Moving to another country is a massive step. Moving to London is even bigger.
Expats have an expectation of what their life will be like living here, as with any place, because of what they are exposed to before they arrive.
We have movies which inspire us of it with Notting Hill and Love Actually the worst offenders at offering us love stories, cute apartments and smiles even in the Winter chill. The Royal Family offer an insight into traditional British history and culture (within practical reason of course). The ‘reality’ tv show Made In Chelsea depicts the experience we all hope to have with fabulous clothes, exotic European holidays and amazing nightlife – minus dating womanizer Spencer Matthews of course! It is all sold to us as a beautifully wrapped gift…and it is – to a degree.
You can prepare for it as much as possible. But it isn’t until you are out there doing it that the reality really begins to come clear: the expectations you had that don’t necessarily pan out; the realization that living abroad is HARD work and that while this adventure is amazing, sometimes it is nothing like the picture you had in your head when you got your Visa.
As with any negatives, there ARE positives too – this IS London after all! A city full of history, exciting opportunities and nightlife. You can’t ever get bored here! The positives that come with living in this metropolis will be the focus of the next article though, so don’t worry!
But as a newbie expat, there are some things I wish I had known about London before I moved here. I still would have come over though because none of these are deal-breakers! But, the London I envisaged is not necessarily what I thought it would be. But that’s ok. At least now I can appreciate the true London lifestyle and not the bullshit touristy version as they say; because that’s what I came here to experience when I decided to move here in the first place.
London’s Horrible Water
Ok, so London is OLD. We all know that going in. But the water quality here, is not what I am used to. Melbourne has the cleanest water I have ever seen. So coming here and dealing with the after-effects of using hard water was something to get used to.
Initially hard water is not really noticeable. But the longer you expose your skin and especially your scalp to it – well, that’s when you notice it: the dryness. Your skin becomes more itchy than normal, and the need to moisturize more evident. What was worse for me, was my scalp felt so itchy after I washed my hair that I could feel it drying out while it was still damp! It was quite horrible!
Finally, after requesting that anti-dandruff shampoo (that I knew worked), be sent from Australia – everything went back to being more bearable! I had tried 2 anti-dandruff shampoos over here too; I even used both of them together…it didn’t help. So, thankfully the good ole Selsun Blue saved the day! It is available everywhere, so I am really surprised it isn’t here. I will never travel without this shampoo AGAIN!
Another issue regarding water, but more so plumbing – is the flushing of the toilet. This doesn’t just apply to old buildings, but new buildings too. So you never know what you’re going to get over here.
Most toilets will flush when you use them, but this is only on the condition that no one actually used it in the 5 minutes before you did. Toilets need time to refill it appears…so they take their time. Basically if you don’t want to be left waiting 5 minutes in the stall trying to flush the bloody toilet, make sure you choose the toilet that’s filled back up before you go!
You Walk A Lot In London
London is a HUGE city! It is so broad in its layout, that train stations are located everywhere. While being able to travel far distances is a great option to have, one does not really understand just how far they walk in a single day until they calculate it. Even if you live near a station and don’t walk too far before beginning your journey, once you start changing train lines – well then you end up walking up and down stairways, escalators, and along underground tunnels and walkways. It can be a couple of minutes before you even change!
Though, I understand now why there aren’t as many obese people over here, because so many people have to walk places, even when taking public transport. And it keeps you in shape…which is a major plus!
London’s Ready Meals – It’s An Epidemic
Working in London is hard work. If you aren’t lucky enough to live close to work, or you work long hours, then ready meals are a great way to eat easily and cheaply. What is a ready meal? Well, it can be anything from a beef lasagne or chicken curry that you microwave, pre-cooked sausage rolls eaten cold, or pre-made sandwiches which come in a variety of choices.
Ready meals are the way supermarkets over here stay in business – the Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer’s which have shelves FULL of sandwiches more than anything. I really am blown away by how much of a thing this is over here. We don’t have pre-made sandwiches back home; and while I understand the need for it in a place like this, I don’t know how one can continually eat these without considering how long it has been sitting there in that packet.
I prefer not to eat such meals, except beef lasagne because who doesn’t love those? But the idea of eating a sandwich that was made a few days ago, that has tuna, or meat, or egg in it just makes me want to puke! If I am ever in a hankering to eat such a sandwich; I go to Pret-A-Manger which make pre-made sandwiches as well, BUT they make them on the day, so there is no use by date. They either sell them or they don’t. But it makes me feel much better eating it, especially if it is an Egg and Mayo one! But I usually make my own sandwich with Vegemite and Cheese – an Aussie classic!
