OFFTOPIC - Things no one tells you about moving to London

I moved to London when I was 22 and only came back to Romania a few months ago.

I went there on a holiday, with just a half-empty suitcase (wanted to bring home souvenirs) and I ended up staying for good.

I had no research, I knew nothing about the city besides the touristy places to visit, I had no idea what it implied to move there. And maybe that's why I did it so easily. By day 10 in London, I had rented a room, had a job and an appointment to get my National Insurance Number.

But there are a few things that even with research, I would've had NO idea they would happen.

1. Prepare to get sick. A lot.

I don't really know the science behind it, but I know this: the first 6 months in London were just awful. I always seemed to have some type of flu or cold. It probably has something to do with a different environment, microbes, climate and all that stuff. But, prepare yourself, because your immune system is going to take a hit.

2. It will take you about 2 weeks to understand the Brits and up to a year to identify where they are from based on their accents. 

I still remember going to a Waitrose in my second day in London and I couldn't understand anything the lady from the counter was telling me. So after asking her to repeat for like 3 times, I just ended up nodding. I still have no idea what she told me, since it had no direct consequence after.

It took me about 2 weeks to begin to understand what they were saying. Or at list deduce it intuitively. But all accents sounded more or less the same to me for about a year. 

And I stopped trying to fake the London accent (that's right, Londoners have their own unique accent vs the rest of the country). I will never forget how I was trying to fake it once with a new acquaintance and she had no idea, since she told me "Your accent is delightfully Romanian". She meant it as a good thing. For me it was like a slap in the face 😂. But I don't really care about that anymore. In London, you'll fit in with any accent. As long as you're articulate and coherent, all will be fine.

3. You will change.

Drastically. I used to be a major introvert. I used to be scared of so many things. I used to hate talking on the phone and I avoided it as much as possible. I didn't think of myself as a person who took too many risks (although my friends will probably disagree now). I always went for the steady stuff. However, when I moved to London, I changed by default. I became an extrovert, I was forced to talk to strangers, I took risks from basically day 1. I learned to speak my mind and impose my boundaries.

4. It's a new chance to change/renew your mindset.

You know the life you secretly want to live but never had the courage to go for? Something probably already popped into your mind. By moving abroad, I learned that you can do anything you want and be appreciated for it. Once I moved away from my normal environment, I flourished. Being on my own, in a foreign country, did that to me. I learned how to be independent. I learned that I needed to go after what I wanted. I found my passion and pursued it. I never thought I could fail, which is probably why I didn't. My mindset changed completely. You often hear about the "American Dream". Well, London provided that for me instead. I had my dream job and afterwards I accomplished a dream I always saw myself doing only after turning 40: I founded a business, Social Babe. And I was only 24 at the time! I went after what I wanted aggressively. And I don't regret it one bit.

5. You'll be FREE.

I was by myself. I knew one person in the whole city and the last time I saw him was when I moved to my rented room. So by day 10 in the city, I basically had no one. Which, to some, can be scary. For me, it really wasn't. It got lonely sometimes, but not scary. I actually enjoyed it immensely. I met so many people, from many walks of life, and every one of them taught me something.

6. You'll stop comparing yourself to others.

Back home, especially when you're going to school or Uni, you are comparing yourself to others all the time. I think this is universal. When you are growing up and are surrounded by the same people, you are going to compare and measure yourself based on what you see in others. Moving to a foreign country frees you from that. You are alone. Nobody around you cares about what you do, how much you earn or what you wear. Especially in a big city like London, you can do what you want and no one will judge you for it.

7. London is DIVERSE. 

I met people from all over the world and it's always amazing how you'll find things in common with people that come from the other side of the world. For example, Romanians and South Africans have the same pride in their BBQ's, almost the same techniques and have the same frustrations about their countries. Who knew?

You can do whatever you want. If you want to go shopping, you have 2 Westfields, one of which is the biggest Shopping Mall in Europe. If you want to go to the theatre, a concert, a movie, you got the best places out there. If you wanted ice cream at 4am, you had it 5 minutes away tops. If you walked into a bar to get a drink by yourself, very soon you'll find friendly company. 

If you are a gourmet eater, you'll have thousands of restaurant choices with cuisines from all around the world. My favorite are Vietnamese, Spanish and Chinese. An extra benefit? You can have it delivered to your home in less than 20 minutes if you don't feel like going out! 

Looking for cheap food? London has you covered for that too. With places like Five Guys (hands down NO 1.), Doner Kebab, KFC, Burger Kind, Taco Bell, Franco Manca, you'll never feel out of options. And you also have healthy affordable options, like Leon or itsu. 

8. You will get tired of being a "tourist". 

When friends will come visit you from back home and they'll only want to see museums and touristy landmarks, it will frustrate you. 

Why? Because by this time, you'll already know the city by heart and you'll view the landmarks overrated. 

