredibly important in Colombia – a fact that makes me think that Owen and I would soon lose any advantage previously gained by our effeminacy. As Ligia says, "If you can't dance, what do you do at parties? It doesn't matter if you're very pretty, if you can't dance, what can you do?" She herself, she says, is an excellent dancer. She's also keen for me to point out that Colombia is the best country in the world and whether or not it's true (I'm not sure if there is a 'Best Country' competition – I know about things like the Olympics and the World Cup but they're fairly sports-based tournaments – a general 'Best Country' competition sounds like an excellent and not-at-all incendiary idea), she says it with such conviction that I'm fairly sure she's probably right.

But would she go back? It's safer now, she says, but you never know what's going to happen next. Her Northern Irish husband feels the same about his homeland and would love to one day make the move to South America. When they could buy a five bedroom farmhouse for £20,000 near her home town of Barrancabermeja instead of whatever amount they've paid for a flat in Sydenham, I don't blame him.

Politically, next door neighbour (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chávez is potentially troublesome. He's being nice at the moment but apparently he's unpredictable. The USA have practically managed the Colombian government after initiating Plan Colombia in 1998. The controversial scheme designed to curb drug smuggling by supporting various different Drug War activities hasn't necessarily worked but it does mean that America now thinks it's in charge. It may also have something to do with why Ligia picked the Kingdom over the States of America when selecting an English-speaking country (with United in the name) to live in. She just doesn't feel comfortable there. She says that Mexicans, Colombians, Brazilians, Chileans (oh dear, we've got a lot of people still to meet…), in fact all South Americans are all the same to North American eyes – second class citizens.

And while we're sort of on the subject of drugs - when I told friends that I was off for a meeting with a Colombian most of them jumped to the far-fetched conclusion that I'd developed a sudden cocaine addiction. According to Ligia, however, that's a stereotype that doesn't really hold true for the Colombian people themselves. And the same goes for coffee. There may well be an active trade in both commodities going out of the country, but the people within Colombia just can't afford the good stuff. She's never seen cocaine in her life and has only tasted 'real' Colombian coffee whilst in London. Back home she drinks Nescafe.

Like everyone we've met so far, Ligia is hugely patriotic. Maybe it's because she's so far from home or maybe it's because Colombia really is the Best Country in the World, but either way, she paints a spirited picture of her birthplace. She also recommends the website www.poorbuthappy.com/colombia to anyone interested in visiting. It's a site set up by a Belgian bloke who fell in love with the country ten years ago and whilst well worth a look, I can't help thinking that in comparison, the U.K. is basically rich but glum. In fact, I can think of many affluent but miserable countries and a fair few impoverished but cheerful ones – is there a link? Would we all be happier if we didn't have any money? I don't know. But the food at this Portuguese café was definitely tasty but cheap and I went home satisfied on many levels.

*For all you fruit fans out there, a fact about the kiwifruit: In North America, South America and Europe, the 'fruit' part of the name is usually ignored because we very rarely find ourselves in situations where we might be confused with the bird of the same moniker ("Do you want a kiwi after your boiled egg?" "You're sick." "No, I meant the fruit." "Oh yes, that would be lovely.") In New Zealand, however, this sort of exchange is not uncommon ("Kiwi juice?" "Now, do you mean the juice of the fruit or…") so kiwifruit there is now mostly marketed under the brand-name Zespri.