Wealth of the world

The other night I was visiting a friend in Hampstead, and I bumped into a scene which was for me so typical of London theatre of life.

Social clash on a pavement?

Imagine you have just finished your groceries at Tesco Express in what is probably one of the poshest area of Greater London. You have kept your eyes wide-open in every aisle in case a famous footballer or a pop singer was shopping at the same time, but without success. And then after cashing out, you step out of the shop and here stand a fellow trying to sell copies of the Big Issue.

Nothing special there would you say, but what was was right in the background. Next to the newspaper boy was parked a massive Rolls-Royce with chauffeur, someone waiting in the back seat. What a visual chock for me! But apparently no one seems to either care or be surprised.

Social mix in urbanism.

But this reaction is in fact totally understandable (maybe not acceptable though). In London poverty and extreme wealth are cohabiting in every neighbourhood. When you walk in fancy places with large houses, you are never far from a social building. This leads to surrealistic situation like the one evoked above, but you can replace the RR by Ferraris, Porsches or other Aston Martins.

In France on the contrary, people of the same social background tend to agglomerate in the same places. And this is a vicious circle because since social areas lose property value and will consequently attract people who can afford it. Or in fact those cannot afford to live elsewhere.

The smell of money.

The recent events we have experienced with Les Banlieues tend to plead in favour of the UK system of social melting pot. But from a moral point of view it is disturbing, especially in the French mindset. You could argue and many will agree with you that the French approach is hypocritical as it consists in parking away the difficulties instead of handling them... But to be fair, the principle of the Banlieues were due to be short-lived. On the other hand, exposing external signs of wealth to neighbours who are, on their end, struggling is hard to swallow.

I assume that the success of such an approach relays on the perception of money in a society. In France there has always been an awkward relationship towards money. It is dubious to have money in my country, and it is often linked to negative perceptions and feelings like jealousy and envy. In a liberal country like the UK, money and success are not criticized, they are source of inspiration.

Anyhow, this is a major cultural difference and it is deeply rooted in the collective unconsciousness of each nation. This is probably why I am never at ease when I am facing such a situation... What about you?

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