Considering a new life in London? Or, if you're already here, are you toying with the idea of saying, “Sod it!” and finally breaking camp?
With Brexit looming, let’s have a look at what's what.
London seems to be one of those magnetic cities where time moves differently than it does elsewhere. Curious travelers stop by for a pit stop, but more often than not end up staying – some for life. Statistics back this up, with about 40% of London residents classified as ‘foreign-born’ (that’s an official term, promise – I know it sounds a bit Trumpey). Over 300 recorded languages are being spoken in the city’s schools, making London a sort of modern-day Babel.
I’ve called The Big Smoke my home for six years now – not that that was the plan. It just kind of.. happened. Along the way, I’ve made friends for life, grew professionally, learned how to queue properly and how to be comfortable in dangerously large crowds. I’ve adjusted my expectations of how much a cup of coffee should cost ($3 on average, apparently), and I’ve learned that in a competitive city like this, falling on your face time and time again is standard practice. I’ve felt disappointment and loss like never before, and I’ve also had the best times of my life.
Boiling the last six years down to a few bullet points isn’t an easy feat, but if I had to choose my top London pros and cons, these puppies would be it:
London’s a bustling metropolis, bursting at the seams with a rich and diverse culture. Being a Third Culture Kid myself, I love the fact there’s no such thing as the “a true Londoner”. You’re craving Nigerian food for dinner? No problem. Here are 28 options. Want to learn more about Nepalese culture? Check out this exhibition. Weird, experimental Indian-inspired cocktails? Bottoms up. What’s your poison? Whatever it may be, London’s got it.
2. An open-minded outlook
Inevitably, where you’ve got millions of people from diverse backgrounds cramped into a tiny island, they’ll have to find a way to get along. As a result, you’re eventually left with an above average concentration of liberal, open-minded individuals. The other day I saw a guy wearing a bear costume on the tube; no one cared. Cross-dressing, animal outfits, goths, punks, underwear, whatever – come as you are. No one gives a crap, and that’s awesome.
3. Jobs, jobs, jobs
Google, Apple, HSBC, Uber, Vodafone, Unilever, Virgin, BBC…everyone’s here. It’s a big, happy, capitalist family. Unlike other countries with several high-powered hubs, a third of England’s economy is generated in London. In terms of work experience and pimping up your CV, London’s a goldmine.
4. Let’s get it on (part 1)
London’s median age is 34. THIRTY-FOUR. Just to provide you with a frame of reference: New York City, also considered a ‘young city’, has an average age of 38. Berlin’s lies around 45 mark. Young, attractive people from all across the globe try to make it in London. And part of making it when you’re a young, attractive, single (though not in all instances) suburbanite is going on dates. Lots of ‘em. This is great news for anyone who’s single and ready to mingle. And by mingle, I don’t mean getting shacked up. Londoners in their twenties and thirties (and often into their forties) have absolutely no desire to settle down. But more on that later.
5. It’s all about connections
London boasts – count ‘em – six airports! Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend, and City. It’s also got the Eurostar, waiting to whisk you away to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges or Lille at a moment’s (and all your hard-earned money’s) notice. The public transport system, though massively overcrowded, is efficient and will get you from A to B at ridiculous speeds (we tend to forget this, as the distances we travel within the city are substantial). The average speed of a Tube train is 33 km/h, handling over 4.5 million journeys per day. In comparison, the Paris metro travels at around 20 km/h.
As of 2017, nearly 9 million people call London their home. This number keeps increasing, and it’s palpable. When I arrived here in 2011, London was overcrowded, but it’s a whole different ballgame now. Try taking the tube at rush hour, and if you’re one of the luck buggers even making it onto a train (closing down key stations at peak times in order to combat overcrowding is common practice now), you’ll soon realize that the concept of personal space doesn’t exist. I’ve been closer to random people’s genitals, armpits, and faces than I ever cared to be.
It’s not just public transport, though. Remember when Patrick Bateman tried to make a reservation at Dorsia (it’s a fictional restaurant, no need to Google it), and the Maitre D’ starts laughing hysterically? Welcome to London on a Tuesday night. Most restaurants have realized by now that not taking reservations in the first place means more moolah in their pockets, so get ready to queue for an hour and half for your T-Bone. If you’re unwilling, book a couple of weeks ahead of time.
2. Competition’s stiff
Remember when I waxed poetic about all those CV-busting companies based in London? (Hopefully you'll remember, it was a few seconds ago.) Still true. Thing is, competition in London is fierce. So, you’ve got four degrees, speak six languages and have ten years’ work experience? Big whoop. That dude over there speaks eight languages and will do it for half the price. Getting on the career ladder in London will test both your patience and your sense of self-worth. Once you’ve made it, the upward journey gets a little easier, but man, your ego will take a good ol’ beating in the meantime.
3. Money makes the world go round
This is true for most sought-after international hubs, and London’s no exception. Be prepared to shell out a good chunk (around 66% of your monthly income) on rent. On average, Londoners spend two thirds of their income on having a roof over their heads. Side note: Those roofs are often pretty damn shabby. Defying all odds, the housing bubble hasn’t burst yet, and rents have steadily climbed into farcical heights. In comparison, Berliner’s spend a measly 28% of their hard-earned cash on rent. Stings, doesn’t it?
4. “Stress is my middle name”
Work hard, play hard doesn’t even begin to cover it. Londoners work really damn hard and drink even harder in order to forget how damn hard they work. Which makes the next day in the office even gnarlier, and so the cycle continues. London’s economy is booming, and there’s a reason for that: Londoners are actually robots. Robots who walk twice as quickly as anyone else in the world (Berliners seems catatonic in comparison), need less sleep, and don’t mind having their pints in the freezing cold, while they’re betting battered with horizontal rain. Sure, burnout might be a thing in Mainland Europe, but here, it’s all about the stiff upper lip. On you go, mate.
5. Where the sun don’t shine
That pretty much sums it up. The sun, when it does decide to make an appearance, is more of a supporting player rather than a series regular. If you like the feeling of waking up to sunbeams gently tickling your nose or, let’s say, not looking as though you’ve just accidentally been locked in a Cryo Chamber for a day and a half, London’s not for you. You might try Barcelona.
6. Let’s get in on (part 2)
While you won’t have a hard time meeting *cough cough* new people, the part that’s a bit trickier is finding someone who’s looking for a relationship. I could compile a book out of stories – some my own, some told to me by distraught friends – that would read like Sex and the City – The Later Years. But I won’t. That shit is too depressing.
While no one’s ever really been too sure about what “Brexit means Brexit” actually means, it’s now become crystal clear that Prime Minister Theresa May is pushing the UK’s divorce from the European Union through at all costs. Whether this means Britain will be leaving the open market for good, or whether free movement of people between the UK and the EU will be restricted remains to be seen. We don’t know much at this point, but what we do know is that things will change – and pretty drastically. Only recently, the BBC reported that rent prices are likely to reach previously unknown heights. But even if they won’t, this separation will hit London, a city famous for its international outlook, hard, with a good chunk of its multinational residents already considering clearing out in the near future.
So, what's the bottom line, mate? Like any bustling city, London will demand a lot from you before it lets you reap the rewards. The city will have you questioning why you decided to stick around in the first place. It’ll drain you, and it’ll take all of your money. It’ll bring you to your knees more than once. It’ll make you doubt all of your choices, and it’ll kick you while you’re down. And then, the first day of Spring arrives, and you fall in love with it all over again.
Now, it remains to be seen how the UK, and London in particular, will cope with the fallout caused by Brexit. Stay tuned…