3 Years in London: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

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.

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101 Dalmatians from 1961

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!

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Yep, 7 POUNDS!

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.

London circa late 2010.

13 Responses

  1. Leelee beauté 5 February, 2014 / 10:07 am

    Hi 😀 your articles are an amazing source of information and funny things about London.. I have many questions about living in UK, i will continue reading your posts in hope to find answers for my questions..
    I wish you all the best <3

  2. Misha 24 March, 2014 / 11:14 pm

    You’re articles are so very helpful. I’ve been thinking of for a few months now to plan out my studies so that I can work on my dissertation in England since its on British lit. As I read your article I thought, ‘That sounds like NYC in the early 80’s.’ Two exceptional mayor’s and 20 year’s later and NYC is no longer like that. Your post made me home sick. I’ve lived in many places but London has been on my bucket list for many years and need to go and get it out of my system. I think what I will do is prepare as I did before moving/living in Asia for a few years – I visited every year for almost a month for the 3 years prior to moving and made a smooth transition.

    So keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

    • Cheylene T. 27 March, 2014 / 9:37 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words and insight Misha. It sounds like you’ve been all over the place! I hope you make it to London sometime in the future.

  3. Ines Vilchis 2 July, 2014 / 12:27 pm

    I totally agree with your article!! However I have found one more difficulty about moving in to London and I am sure it is not just me!! It is so hard to blend in the local community. I always think of myself as a people person, who can make others laugh and make myself interesting in front of new people. Finding myself in London I might very well complain how difficult it is to make friends with local people and how impossible it seemed to fit in at first.

  4. Michael 3 October, 2014 / 3:32 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog somehow awhile ago. Im not English and have no intention of moving to the UK yet I found your perspective fascinating and entertaining and will continue to read. Keep up the good work. 😉

  5. genibre2013 26 January, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    Just to say, THANK YOU for posting on the bad about living here. We are recent expats- about 6 months- and living here has blown away the rose-coloured lenses I had on arrival. To start off you are so right that “Compared to the US, living in London is hard.” And I came from DC/NY and it was SO MUCH easier living in DC. There really is something to be said about American convenience and efficiency. The mind-blowing inefficiency of the British people blows my mind on so many occasions. =/

    Annnnnnnnnnyway, we are here for at least three years and likely more, so I’ll take the good (the history! the access to Europe!) with the bad.

    • Cheylene T. 26 January, 2015 / 3:44 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting :)
      The first 6 months are definitely the hardest, so hang in there!

  6. James 7 March, 2015 / 10:19 am

    A perfectly fair post, so I’m not moaning at all. But a lot of the ‘Britain is so inefficient stuff’ is a tired stereotype. Ever tried dealing with the US border agencies? No. Think they’re efficient? I can tell you, they are not! Perhaps part of what you’re experiencing is that if you try and do relatively uncommon tasks (like moving country) it is quite hard. Try moving to any country, including the US and you’ll find it isn’t easy.

    Generally, service in the UK is worse than the US, although I think this is mainly cultural. As a Brit I dislike American service which I find intrusive, overly-familiar and insincere. Also, don’t discount the extent of your confirmation bias. Every time you get poor service in the UK you think, ‘ah yes, typical UK service,’ but get it in the US and you think ‘Oh, thats unusual. It isn’t normally like that here.’

    As someone who now lives in the US, I can’t believe you think the infrastructure is worse in the UK. Mass transit basically doesn’t exist in America. Everyone drives everywhere. It is incredible! The Tube can be an absolute nightmare, but leave London and you can still use public transport to get around. Try doing the same state-side.

    P.S. All those terrible delivery companies? Agreed.

    • Cheylene T. 8 March, 2015 / 6:06 pm

      I think we’ll agree to disagree James :) Having lived and moved around in both countries, there’s no doubt in my mind that the UK definitely has some catching up to do in the infrastructure department.

  7. Jason Smith 25 October, 2015 / 12:53 am

    Are you comparing London to a smaller, friendly US town? Or are you comparing London to a city such as New York?

    I can’t understand how you can say the infrastructure is bad. Never in my two years in London did I need to take a cab. I could get from anywhere to anywhere on the tube, and most lines run every few minutes. The same just can’t be said in New York. Parts of Manhattan are completely cut off from the Subway, and don’t even start with Brooklyn. You generally have to wait a lot longer for trains, lines are always closed, changed etc, and when the trains don’t run, nobody cares. I waited for the G for 40 minutes, and when I pressed the button for assistance, a lady answered and said “yeah it’s not running” and hung up.

    That brings me onto service; good god, the service in New York is appalling. Considering you’re required to tip, you would expect good service, but no. The in-joke when I was living in New York was “not my job”. People try hard not to help you; it’s always “someone else’s job”.

    Inefficiency? You ever paid rent in New York? Cheque. I had never used a cheque in my entire adult life (Australian). Ever been fined? You go to court over that. You get to the court on time, then wait 6 hours because they’re running late. Then, you see the judge and within 30 seconds he says “go downstairs and pay $32″. Opposed to the rest of the world where you get the fine in the mail and pay it online. And then you have the issues of prices being displayed exclusive of tax. That meal is $23. But wait, if you want to know how much is going to come out of your wallet, don’t forget to add the 8.875% NY sales tax, and the 20% tip! Again, opposed to the rest of the world, where when you see $23 you pay $23.

    People bag out Easyjet, but have you ever flown Southwest? Instead of assigning a seat like every other airline in the world, you get given a boarding number, and then you compare your boarding pass with everyone else’s until you’re in the right spot in the queue. And then you walk through the aircraft while everyone avoids eye contact and pretends like someone is sitting in that empty seat.

    I mean, I just do not understand how anyone could ever say the states is “efficient”. It is by far the least efficient country I have ever been to. Don’t get me wrong, New York is my favourite city in the world, but London wins in regards to all the points you described!

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