It struck me just a few days ago that I’ve reached my three-year anniversary as a London resident and US expat. While I could wax poetic about many aspects of life in my adopted hometown, I thought I’d spare you all the pain and get right down to the meat and potatoes.
Let’s start with the good . . .
Where do I begin? London’s great in so many ways. I love how it’s a capital for culture, how it’s full of neighborhoods that have their own distinct character and history, how you don’t need a car to get around, and how easy it is to travel to Europe and Asia from here.
There’s really no excuse for boredom in this city, especially if you’re a relatively new resident like me. Even after three years I still find myself discovering new neighborhoods, restaurants, and events. Speaking of events, London is full of them. It seems like there are multiple street fairs, carnivals, food and heritage festivals going on each week.
London’s also got a lot of history, which I appreciate since I come from a country that is less than 250 years old. I love all the old Victorian buildings here, because to me represent the London I remember from watching 101 Dalmatians as a kid. I suppose in a nutshell I’m still a bit in awe of the city despite having lived here for several years now. When I spend a night out in Central London and the street lights are twinkling over old Victorian row homes, I feel like a kid watching 101 Dalmatians all over again.
That’s enough London love for one article, so let’s move on to the bad, shall we?
Compared to the US, living in London is hard. Convenience is a way of life in the the states, but over on this side of the pond there’s a lot of pavement pounding, a lot of less-than-optimal weather, and a lot of fighting for space on trains, sidewalks, and subways here. Living in Central London is a grind that can wear you down until all you want to do is lay in bed and curl up into a fetal position.
London’s also expensive. While there are plenty of things you can do for free when you’re a tourist, you can’t really get away from the city’s exorbitant prices if you live here full time. Rent? That’ll cost you 3k USD/month easily. Want to go to a movie? That’ll be 17 USD per ticket please. How about a box of Cap’n Crunch? It can be yours for just 11.00 USD!
Now that I’m on a roll, let’s keep this train moving and talk about the ugly.
If there are two areas where London totally fails, it’s in customer service and infrastructure. The customer service here is appalling. I don’t know if it is the culture or if it’s just because no one cares, but it’s awful. I cannot tell you how many times my “requests”, “applications”, and “notifications” for services, bills, and other things have either been lost or completely ignored.
I’ve ordered an authentication reader from my bank on three separate occasions. Each time I went in person to speak to a teller and each time they assured me it would sent in the mail within a few days. It’s been months and I’ve received nothing. I’ve waited at home to receive package deliveries only to find out that the delivery company did not even attempt to deliver at my address. Instead, they insisted that I did not answer the door and instructed me to pick the packages up at their main office. It took my property management company nearly one year to repair a faulty water heater. I could go on . . .
. . . but that would leave me no time to complain about London’s poor infrastructure. I understand that the tube is the oldest subway system in the world, but that’s not a valid excuse for why it has so many delays, signal failures, faulty trains. The internet speed in certain parts of London is awful and grossly overpriced. On one occasion it took nearly one month to get internet access at a new flat because there was simply “no room” for us. England as whole is also fraught with cumbersome processes and still heavily relies on paper and letter-writing when compared to the US. I’ll save my rants on the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and their inability to process an application in a timely manner for another post.
After three years in London, I’ve learned to take the good with the bad for the most part. These past few years have been a blast and I’ve been afforded so many opportunities as a result of living in this city. I hope I’m not deterring anyone from moving to London with this post, as that is certainly not my intention. I just think that it’s worth pointing out that moving to a new country and city is not all rainbows and butterflies. In the end, a few struggles is nothing in comparison to the benefits that come with living in London, and I’m looking forward to my next three years yere.