What It Feels Like To Live In London

When you live in London, you’ll think that London is the most wonderful place in the world. Crumpets! Big Ben! Prince Harry! Who wouldn’t want to live here? You’ll compare it to your former residence and wonder how you ever survived without living in London. Reveling in your ex-patriotism, you will start drinking tea instead of coffee, root for Manchester United, listen to BBC Radio 1 and become an avid watcher of Doctor Who. To people back home, your best friends are obviously Ricky Gervais, Kate Winslet and Daniel Radcliff, because you saw one of them shopping at Sainsbury’s or reading a book in Regent’s Park. You’ll tell everyone you know that living in London is the greatest decision you have ever made, and you are never coming back, ever.

Soon after however, your Anglophilia will start overwhelm you. A culture you once thought you knew so well becomes incredibly foreign as the studied stereotypes fail to deliver. You’ll realize that no one cares about the Spice Girls or that your favorite film is Love Actually. By accident, you’ll call the Royal Family “archaic,” or not take them seriously as part of the British government, and receive dirty looks from the locals. More severe than that, you’ll insult the bartender/cab driver/grocery check-out girl with your pitiable attempt at a British accent. You’ll notice that the English actually have decent dental hygiene, and when the Tube closes just before midnight, you’ll get lost and somehow end up in Croydon. Your bank account will be drained from the exchange rate, your rent is due every week instead of every month, and you’ll have to pay a fee for a television permit, or risk getting deported.

Suddenly, living in London is no longer the greatest decision you’ve ever made.

This feeling will pass once you’ve discovered places that are genuinely accepting of who you are. They exist, and take a bit of experimentation before committing to them, but you’ll find them, and you’ll feel better. In a smoky pub around the corner from your flat, you’ll play darts with old men whose teeth are missing but whose minds are as sharp as a tack. You’ll go clubbing with Bulgarian tourists somewhere in Clapham and stumble around with the other drunks as you head home on the Night Bus. Up-and-coming designers will sell you their fashions from boutique shops on Brick Lane; you’ll get the rest of your clothing from vintage stores somewhere outside the city limits. The chocolate tastes creamier. The flowers smell sweeter. There will be a tattoo of the Union Jack above your hip, or maybe you’ll get your eyebrow pierced in Camden. Learning to live without peanut butter will become easy. Perhaps you’ll even come to enjoy Marmite, but most of all, you’ll realize that British food is actually really, really good.

You’ll walk along the Thames and stop at that place selling used books under a bridge. You know the one — where the sidewalk is lined with tables piled high with books no one wants to read, or comics people don’t have space in their flats for, or art prints with no resale value. You’ll constantly peruse the merchandise in hopes of finding some cheap novel to pass the time during your commute, but you will never actually buy anything. Sometimes, you’ll go there just because you think it’s the most beautiful place in London.

You’ll meet British men who adore you because you’re different — don’t go home with them. Their flats will be dirty, or filled with blank-looking furniture from Ikea. They won’t know how to cook and they’ll expect you to pay for your own drinks at the pub. You’ll meet British men who are repulsed by your foreign accent — try to go out with these men. Once they’ve gotten to know you, they will like you, and even fall in love with you. They will treat you like gold. They will take you for a weekend of surfing in Cornwall, and if they love you, they will take you to Paris, or Greece. They will dress sharply and style their hair. And when, by force of habit, you look the wrong way while crossing the street, they will save your life by standing between you and a double decker bus that has just stopped within inches of your life.

When you live in London, you’ll never want to leave. When you’re away from London, you’ll long to return. Its efficiency, pragmatism, blending of cultures and embedded history, keep you coming back for more.

When you live in London, you feel like you are truly a part of this world. TC mark


image – oseillo


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  • Claire Harris

    1. The last Tube is normally some time between 12.20am and 12.40am.
    2. Peanut butter is in plentiful supply. Walking into a supermarket and finding it devoid of peanut butter would be no less bizarre than finding it devoid of milk.
    3. It’s very rare for rent to be due weekly. By and large, rent is paid monthly.
    4. Sad to think that men will only take you on an international holiday ‘if they love you’. What if they love you but they can’t afford Paris?

    Other than that, good stuff.

    • Melissa

      I second the above counterpoints but, let’s face it, Sun-Pat is no Skippy or JIF! It’s also worth mentioning that smoking is banned in pubs in the UK. A fun read for us American expats, though!

      [Speaking of expats, this is the second time I’ve seen ex-patriate misspelled on TC.]

      • JoJo

        Third time, actually. No hyphen.

      • Anda

        You can buy skippy in sainsburys, just saying.

      • C.M

        I was traveling in Amsterdam and ran into a big jar of skippy. I happily paid 14 US dollars to take that back home with me to London lol!

  • Nik

    I’ve lived in London for the past year and this is nice and relevant. Even the part about partying in Clapham is eerily true.

  • Hazel

    It would be quite hard to miss the last tube and actually end up in Croydon…unless you sit on a night bus for a hour and a half.

  • http://twitter.com/xerinstewart Erin Stewart (@xerinstewart)

    Great piece. Just one thing – it’s ‘barrack’ not ‘root’. Rooting for Manchester United is something quite different…

  • Ant

    Agreed with every bit of it.