Photo by: markhillary
Pushy People On The Tube In London
People have places to go, people to see…they are always on the move. The Tube is by far the best way to get around town. It is an awesome system with trains usually coming every 2 minutes or so on weekdays. (I’m used to every 20 minutes!)
Peak hours are quite busy for obvious reasons, but because the English are well-known for their politeness I guess I was shocked in the beginning when people would do ANYTHING to fit on that train. People always said New Yorkers were pushy and would walk over you if you stopped in the street (which I’ve never really seen), but I didn’t expect it here. Do note: this is not a reflection on the whole country or all Londoners, just the majority of those I have witnessed.
But, when you are crushed like a sardine in a tin can, with babies in prams and pregnant women also being squashed, it is quite shocking to see when the generalization was that people have manners. While at times I do see manners, its the times I don’t that I never forget and disappoint me, because it happens a lot. Even when I am running late, if someone asks for help, or a carriage is too full, I always help people, or wait for the next train. Because, I am not rude.
London’s Tube Stops Around Midnight (On Weekdays)
When I arrived, I assumed that a transport system so big would cater to its travelers in the early morning hours. Not so much.
The trains last journey is around midnight. But regardless of where you sit on the line, your night ends before 12 if you want to get home quickly and make this last train. If you happen to be out longer, some buses run for 24 hours, so there are quite a lot around. But it means an extra hour to get home usually…and can be far more grotty with drunken people and the like, around you.
Transport For London have implemented 24 hour trains on weekends, and so they should. In a city as big as this, where some people travel over an hour to get into the city, it is quite hilarious that trains don’t run even to 2am everyday.
P.S. when on the Tube and standing by the door. Be careful. Before the trains even fully stop the doors usually open. It is a worry they do that, considering many platforms have a foot long gap from where it meets the train.
London Has Psycho Drivers
I have grown up with the whole ‘give way to pedestrians’ viewpoint. While I know many places in Europe especially are kind of crazy on the roads. Again, going back to the manners of the British – I pretty much have to wait for cars to fully stop when crossing roads here which is shocking.
I have lived in Zone 3 which was a suburban feel, as well as Zone 2 which is a little more city but still residential, and no matter where I have been, cars do not STOP! Even on Zebra crossings. It is actually quite disgusting I have to admit. Especially when drivers expect a ‘thankyou’ wave. Ahh…what for exactly? For stopping when you’re supposed to? Yeah, right!
Photo by: activefree
Don’t Expect To Buy Stuff In London
London is an EXPENSIVE city. Rent is not cheap averaging £600 a month for anything half decent. You want to hope you earn enough in whatever job you land in over here, so you actually have money…to do stuff.
I don’t shop here. I went to the States in May, stocked up and came back with everything. It was the best plan ever!
The problem with prices here is that London is more expensive than other places, but no matter what you are spending your money on, I always convert it into Aussie just to see, say what a £10 ($17.70AU) meal is worth over here. A fiver or a tener as they say doesn’t seem like a lot of money but it actually is when you convert it. “You shouldn’t convert” people always say…but since whatever I have left comes home with me, it kinda matters. Being ignorant is not how one saves cash, but blows it altogether – £80 for a pair of Levi jeans is a rip off though! As if I would ever pay $140 back home for 1 pair! They’re dreaming!
Secondly, regarding travel, while it is something you probably envision happening on weekends, is not so cheap either. If you head off far enough that you need a hotel, Saturday is the dearest night to book a hotel! I have taken to doing day trips to Oxford, Cambridge and so forth instead, as it costs nothing in the scheme of things and comes out of my travel budget. But all this ‘travel’ you think you will be having, may not be as possible as you think…plus you do work so you will want lazy weekends and time to sleep in. I am saving up for a massive trip once I leave!
P.S If you get a package from home and it is valued (by the person that sends it) as worth more then about £36, you will have to pay money for VAT taxes (it can be as much as £30!). I never knew this until friends had it happen to them. I have received packages but never had to pay anything as it must have been less than the amount. But it’s something to keep in mind.
Always Carry An Umbrella In London
Enough said. Rain is always on the horizon. Always take your umbrella with you!