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

Monday 14 May 2007

Nos.74 and 75: The Dominican Republic and Peru

Points for Oscars and Gold Medals

Owen Powell – 14th May 2007

Just after leaving Jai, I find myself standing outside a full-looking Bar Italia with Paola and Silvana, and wondering whether we should find somewhere a little less busy. Bar Italia is rammed – not as full as I remember it being during the World Cup last summer, but still too noisy to do any kind of useful interviewing, or even basic Hello-ing. A few minutes later, we’re sitting around a table on the pavement outside ‘Nino’s Paninos’, and the Hello-ing can commence.

Paola and Silvana met at the University of Birmingham in 2002, while studying for a Masters. After living in the same hall of residence for a year, they became good friends and stayed in touch after graduation when Silvana went back to Peru, and Paola to the Dominican Republic. Thankfully, however, Birmingham hadn’t put them off the UK, because pretty soon they were coming back again, Silvana arriving in London in January 2005, and Paola following in May 2006 (after short stints in Milton Keynes and Northampton). Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair on Birmingham, as both had originally chosen it for positive reasons, as Silvana explains: “I had a campus experience, which you wouldn’t get in London. I met people from all over the world during my MBA studies, and I think it was good value for money." Paola adds that “Birmingham is good for travel – I went to Scotland and the north of England, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d been in London all the time. Even now, when friends come to visit, it’s hard to get them out of London.”

And getting out of London is – in Silvana and Paola’s eyes – one of its many benefits. Although we perhaps think that we’re a bit isolated, stuck on this wet island off the edge of Europe, for people that have come many thousands of miles to be here, we’re right in the thick of it. “London is a perfect base for travel,” raves Silvana. “It is very easy to travel to lots of different countries, as the flights are so cheap over here. Since I have been in London, I have been on so many European trips.”

“She’s just got back from Paris,” Paola says, with mock jealousy. “But it's not just Europe - for example, for us to get to Asia it’s now a twelve-hour flight, rather than twenty.”

Paola and Silvana are both on the Home Office's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, and as this is the first time I have heard of the HSMP, they explain it to me. “Firstly, you are granted a one year work permit,” begins Silvana. “Then, if you can show economic activity, you can re-apply for a three year extension,” continues Paola. “Oh, but first we have to tell you about the points system!” Silvana chips in. “It is quite complicated. Before you arrive you must total up all your points. You get points for academic achievement, points for being a doctor, points for being under 28 years old …” Paola rolls her eyes at this point, and joins in the list: “You even get 20 points, or something like that, for winning an Oscar or a gold medal at the Olympics, but even that isn’t enough – I needed 75 points to get my initial one-year permit.” I must admit, I didn’t know that the immigration system at this level was quite so functional, and suggest that it must have been odd to have been categorised so ruthlessly. But Paola and Silvana are having none of it. “Oh no!” they cry, “It’s a great system! It’s completely transparent, and very fair – everyone is equal, and the more you have to offer, the better your chances of getting in.” Paola compares it favourably to other countries which have less welcoming policies to immigrants.

“I’m glad I came here,” says Silvana. “I’m happy in London, but of course there are still things that I miss from Peru. People here are less expressive, less warm, less touchy-feely, it’s all handshakes and they’re quite reserved.” I’m conscious that when I greeted them both, it was with a handshake, so I throw my English caution to the wind, look them both in the eye and say, “When we say goodbye after this, I’m going to kiss both of you.” (There’s a terrifying second where my brain replays this instantaneously, scanning it to see if it sounds like a perverted threat, but they’re both still smiling so it must have come out ok.)

Paola takes over. “I don’t miss the obvious things. For example, I don’t miss the heat. I’m not a typical Caribbean, I suppose. I’m happier in colder weather.”

Silvana shakes her head. “In Peru, we have a proper summer, where you can guarantee three or four months of consistent heat. It’s a lovely time of year. One summer, for our school prom trip, we went climbing in the mountains near Machu Picchu. There are really dramatic views and scenery, which you don't really get around London.”

“But the food,” says Paola, “I miss the food with all my guts. I still can’t understand how some people can eat cold sandwiches and crisps for lunch. It's the most important meal of the day - it should at least be hot.”

“The last time I was back in Peru, I cooked for my little nephew,” Silvana remembers, “And my mother couldn’t believe it! She said, ‘Oh, you’ve changed’. She’s right, I wouldn’t think twice about cooking now.” Seeing me look a little confused, Paola steps in to explain. “It’s common in our countries for most families, even normal middle class families, not particularly rich, to have lots of home help. When I was growing up, we had maids, cooks – it’s not considered odd to have house keepers.”

“Every time I visit Peru, my mother is sad when I return to London,” continues Silvana. “I think it’s a different culture – you stay with your family until you are married, like they do in Spain or Italy, so it’s hard for them when you’re this far away. We both have foreign boyfriends, as well. Mine is American, although he speaks good Spanish so we can talk in both languages. Paola’s is German, and speaks fluent Spanish.”

“Yes,” says Paola. “I have the German. You have a German already?” I explain that I’m meeting one tomorrow night. “Well, he’s not very German anyway. He doesn’t want to go back to live there, he wants to live in New York.” And what is her German like, I wonder. “Hmm. I have learnt a little German. ‘I’m hungry, I’m tired.’ Things like this. ‘You’re drunk, you’re ugly.’ Other phrases.”

The evening has worn on, and the cold London summer nights are drawing in, so we say our goodbyes. And, yes, it’s kisses all round. xx

No comments: