17.12.13

Why Living in London Sucks

So, a funny thing happened the other day. I got an e-mail from Blogger, asking me to approve a comment for a post I wrote more than a year ago. It was from a person I didn't know, and it wasn't spam. I won't lie, I swelled with pride for a second. Then I berated myself for not keeping up with the blog, and then I decided that it was time for a new post.

The thing is, I don't have much to complain about these days. Life is pretty good. I'm constantly tired and in the middle of things, but London hasn't been treating me as horribly as when I first moved here.

So, why a "Living in London Sucks" post?

First of all, it's because of a certain person in my life whose favourite pastime is to complain about London. If nothing else, this post will make him so happy that I expect to be showered with gifts.

(...for the gifts.)

Secondly, I think I've reached that certain point where I can take a step back and see things clearly. When I first arrived here, I had this image in my head of what life in London would be like, and it looked a bit like this:




In my head, London had everything I ever needed. Here I would find the career that would make me rich (straight away), the meaningful relationship I was in search of (straight away), the life that I desperately wanted to lead, complete with the pet, the house, the free time and the parties, the travelling, the success, etc. (straight away).

If I had the opportunity to go back in time now and talk to my 2011 self about his expectations, this is all that I would say:


Maybe I would follow that up with a bitch-slap, just for good measure.

To be clear: I don't hate London. It's a beautiful city, and the past three years have been, despite the bad moments, pretty much great. But, like everything else in the world, London has its downsides. And that's what I want to talk about. Not just for me, but also for the hordes of foreigners who arrive in London every day, expecting to find everything their countries couldn't offer them, handed on a silver plate. So, this is for you, my (mostly Spanish, Italian and Greek) friends. Here are five things about living in London that totally suck.

1. It will change the way you view yourself and everyone else.

I've lived in London for two years now. In these two years, I have witnessed drunk girls stumbling on wet pavements, looking for the high heels they lost somewhere along the way. I have seen guys in tight briefs and red hats in the middle of December, running through central streets for charity. I have met a woman dressed and made up like the Joker on King's Road, and a teenage girl dressed like a Japanese anime character in Canning Town. I have taken the same train as guys in bunny onesies, guys in just their boxer briefs and sneakers, girls bawling their eyes out, Amish families, and well-dressed crazy Christians who spent twenty minutes shouting in the wagon that we are all going to hell.

And I haven't blinked twice in any of those occasions.

(Especially in this one.)*

On one hand, it's sort of exciting to be that free. You realise that you can do anything, and no one will care. An acquaintance of mine once peed against a newsstand in Oxford Street in the middle of a crowd, and no one even noticed. Or if they noticed, they didn't care. (For the sake of accuracy, I'll concede that it was midnight, but Oxford Street was still full of people -- and not all of them were drunk.)

On the other hand, however, it's also kind of sad, because the reason you don't notice these things is exactly because you don't care. After a few months in London, you become a bit jaded -- a bit older on the inside. Big city life makes you grumpy. Sure, the first few times you'll react when you see someone sporting pyjamas in the tube... but after a while, your automatic response will become: "So what?"


This desensitisation, of course, wouldn't be a problem if it didn't manifest in other ways as well. The 8.000.000 other people around you become faceless entities. You become rude to them because you don't think of them as people. You mutter insults when someone blocks you on the pavement by walking slowly in front of you. You chat on your mobile phone loudly on the bus at 7 a.m., not giving a damn about your fellow passengers. You pretend to be focused on the book you're reading when a pregnant woman enters the train after you've finally secured a seat.

London can make you quite cynical, and it's hard to shake this attitude off.

Why do you think I started this blog about two months after I moved here?

(I started this blog to have a platform to shamelessly promote my books? WHO? ME?)

2. You will spend your life on trains and buses.

For more detailed information on why London Underground sucks, please refer to this post.

Since part one was mostly depressing, here's a funny story for you: I have a friend in Athens, let's call her Valerie. Valerie lives on the same train line as my parents (Athens only has three lines, so it's not that big an achievement), but she lives on the opposite end of it. If I were to take the train from my house to her area, it would take me about 40-45 minutes -- which is why, when she asks me if I can go all the way there instead of meeting her somewhere in the middle, my usual response is this:

(I'm using another Hunter Parrish gif because of our striking resemblance.)

If I do have to go all the way to her area up in Marousi, I complain about it, I scoff and stomp my foot like a petulant child, and I make sure to take a novel with me and charge my phone so that I have something to do for the journey.

Now take a wild guess as to how long it takes me to get to work in London.

(Drumroll...)

Yep. 40-45 minutes.

The sort of distance that makes me scoff and complain in Athens is absolutely normal for London. Of course, it makes sense: Athens might be a big city, but it cannot be compared to London, whose population is 3 millions less than the population of Greece. Switching train lines twice in Athens is inconceivable -- I'd rather pay money for a taxi than get stuck waiting for the Blue Line, and then the Red Line, and then the Green Line, etc. In London, I take the Piccadilly, Victoria and District Lines every day that I have to go to work, and instead of being upset, I'm thankful I don't need to take a bus on top of that. I currently volunteer at a school in Middlesex twice a week, and it takes me a mighty 80-85 minutes to get there. And I don't think twice about it.

A friend of mine who used to live in London once calculated how much time she had spent on the tube in one year. I don't remember exactly how much it was, but it was close to two weeks, I think.

Two weeks of her life. In the tube.