  • Rachel

    I live in London too. And this article is grossly inaccurate. Please stop feeding the horrible notion that being an American, particularly an ‘American woman’ abroad has some sort of exotic allure. It’s also a city in a nation, and an entire continent facing a deep economic crisis. But I guess if you can afford to go shopping in Brick Lane boutiques, you wouldn’t notice that. Let me guess, Sunday Up Market.

    And as of note, living in London has helped me to appreciate and think of America far more differently. It’s no longer the “Oh God I know, I know I’M SORRY ABOUT BUSH” …rather, it’s the place I still call home and never try to deny. Stop making it seem like living in America is a bore, when in reality, living in America makes A LOT of things in life easier…not everything. Especially not for minorities. But it isn’t any better over here. Just different. Aside from the NHS, that I can get down with.

    London is a place – it has things that are in fact ‘fabulous’ just as much as it has things that are grim and depressing. It has history and culture and a strong imperialistic undercurrent. When you play darts with these old men, do you ever ask them how they feel about immigrants?

    I’m not saying London isn’t wonderful. It is. I moved across the Atlantic to be here. However, there’s a problem happening in London right now – and it’s that the rest of the world think it’s some charming safe haven. The pound is always better than the dollar, right? However, the UK is draining. Europe is draining. People are just taking from places like London, using them as transient stepping-stones. But, people live here, invest their whole lives to this place, and we need to respect it. And maybe actually buy a book from those stalls on the South Bank.

    Also, Sainsbury’s sells Skippy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosie.spinks.9 Rosie Spinks

    I’m also an American living in London named Rosie- weird.

    No londoner would support Man U. London clubs= Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, QPR etc. NOT Man U. Also, there’s definitely peanut butter in the UK, it just all has palm oil in it.

  • David

    Sorry, but this whole piece was a big YAWN.

  • http://gravatar.com/casmith90 Carly

    Funny, what the hell have been putting in my peanut butter and nutella sandwhiches for the past 20 years, if peanut butter isn’t available in the UK?

    And being foreign in London is no biggie. Other over person is foreign!

  • dana

    NO. just no.

  • katrina

    I’m actually planning on moving to London in the future… :)

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  • Kye

    London is a colossal hell hole. It has literally nothing going for it. Also, living there wouldn’t make you support Manchester United, that would be like me saying I’m moving to New York to support the Detroit Redwings. If you knew anything about the state of Europe right now, you’d know that Greece is the last place you’d want your British man to take you. And no peanut butter?? Really?? THIS is why Americans get mocked. People like you, living cliches.

    • Joe W

      If you knew anything about Britain you’d know Greece is still a prime tourist destination. In fact, my parents are on holiday there & my facebook is currently littered with pictures of the place.

      • Kye

        I live in England so I know all about it. Born and raised here. Just because people are still flocking to Greece to soak up the sun, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The place is in political and economical melt down. Not exactly a dream holiday location for those with a conscience.

    • Katja

      London might not be to everyone’s taste but calling it a hell-hole is laughable. You haven’t travelled much around the world, have you? Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan ghettos in Johannesburg – these are hell-holes. Personally, I love London and I’m glad to live here.

      And “literally nothing going for it” – I don’t think this word (literally) means what you think it means…

      Aaaand at Greece being “Not exactly a dream holiday location for those with a conscience.” Eh? Shouldn’t this be the other way round? Tourists spending their money in Greece helps the Greek economy and the people. it’s a perfect holiday for those with a conscience!

      • Heather

        Oh I presume you’ve been to all of those places have you? I was referring to it in the context of having nothing going for in amongst other 1st world cities. It’s relatively pointless to try to make comparisons between a 1st world city and a 3rd world country/city. The way that Americans tend to romanticise the place is embarrassing.

        Aaaaand as for Greece, it’ll take a hell of a lot more than tourists spending a few hundred Euros on their week long holiday to rescue it from its current state. They go and enjoy the beaches whilst people in the cities and towns that no-one ever visits are completely ignored.

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  • http://twitter.com/christinalefou Christina (@christinalefou)

    Good god. As a fellow American living in England, this is embarrassing. No offense, but how long have you been here, 5 minutes?

    • jen

      My sentiments exactly.

  • Rose Georgia

    feelings didn’t much enter into this, it’s mostly a catalogue of things you did/didn’t buy, places you did/didn’t go, men you did/didn’t meet.

    please tell me you didn’t actually get a tattoo of the union jack above your hip. why would you do that.

  • Ex expat

    As an ex-expat,you were the typical American abroad I would stray away from. Seriously how long wree you there? Maybe you should spend more time in London before writing such a piece..

  • Girl in London

    I grew up in Croydon… it’s not that bad. I don’t get the peanut butter thing, it’s easily available in any supermarket. Other than that wonderful piece! I’m a Londonder through and through and I will always adore this place :)

  • Yashley Trivedi

    I’ve dreamt of visiting London for a long time now and this makes me want to go there all the more!

  • http://gravatar.com/scenefromahat scenefromahat

    i miss london

  • Lillian K

    I feel like you just googled “common English things” and put this piece together. No offense, but this is a pretty embarassing representation of London. England has way more to offer than just Sainsburys and Marmite.

  • fi

    Yes I do know that place selling used book under the thames, I found it on my holiday there last year and thought it was pretty darn cool….but alas I I didn’t buy anything, merely just browsed, but your mention of the place has me missing London =)

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  • Nic

    I was hurt by the Spice Girls comment :( Haha.

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