“Would you like to try a lemon?”
My friend hold out a large, pale yellow fruit for me to take. It sits ripe in her palm, resembling more a mutant grapefruit than its sour and acidic cousin. Because this is no ordinary lemon. Or at least, not the sort of tongue-curling, tooth-aching lemons I’m used to. This is sweet lemon, known in the Middle East as a “Persian lime”.
Fatter and rounder than the lemons you find in your average supermarket, these fruit are sweet and juicy rather than sour, and are peeled and eaten as snacks, much like oranges.
Despite being reassured of all this, I put the first segment in my mouth rather tentatively, still not convinced that I wouldn’t have an unpleasant surprise when I bit down. But despite looking and smelling like a lemon, it tasted incredibly sweet, and I quickly polished off the whole lot.
What made this experience so eye-opening for me, however, wasn’t the discovery of this new type of fruit itself but the realisation that these ‘lemons’ are sold in almost every corner shop and ethnic supermarket in London. Despite being surrounded by them nearly every day, I had never yet come into direct contact with them. It took the encouragement of my friend (who’s family is from Iraq and Iran and so sweet lemons are something she is familiar with) to take me beyond my comfort zone and try something new.
This example sums up much about the clash between rhythm and discord that I believe characterises the daily lives of many in this city. London is one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural places on earth; where people of every creed and colour live shoulder-to-shoulder and share in the same frenzied experience of city life. In theory. Except that we don’t.
Most Londoners — in fact, I would go so far as to say most people — tend to stick to things they find familiar, finding comfort in repetition and monotony rather than taking the risk of trying something new. Occasionally we stray out of our comfort zone in aid of a new experience, and duly give ourselves a pat on the back for having “widened our horizons”, but the majority of the time we stay cocooned in our own little worlds. We simply cannot cope with things we don’t know.
The result of this is that we often overlook things and experiences that we might enjoy, just because they are new or as-yet-untested. I can’t count the number of times I have walked past rows of sweet lemons, not knowing and not caring to ask what they were. How much are we missing out on by maintaining this myopic vision of life; not looking, not seeing?
But redemption is out there. The beauty of a place like London is that every Londoner will most likely have friends from varying backgrounds who can act as intermediaries between themselves and anything new; the fear of novelty tempered by the presence of something familiar. We must learn to recognise and appreciate the opportunities this city provides us with. That is what multiculturalism is really about.