And that's normal here.

("Are we in Arnos Grove yet?")

3. You will eat horrible food most of the time.


OK, so this is a bit presumptuous. Living in London doesn't necessarily mean you'll eat horrible food all the time... but it sure as hell isn't easy to have healthy food all the time, either.

First of all, vegetables are so expensive here you'd think they layer them with gold before they put them on the shelves.

Just to explain the point I'm making, here's where you would normally buy fruit and vegetables in Athens:


This is a market. There's one in every single area in Athens, and it's set up on a specific day once a week. For example, where my parents live, there is a street where every Tuesday dozens of stands like the ones in the picture spring up and local residents show up with trolleys to buy the fruit and vegetables they need for the week. But if you forget something, you don't have to fret! You can just pop into the nearest grocery store and you're sure to find your fennel, your tomatoes or your spinach leaves, coming directly from the countryside and the islands.

Now imagine this happening in London. Imagine if large markets like this sprung up once a week in Marble Arch, in Liverpool Street, in Piccadilly Circus, in Leicester Square... We're not talking here and there -- we're talking every. single. area. This is how these people in Athens make their living: they move their stands to different areas, Monday to Friday.

Meanwhile, in London, you have this:

(Mmmm... Yummy.)

It's not London's fault, of course. Like it or not, England's not the best place to grow plants. And as I said, it's not impossible to eat healthily in London. You can find markets like the ones in Athens in some places... You just have to know where to find them, and show up with a stuffed wallet. Eating healthily in London is feasible, but it requires twice the money, twice the effort and twice the time, compared to other cities. But the problem is, you don't have all that. Even if have the money, you probably still won't have the time.

And that brings us to...

4. You won't have time for all the fun things you could be doing.


"Come on, Noel!" I hear you say. "This isn't a London thing, it's an adult life thing!" And you're right. You're absolutely right. Life as an adult consists of work, obligations and some more work, accompanied by some more obligations. Of course, you will go out whenever you can, and you will relax at home whenever you can, and life won't be all about working, but you will spend a respectable amount of your day doing just that: working.

The difference with London is a combination of points #1 and #2.

First of all, if you add the time it takes you to get to work and back home after, you spend a good ten hours away from home, at least. (The certain person in my life I mentioned above, for example, takes 90 minutes to get to work and another 90 to come back -- on a good day.)

Secondly, unless you live in central London or plan to go out there every single night, you can forget about having dinner and grabbing a coffee or a pint after 9 p.m. I live in zone 3, which is not the most central area in London, but it's not considered Greater London either. The closest places to go shopping or drinking are in Wood Green (which is a fucking horrible place) and Muswell Hill. Coffee shops in Muswell Hill close at 7 p.m. Restaurants are empty by 8 p.m. There's only one pub, and it shuts down at 12. While in Athens I could be chatting with a group of friends and having rakomela in a Cretan taverna in Exarchia at 1 a.m. on a Monday night, in London I'd probably be having my third dream by then already.

Let me break it down for you:


My goodness, doesn't that sound like...


Of course, I'm not saying it's impossible to have fun in London -- quite the contrary, there are plenty of things to do every single day, and plenty of places to discover. There are, however, four recurring problems:

(a) Most of your friends will be so busy and/or live so far from you, you will have to make plans far in advance in order to meet.

(b) Everything is fucking expensive.

(c) Most places close way too early.

(d) This is what it looks like at 4 p.m. in the winter in London:


(Coincidentally, this is also the image used in the back cover of my recently published book, Fright Radio!)


And on this very happy note, let's finish you off with:

5. You will learn the true meaning of the word 'goodbye'.


And I mean this. You will say goodbye. A lot.

(And you will cry.)

You see, London is a Metropolitan city and, while this is great because you get to meet all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of cultures, it also sucks because there's a constant influx and exodus of immigrants. People come to London to study; they come to learn or improve their English; they come to get a job for a few months and gain some experience. They stay here for a few months or years, and then they move on to new pastures or return to their homeland.

(No, not this one.)

Chances are, you will meet those people. You will like those people, then you will love them, and then they will go away.

In the past two years, I've had to say goodbye to more than ten people who left London for good. And it sucked every single time.

Of course, chances are you will be one of those people. But you'll still have to say goodbyes, so the point still stands.

Oh, and before I forget...

6. Yes, the weather sucks!




And what's more, London really doesn't know how to cope with it. (Just wait for your first "severe delays" announcements on the tube. Then you'll experience the fun.)


Just to be clear: as I said before, I don't hate London. I understand that many of these problems are not exclusive to it, and no city is absolutely perfect. But you need to know these things before you embark on a journey towards a brand new life here. You need to know that while London does have a lot of things to offer, it has many downsides as well. These are just some of them, and they are the ones that have annoyed me the most in the past two years.

So, here you have it.

I promise my next post will be funnier than this one. Here's a picture of a penguin to compensate:



*Credits to Giorgia Marchesiani for the picture.

7 comments:

  1. Trouble is everywhere else sucks too. And you gotta be somewhere.

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  2. where you come from again ?

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  3. all very true and well said - I lived in London for 22 years and finally quit and moved to Asia this year! I could add a few business related things (commercial, legal stuff) which London sucks in - but I won't bother 'cus that is too grown-up!

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  4. fucking true man...

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  5. Absolutely agree...you read my mind

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  6. So true! Cannot wait to leave London in 3 monthes

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