Two and a Half Cheers for London

Aug 12, 2010
*Special to asia!

The city takes you as its own even though you’re speaking in a strange accent, clutching a brand-new A-Z, and asking for directions to the nearest Peranakan restaurant.

Paris plasters its Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame on every postcard and coaster it can lay its hands on. Kuala Lumpur seems determined to mould every bit of scrap metal in the world into keychains of the Petronas Towers. Singapore is bent on making the Merlion huger and huger, until it approximates Godzilla. Washington bombards us with images of the White House and Capitol Hill to the point that we have no idea what the rest of the city looks like. Seattle keeps flashing us silhouettes of the Space Needle, even though few people have actually seen the tower for the rain.

By comparison, London is positively muted about Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament or any of the countless historical treasures to be found within its centre. In fact, expressing your appreciation for its monuments may be regarded as over-enthusiastic, slightly embarrassing and irrelevant. “I love the V&A,” you may gush to a Londoner, and he will look momentarily nonplussed, being just about to launch into a diatribe against the NHS.

No, London does not preen. Unlike New York, it does not swagger. Indeed, it does not seem to know what to do if you were to give it some praise.

And so – three cheers for London and Londoners!

Or rather, two and a half.

We don’t want to confuse them.


Read Clarissa’s article on Paris here.

clarissa tanClarissa is a journalist who focuses on travel and the arts. As a desperately hopeful author, she writes short stories and is working on a novel. Clarissa won the Spectator’s final Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

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