At the beginning of this month, I celebrated my one-year anniversary of being a Londoner. Some days passed like molasses, others went by in a flash, but I’m happy to be feeling more settled. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from Year 1:
1. Do not lose your passport. Do not lose your visa/biometric card. Never, ever, don’t do it. Yes, I learned this the hard way.
2. Nothing bonds Londoners together more tightly than the common experience of the misery of the underground. I’ve come to believe that you will always, always be able to commiserate with Londoners about the horrors of the daily commute at rush hour on the tube. Also — there is a an etiquette to riding the tube, and polite Londoners get very frustrated with those who either are oblivious to this etiquette, or are too rude to follow it. For any visitors: the most basic of these courtesies is to always stand on the right on an escalator, and never stop suddenly in a thoroughfare as if there were no one else behind you. Most of it seems basic, intuitive and rational, but as the old saying goes, common sense is quite uncommon.
3. All flats in London are seriously shabby and have between 3 to 15 things seriously wrong with them. This will likely hold true at practically any price point you could hope to pay. Common ailments of the period conversion flat are that they are cold, they smell funny, there is no dishwasher, there is no clothes dryer, the boiler breaks frequently, you have a tiny, miniature freezer, have have no freezer at all, the furniture is shabby, there are no closets. Oh, and no matter what you do, if you have a garden flat, you will always have spiders. (Luckily, these are of the kindly daddy-long-leg variety rather than the toxic Texas variety.
4. Major, major plus points: NO cockroaches, NO cockroaches with wings, NO mosquitos. NO poisonous snakes. Hurray!
5. It is sad, tragic even, that you will lose access to several beloved television shows, and channels. When I go home to the States, I soak in as much HGTV as I can. Also, lesson learned: keep itunes linked to a US credit card account so that you can purchase coveted US television shows.
6. Your towels will never be fluffy again. Get over it. Tumble dryers are virtually non-existent in the UK, and those that do exist suck up electricity like there is no tomorrow. Use some borax to soften the water, and embrace the stiff crustiness of the air-dried bath sheet.
7. Happily, the angst, anxiety and barrage of campaign advertisements during this election year are diluted, muffled or even deafened by the separation of the Atlantic. Unhappily, I am not confident that my absentee ballot gets counted with the same sort of will and dignity as those that are electronically registered in their proper districts. In the case of a close election (a la 2000), some poor clerk might have to shuffle through the mail and go counting our little paper ballots!
8. Always carry your umbrella. Umbrellas are your faithful companion in this island nation of persistently dank and dreary weather. There are two camps when it comes to attitudes towards the umbrella (or “brolly” as they are affectionately called): firstly, you could invest in a sturdy one that will not turn outward at the slightest hint of a breeze, and one that is easily retractable. Secondly, you could admit that you will lose approximately one umbrella every month, and therefore buy the cheapest money can buy so you will feel no heartache when you inevitably leave it in the back of a black cab or the corner of a pub.
9. This city has a problem with foxes going through the rubbish, and it is nasty. Rather like racoons that wreak havoc in suburban neighborhoods, Foxes will brazenly roam the streets, bite into a bag with something tasty inside and go to town. Sometimes you hear the screeching at night, and they sound like a distressed, whaling child.
10. Us Londoners, we’re an international bunch, and for the most part, we don’t have any preconceived notions as to what we should look like, or what kind of accent we should have. As an expatriate, I did expect to always feel like I was on the outside of something, looking in on a city and culture as opposed to experiencing it from the inside. I suppose this is true, but only partially so — I am surprised at how open-minded Londoners are, and indeed- welcoming and accepting of the wide spectrum of differences we have: people come from all over Europe and all over the world to experience the thrumming, vibrant work, social and family life that this city has to offer.