Hard as it is for me to wrap my head around, London and I have just celebrated our 2 year anniversary. The time has quite honestly flown by, and I thank my lucky stars almost daily for my grandmother being born in the U.K and entitling me to a 5 year Ancestry Visa rather than the standard 2 year visa granted to most Commonwealth citizens... I'm not done with this city just yet!
Fresh faced and stoked to be here on my very first day in London. I love it just as much today as I did then!
It's a contradictory thing really... Although it's been two years, there are days when I still feel new here, when the magic of the city overwhelms me, and I walk down streets wanting to shout out "HOLY SHIT I LIVE IN LONDON!" At this point I'm starting to think the novelty will never completely wear off... There's just too much here to marvel at.
On the other hand, at some point in the last year, something changed. London stopped feeling like a big adventure, stopped feeling like an "experience" and started feeling like just normal life, but in a good way. London feels like proper home now, in a way it couldn't have possibly when I was a FOB (fresh off the boat).
Since the startling realisation that I've now been here 2 years (thanks, Facebook memories) I've been reflecting a lot on London life, and the little quirks of the city which, having once appeared so strange and funny to me, are now just standard fare. Here are some little pieces of insight for any of you soon to visit or move to London... Basic things, but things that, for some reason, no one thinks to tell you before you arrive. Let learning the hard way be a thing of the past.
1. Tube etiquette is a thing
It really is, and often marks the locals from the visitors. The London Underground is an institution in its own right, and as such has certain rules that need to be adhered to. Don't be that prat who tries to get on before everyone has got off first. Move to the middle of the damned carriages. DO NOT lean against a pole when it's crowded and for goodness sake don't talk to anyone or make eye contact. Unless it's late on a Friday or Saturday night, in which case it's officially Drunk Tube Hour – my favourite – and all bets are off... Banter with strangers to your heart's content.
Sure this guy has a suitcase, but even without it, he's clearly a tourist... wait for people to get off before you get on! Tube Etiquette 101.
Whatever you do, avoid making eye contact with anyone at all costs, no matter how full it gets!
2. Apparently London has some sort of chair tax
London cafes charge more if you're eating in, rather than taking out. What is this madness... I have to pay to sit?! To newcomers, the displaying of two prices for one item of food can be confusing, and for most of us, the possibility of prices differing depending on if you're staying in or taking out wouldn't even occur. This isn’t a quirk to just a few little places either – almost EVERYWHERE does it. It took me a long time to be able to suppress a haughty puff when answering the staff’s question, “To eat in, or take away?” I may be accustomed to it now, but I still just don't get it... Are cafes trying to discourage people from enjoying their ambience? Crazies.
For newcomers to the city, having two prices displayed for the same item is confusing, and the idea of having to pay more to eat it in doesn't even occur.
3. Pubs close surprising early
Well before midnight. Know this: pubs are places for after work drinks, Sunday roasts, and to watch the game (whatever the game may be this week), not to drink until the small hours and dance the night away. But don't worry; almost all UK pubs are fitted with an old-fashioned bell which is faithfully rung each night to let you know when last drinks are being served. Plus, there's definitely no shortage of bars in London to hit up once pub hour is over.
If you look for it, you'll see a bell faithfully hanging behind the bar in just about every pub in London.
4. Appearances can be misleading; Londoners aren't really as cold-hearted as they may seem
Tourists often comment on the cold nature of Londoners, and it's true that there is a certain disregard displayed by Londoners towards non-locals, but I believe this is genuinely down to the fact that there are simply too many people in the city to be constantly open and kind towards (9 million, in case you were wondering). When it comes down to it though, Londoners have heart, and plenty of it. When my visiting mum took a nasty fall in Piccadilly, numerous people rushed to her aide, and went above and beyond to help her, from buying ice for her rapidly bruising face, to staying with her until my sister could come and meet her. Additionally, I often see members of the busy rush hour throng break away from the crowd to quietly drop off a supermarket bag full of food and drink for homeless people outside my tube stop. I hear countless snippets of similar kindness recounted in the office or overheard on the tube. Cue the warm fuzzy feelings.
Despite appearances, Londoners have heart, and plenty of it
5. Stand on the right, walk on the god damn left
You're bound to learn this one on your first day in the city, but still, it might be nice to know going in, rather than learning through the passive-aggressive wrath of rush hour locals before their morning coffee... *the terror.* I should mention, I am now wholeheartedly a member of said sector... JUST STAND ON THE RIGHT, OK? Please. There are signs and everything.
You'd think the signs in every tube station every few metres would make it pretty clear
6. Speaking of signs, passive-aggressive notes to the public can be found everywhere
They’re a perfect reflection of Londoners' funny mix of
Refusal to be outright rude and;
Determination to nonetheless keep a little order
Playing ball games in a non-designated area?! I should think not!
7. There's more green space than you'd think, but you can’t enjoy all of it
London isn't the concrete jungle many foreigners imagine it to be; it is actually the world’s third greenest city, with a whopping 47% of it being green space. We're not just talking small urban squares of green either (though those are numerous and seriously lovely), we're talking vast areas of untamed green landscape, complete with deer, rabbits, swans and squirrels. Is this some kind of Disney wonderland?! Particularly noteworthy is the beautiful Hampstead Heath, and deer-filled Richmond Park. As hilariously discussed by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill though, some inner city squares in the more posh neighbourhoods aren’t for everyone to enjoy, and are there exclusively for inhabitants of that one square. #tooposh
Meadows full of wild flowers in Hampstead Heath
London's green spaces make a great spot for a date, and some are big enough that, despite London's population, you barely see any other people
Endless wild flowers and leafy green trees to day dream beneath!
Pretty ponds, bridges, fields and wildlife make places like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park a perfect spot for London kids to get their green on
Oh London, don't ever change.