It’s been a while, hasn’t it? To tell you the truth, the past month has been all sorts of crazy. Spurred on by the Brexit insanity (call it an act of defiance or reverse psychology), we finally did what we’d been talking about for over a year, got an apartment, and moved to London.
Well, “moved” is probably a strong word for the moment: Artie has seen the apartment once, with the realtor still in it. We still don’t have an Internet connection (a bit of a hiccup for someone who primarily works online), or a proper bed (more on that later), and I have had the honour of spending a total of seven days at the place, with a week in Vilnius in between to recuperate from the first impressions.
Here she was, naïve little me, thinking that after three previous house moves half across the continent we were pretty much immune to cultural shock. Well, this ain’t the continent, baby. So here goes my list of practical observations from my first week of being a proper Londoner, with no cosy hotel room & lobby bar to retreat to when all the Britishness becomes too much to handle:
- Respect the Seagull Mafia. The first morning I jumped out of bed to the sound of wild shrieks, which could only be a rabid cat being torn to pieces by a bloodthirsty pterodactyl. Turns out I wasn’t far from the truth. They are noisy, they are angry, they are huge and scary, and they run the place. You don’t realise it until you’ve lived here, but seagulls are really badass; they are literally everywhere. They’ve mastered mafia-style intimidation techniques, and can get really nasty if pissed off. You don’t want to mess with the seagulls.
- Welcome to Hogwarts, here is your personal spell. Artie pointed this out when we were here last summer: to foreign ears, all the street, district, and tube station names sound like they’ve come straight out of Lord of the Rings.When your ears become more local, you realise it’s actually full-on Harry Potter land around here. And, as a bonus, when you move into your British home, you are assigned your personal spell. Ours is WC1X. (Not telling you the other part. I was amazed at how specific these are – there are literally ten buildings in our code). Good thing is you memorise your personal spell really fast, cause if you say “I don’t know it off the top of my head”, people look at you funny. It’s like having a neon TOURIST sign flashing on your forehead. And, you need it for everything. It opens doors and online utility accounts, summons online groceries to your doorstep, tells your GPS where to go, and makes credit cards work (even if they are originally registered in another country :)) The amazing postcode spell sorts out anything you’ve ever needed in life.
- And now, learn your International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet. You know, the “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie…” Somehow, I’ve always been lazy about this. I assumed I’d only ever need it for sailing (and we always keep a cheat sheet by the radio – if you’re making an emergency call, it’s better to be sure), or flying, if we get that serious about it. And now, it turns out that it’s one of those things you need for your daily existence. Especially when you have a kilometre-long Lithuanian name, and are trying to set up an account by phone, or calling the helpline for any other reason (because you still haven’t figured out the full magic power of the postcode spell).
Another spell to remember in Hogwarts.
- Old habits die hard. Britain is not the first country we’ve lived in where you need to pay for public broadcasting. Now, we haven’t owned a TV since 2002, and wouldn’t normally do this, but our lease requires us to get a TV licence just in case a rogue TV jumps in through the living room window and shows us some live BBC. It’s actually quite a convenient procedure to be done online (once you’ve figured out the full magic power of the postcode spell), but what really got me is that, while doing it online, you have an option of selecting and paying for a black-and-white TV licence. Wait, people still have those? Land of tradition, I guess.
- It’s the little things that get you. Or rather, what gets me is how tiny everything is. How in such a huge city with so many open spaces, people accept being compactly boxed into tiny houses and apartments with 2 metre wide back gardens and bedrooms where you can’t walk around the bed. Speaking of which…- Yes, and what’s wrong with it again? – Elle stares incredulously at me, and then back at the tiny piece of furniture.
– The contract said “a double bed”, – I insist, although her bewildered look tells me that on this planet, I’m not making any sense. I can distinctly remember the last time I slept in a bed this size – it was junior year in college.
– But it is…
– All right, can you please just remove it so we can buy our own?
A smile! We’re getting somewhere. The next day, IKEA enlightens me as to the fact that 135cm actually is the width of a standard double bed (last time I checked, this country was not inhabited by hobbits, but who knows?), and what I’m looking for is a European King Size that they don’t stock in store, and it has to be ordered online from their central warehouse. Needless to say, I immediately feel like European royalty. When it arrives in 2 weeks’ time, I will also feel like a proper Londoner knowing that there is barely any space in our bedroom to walk around the bed.
- Mixed emotions about mixed recycling. As a Central European with a 20-year-old history of recycling, to me the whole process is about sorting waste: paper and card goes in the blue bin, glass goes in the green, and plastic in the yellow one. Better yet, bottles and cans go into the collection machine against a deposit. So imagine my confusion when my new home borough of Camden tells me to throw everything in one bin with a catchy “mix it up!” Luckily, there are recycling bins right outside the house, but it will take some getting used to the “mixed recycling” idea.
- “Lunchtime”, “rush hour”, and “beer o’clock” are not just figures of speech. In smaller cities around Europe, we use these terms pretty liberally to define slight shifts in numbers of people, without thinking twice about what they actually mean. Here, they are phenomena of massive migration out of the office, flooding the fast food places and supermarkets, the streets and trains, and the pubs.The first time a saw a line of 50 people at a falafel shop near St. Paul’s, I thought, “Oh, they must be really good”. Then I got a reality check with a line at a Sainsbury’s Local. It started outside the shop door. When it’s rush hour, everyone is in transit. To the point where you physically cannot board a commuter train. (Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, my most convenient flight to Vilnius these days is an evening connection out of Luton, which means a lovely, sardine-in-a-can-themed ride on the Thameslink at 6pm). And at beer o’clock, everyone seems to be in the pub. The power of ritual.And then, suddenly, everything becomes peaceful. No people, no rush, just vast open spaces. And suddenly, I’m loving it. I think my favourite part about living here is going to be walking in the business district in the evening… Till then, I’ll make sure to keep you updated on my acclimatisation, and Artie’s, when he joins me in a couple of weeks.
Have you ever lived in London? Are you planning to? Or maybe you’ve moved away? Can you share some other observations or tips with us? Leave us a comment below!