Today marks exactly six months that we’ve been living in London. I’ve heard people say that time flies while you’re living here, but man, these past six months in London have felt more like one or two. If this keeps up, our three years are going to be up far sooner than I’m ready for them to be.
Ten weeks after we moved here, I wrote about adjusting to life in a big city in a new country, and I’m happy to report that I’ve adapted to almost everything I found perplexing those first few weeks. I can cross the street without causing a three car pile-up. I can properly pay for goods at the till. (Although, this weekend while in a rush, I did hand a cashier two 50 pence coins instead of one because in my distraction I mistook them for quarters. I realized my mistake when she handed one back to me with my receipt.) I’ve found suitable replacements for almost everything I’m used to back home – that goes for both food and personal care products. And the thing that bothered me the most when we first got here, the anonymity of living in a big city, is something I’ve learned to value. I still love the atmosphere of a small town, but there are times when I appreciate being able to leave the house and not be perceived as rude if I don’t acknowledge people as I pass them on the street or stop for friendly conversation with an acquaintance when I’m in a hurry.
While trying to think of something special to write about to commemorate our six months in London expat anniversary, I ended up developing a list of things I love about living in London and things I miss from back “home”. And since I always like to get the good news first, that’s where we’ll start. These are in no particular order of importance, because it’s just easier that way.
Things I Love About London
My weight in kilograms The number on the scale matches what I weighed in the second grade. I realize one kilogram is much heavier than one pound, but I have no desire to learn how to convert them back to pounds. Ignorance is bliss.
Proximity to the European continent This needs no further explaining.
Owning less stuff We have no house, no cars, and barely any possessions beyond clothing and kitchen utensils that actually belong to us. It is liberating.
Renting a flat Maybe it’s because living in our last house was like living in the movie Armageddon, but I really like not being responsible for anything here other than cleaning. And cleaning only happens when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, so even better.
The city lifestyle Eating out, going to the theater on the weekend, battling the crowds at markets and festivals – it’s all so different from our previous life of “it’s-the-weekend-so-we-should-probably-clean-out-the-chicken-coop”.
There is so much to do Even if you lived here for ten years and saw all the major shows, museums, and sights, there would still be events and new exhibitions cropping up to fill your time. I don’t see how anyone in London could ever be bored.
Walking everywhere With no car, if where I’m going is a mile or less away, I just walk it. This makes my butt look good.
Public transportation If I can’t walk it, I just take the bus or the tube. If you factor in speeding tickets and car accidents, both of which happen to me more than your average human, public transportation is saving us a boatload of money. Plus, Lexie gets to go on the bus for free!
Tax is already built into the price I always know what I’m going to pay at the till no matter what store I’m in. This is just easier. Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?
I can take money out of any ATM I please This may seem minor, but there are never any fees taken out when using another bank’s ATM, so I can use whichever is closest. I don’t even know where my real bank actually is.
There aren’t any bugs in our flat I don’t know what sort of insect warfare went on during the night at our previous house, but every morning I’d spend twenty minutes picking up cricket corpses in various stages of death from the floor. It was disturbing. Here, I’ve disposed of a total of two.
So many different nationalities are represented here I’ve heard it mentioned that London is made of 50% British folks and 50% everybody else. Statistically speaking, I don’t know how correct that statement is, but in my own experience it sounds about right. There are many benefits to living in a multicultural city, but the one I notice the most as an expat is that it keeps me from feeling like so much of an outsider.
The parks They are everywhere, and I love them all. The enormous ones satisfy my desire to be in wide open spaces when the city starts feeling claustrophobic, and the smaller, more intimate ones make me feel as if I have my own private garden.
The food Those of you who come from big cities with diverse populations might not find this quite as life-altering as I do, but when you come from the land of Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters, London’s dining options will make you never want to cook a meal at home ever again.
Things I Miss Back “Home”
Closet space In a city where fashion is so important, I can’t understand why closet space is so limited. What do people do? Only own 5-6 fantastic outfits and just rotate them every week?
Grape jelly I’m convinced all of the grapes in Europe must be grown solely to make wine. Strawberry and raspberry just aren’t cutting it – my peanut butter sandwiches miss their favorite jelly.
Taking care of something I have an 11-year-old daughter, but at this point she practically takes care of herself. I miss tending to my plants, my vegetables, and the chickens. I don’t even have a houseplant here because we’re gone so often that it’d never survive. Granted, this does free up my time for things like friends and hobbies, but I still miss being able to nurture something that needed me.
Familiar clothing sizes I’ve been here six months and still don’t know my shoe size or dress size. Even within the same store it can vary, sometimes drastically. I miss being able to walk into a shoe store and not have to try on the same shoe in four different sizes.
Tumble dryers This is like the third time I’ve complained about this, so I’ll try to make it the last, but honestly, when you have to dry your clothes like this…
…it means you’re only going to be able to get one load done every day. I miss the days when I could get two weeks worth of laundry completed in one afternoon. And I miss being able to wash more than 10 items of clothing at a time. And I miss how fitted my jeans were when the dryer would shrink them. And I miss having clothes that weren’t washed in such hard water that they could practically stand up straight on their own afterwards. Okay, rant complete. Moving on.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show I am happiest when I have Ellen in my life. Why, oh why is her talk show not aired here?
Always knowing where to find things Back home, if Lexie needed a calculator for school, we’d run to Walmart. If I needed a gift bag, we’d go to the Dollar Store, and so on. I always knew where to find the things I needed. I’m slowly catching on, but I still find myself googling, ‘where do I buy ____ in the uk’ more often than not.
Sitting around the fire This time of year it’s hard not to miss living in the country where we’d have big bonfires with friends after clearing trees and brush, or if we wanted to be really cozy, light a fire in our fireplace and cuddle on the couch watching movies. Our landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I tried to recreate that warm, crackling glow in our fireplace-less living room.
Milky Way candy bars I was elated when I first arrived here and saw Milky Ways sold in Sainsbury’s, albeit in a different packaging. But it was all a mean trick. A UK Milky Way is not in the least bit similar to a US Milky Way. All Milky Ways are not created equal!
American holiday celebrations London deserves a big pat on the back here because they do try to accommodate the many nationalities living in their city, but it’s just not the same. Trying to recreate the excitement, and in some respects the redneckness, of the Fourth of July without actually being in America? No one should have to try to attempt that.
*This is by no means an exhaustive list in either category, but they’re the things that first came to mind when I sat down to write. I am delighted to see that my “love” list is considerably longer than my “miss” list. Some days it doesn’t feel that way, especially this week as Thanksgiving is approaching, my favorite of all the holidays. In 30 years, I have only missed spending Thanksgiving with my family one time. ONE TIME! I am trying not to be disappointed by the fact that no matter what I do to my vegetables, they’ll never taste as good as they do at my grandmother’s house.