You'd much rather enjoy a good glass of wine in Convent Garden, watch the sunset in Primrose Hill, have paella on Saturday mornings from Portobello Road, walk through Kensington Park, go bar hopping in Liverpool Street or have lunch at St. Katherine Docks. But no, they will all be obsessed with Tower Bridge, the Big Ben (which is under construction BTW, so you WON'T SEE IT!), Westminster Abbey, the London Eye and all that touristy stuff. 

Suck it up, you were once like them ;). 

9. You will loose your sense of "home". 

This is the weirdest one for me. While I was in the UK, I almost felt like home. I felt like I belonged. But in my brain, Romania was still my home country. I expected to return here and I'll automatically be back at home. You expect to come home and everything will be exactly the same as when you left.

Guess what? It's been a while and I don't feel at home at all. But London is not my home either. I expected to come back and have the same experience as before I left. I forgot to take into account that 3+ years have passed, I had grown up since then and got used to some amenities that I don't have anymore, whilst my friends went on and created their own lives. 

The pandemic didn't help either. For someone who's used to travelling pretty often, this situation made me feel trapped. 

10. You will be strangely proud of the TFL - London's public transport system. And you'll accept the idea of not owning a car.

Bus stops are never farther than 5 minutes away from your house. For a year, I had a bus stop in front of the house.  

Busses come every 5-10-15 minutes, but there's usually more than one line heading towards where you want. Most of the time, I spent a maximum of 4-5 minutes waiting for the bus. 

The tube is even better. You'll learn to not run for it if it's in front of you and you're just going down the stairs. Because another one comes in 2 minutes. Unless it snowed 5 minutes that day. Then all hell breaks loose.

You have trains that cross the city in under 20 minutes. 

And you'll soon come to realise there's absolutely no point in owning a car. Not only are they expensive to maintain, but what would be 30 minutes by taking the tube, it would take you 2 hours by driving there and at least one parking ticket a week. You'll learn to be efficient also. In the tube, you'll use that time to catch up on your emails before work or use it as a time to read or simply relax by listening to music. 

Some would argue that you can't really do much because the tubes are so crowded. But there are workarounds about that if you spend long enough testing ;). 

11. You won't have many friends. 

Unless your friends live very close to you, you won't see them much. But the question whether you can make real friends still stands. 

London is a very fast paced city. With most of its inhabitants working between 8-10 hours a day + an average commute of at least 1 hour daily, there's not much time left for socializing. You will find yourself always in a hurry. 

Sure, you'll go down to the pub on Friday evenings and it will feel like you're making friends instantly. You'll have a good night out, but you'll never see most of those people again. Because there are so many pubs in London, that you will very rarely go to the same one twice.

Unless you have a good environment at work or some friends from other walks of life, you won't meet many new people that'll turn into friends. But you won't really think about that a lot. You're as busy as everybody else, so it will just pop in your mind from time to time. 

12. The weather is not so bad. 

To be quite honest, I actually loved the weather. Warm-ish winters (the coldest day I ever experienced there was -2°C). It doesn't rain as much as people think. My first autumn there, it only rained for like 5 days in 3 months. On my birthday (in December), there were 19°C. I remember flying to Budapest, I only had a jacket on and when I landed in Budapest there were -11°C. I could barely drive until I warmed up in the car. Talk about temperature difference! 

But brace yourself. Because of the humidity and position, 28°C will feel like 40°C in other places. The good news is, that usually lasts for a few weeks in July and that's it. The remainder of the year, it's not really hot, more like warm. 

Ah, and Brits love complaining about it. Doesn't matter if it's raining, if it's sunny, if it's hot or cold. Every single day of your life there, someone WILL bring up the weather!

13. Housing options are just awful or very expensive. 

Moving on to the last point and the worse one. 

Good affordable housing in London is hard to find. I've worked in the real estate world for 2 years and I've gotten pretty good at estimating prices based on boroughs, amenities, proximity to transport etc. 

When you are a newbie in London, you will be forced to rent a room in a house share. Unless you are some richie rich person. But most of us started there. If you are not used to the concept, is really hard to wrap your head around it. Sharing a house with 3-4 strangers (that's a good scenario) and paying £700 for that. You'll learn to adjust, see what times are best for using the kitchen, bathroom or the washing machine etc. You'll learn to hide your stuff, otherwise your well meaning house mates will use your plates and forget to wash them, leaving them there to rot. You'll enjoy the Holidays, where everyone goes home and you'll have the house for yourself. Then you'll feel alone and regret staying there. 

It's a roller coaster. But housing is really expensive. 

Another shock for me is when I bought a TV and I wanted to hang it on a wall in a living room. And after drilling a few holes, we realised the wall wasn't strong enough to hold it! Most houses are poorly made. You will have 0 privacy, as the walls are very thin. Listening to loud music is out of the question.

And if you want to live alone (or with a partner), in a best case scenario, it will cost you about ~£2000 per month, including council tax and everything. But I had lettings that went up to £20,000 per month and shockingly to me, there were people who rented that and paid a year in advance!

 

So this is what it's like moving to London. Even with all the cons, I still recommend everyone to at least visit it, because it's an incredible city!

 

Until next time, 

Carmen