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.