The great tragedy of having lived in more than one place is that I will never, ever live close to all of my friends at once (more on that topic here). The great annoyance is that I am constantly being reminded that no society can be good at everything. For everything London excels at, it fails at something else. And while I can spend the rest of my life travelling in search of a city that has it all, I know that will only make me miss whatever I liked about my other cities more.
Just in case any of you know where I can find my ideal city, this is how the perfect synthesis between Oslo, Paris and London would work (I haven’t included Boston, because I haven’t lived there as an adult):
The city would essentially look like central Paris: a mix of wide boulevards and charming cobble-stoned pedestrian streets, with sidewalk cafés and well-dressed people. Some of the parks would be designed by Englishmen in the late 1800s. There would be at least one dramatic modern building in the style of the Oslo opera house. The city would be surrounded by Norwegian nature.
Buildings would all be built by Norwegians, as they are the only culture out of the three who prepare for winter rather than deny its existence. Single-glazed windows, insufficient ventilation and inadequate heating would be illegal. All apartments would have nice kitchens.
The British would be in charge of public transportation, as well as providing information about this service. All other forms of communication and information technology (including online banking) would be run by Norwegians. There would be telephone service everywhere, from the tops of the surrounding ski slopes to the deepest tunnels of the underground system – and free WiFi in parks, thanks to a suggestion from the French.
The French would have the overall responsibility for food, but they would be forced to import international wine. Norwegian salmon and Norwegian bread would be available even in the smallest corner shops. Most restaurants would work like in Paris: with affordable three-course standard menus served by waiters who took their jobs seriously and didn’t expect tips. Influences from the Brits would ensure some international flavor varieties like Indian, Mexican and Chinese food, but the English would be discouraged from trying to sell their own pies and mashed things to people. The cafés would be French, but with coffee from Norway.
The pubs would of course be English, but with a wide selection of draught beer from around the world. Everyone would cooperate on other forms of nightlife, but the Norwegians would be completely barred from any attempts to control alcohol policy, including prices and closing time for pubs and bars. This would instead generally be governed by the French.
People would buy their French clothes, French lingerie and French shoes from British sales assistants. These sales people would take lessons in customer service from Americans, but tone it down to a less insistent European level. Thanks to the Norwegians, winter boots and other shoes with good sensible soles would always be available. Norwegians would teach people how to dress in winter; the French in every other season.
In public places, the people would somehow combine the passion of the French with the manners of the English. They would queue and make reserved small talk, but still kiss each other in public. The English would be in charge of television and humor and entertainment in general, so there would be a lot of trilingual wordplay.
If anyone should ever wish to leave, the airport runway would be de-iced by the Norwegians.
- Hunting for coffee in the land of tea – Why coffee wouldn’t be English
- Coffee in Paris – Why coffee wouldn’t be French
- First impressions of living in London