Expat Life

Six Months in London: The Things I Love and Miss

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!

Six Months In London: The Things I Love And Miss

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…

Six Months In London: The Things I Love And Miss

…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.

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  • Shut Up and Go
    April 15, 2015 at 8:29 PM

    The Ellen Show! Agreed! When we were living in Paris for a year, we missed a lot of the “feel-good” things America provides. We also extremely missed peanut butter and chocolate milk!

  • Serviced Apartments Guy
    November 7, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    It’s funny because everyone knows who Ellen Degeneres is over here, it’s just her show isn’t aired!

  • Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    December 11, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    Ellen!!!?!?!? LOL. No online streaming? :(

  • Erika
    December 4, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    I love, love, loved reading this! I am so happy that you are adjusting so well to life in London! Everything you wrote about London is pretty much all of the things that made me love it! I am not a big city person, but there was something about London that I really enjoyed and made me feel so comfortable there! And oh, your laundry woes remind me of my own when I lived in France! Where it cost me like a minimum of $15 USD to do a load of laundry…

  • Nicole @ Treasure Tromp
    December 3, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    I am really looking forward to going back home to a tunable dryer!! And I love the kilograms :) ignorant bliss can be wonderful

  • Diana Bockus
    December 2, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    I LOVE your love list. It’s amazing the little things that you miss or take for granted once it’s out of your realm. If you want some Milky Way’s send me your address. ;) Do you have candy canes for the holiday’s or is that an American thing too?

    • Sarah Shumate
      December 3, 2013 at 9:11 AM

      You are so kind, Diana!!! We are actually headed home for Christmas, so I’m going to bring an empty suitcase with me and fill it with all of our American “necessities” to bring back with us to London. Milky ways will be safely packed in the suitcase. :o) You know, I haven’t noticed if candy canes are a Christmas treat here…I guess I just assumed they would be. I’ll start paying more attention and see!

  • Mandy Southgate
    November 29, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    Yay! Congrats for being here for six months (at least, I feel like congratulations should be in order). I’m finally in a position hwere I feel absolutely at home in London, to the point where everything in Johannesburg feels alien to me. And the only answer I have to your wardrobe conundrum is ‘Ikea’.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 29, 2013 at 4:29 PM

      How long did you live here before it really felt like home? I’m sure it is different for everyone, but the average it seems to me is that it takes about 2 years. Part of me hopes that Nashville never feels foreign, though. I don’t want to lose that piece of myself!

      • Mandy Southgate
        November 29, 2013 at 11:00 PM

        Hmmm, it was a long time. I’d say four years at least before I started meeting other expats and making friends. Before then, I already had friends in London but two of them moved home, meaning I had to get out and meet new people!

  • Katrin
    November 27, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    Love the list! Thanks so much for sharing! The sales tax in America is so confusing for me. I think the European way is much easier!
    And the candy bar names are really weird. I think an American Milky way is a German Mars bar and a German Milky Way is 3 Musketeers in America.

  • Jo
    November 27, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    I my word I got so frustrated when I was on the States when I learned that the price on the tag is not what you are going to end up paying … when you are as bad at maths as I am it is far better to have the price tag being the actual price. I can totally see how you are going to miss that when you go back.

    The parks …. that is something that I also thought was totally amazing when we moved over to Europe. Then again, when you consider that most people in the cities don’t have their own gardens it makes sense.

    Tumble dryers! O my word, I don’t know how you are managing without one. Would you not consider getting one for the next 3 years …

  • Stacie Stamper
    November 27, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    Milky Ways, huh? I’d definitely miss my candy!

  • Anna
    November 26, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    I love your love list, these are all things I love (and would make my miss list) but I feel your pain on some of the “miss” list, the clothing, wardrobe, drying situation is just ridiculous. One of my best friend’s has moved to Texas and she loves the space and many other things but we were having a little rant the other day about some of the same things like missing certain programs and not being able to find ‘my’ shampoo for example. There’s always something…. also I really want to try grape jelly know!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 27, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      I find it so bizarre that the most standard of jellies in the US are so exotic here in the UK. I can find elderberry jam and jelly with the word bramble in it here, but no grape. Blows my mind. I will personally make you a PB & J sandwich with grape jelly if I can ever find it.

  • Asmaa
    November 26, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    I loved reading this! Especially because most of the things are so normal to me- like the fact that we walk everywhere- I didn’t even see this as odd till someone else from the US commented on it! And you’re right about the multiculturalism (heck I see myself as British – even though I’m Somali and Muslim – as ethnic minority as they come Haha :P) most parts of England are like that- but methinks London is the most :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 27, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      A British Somalian Muslim, I think that makes you one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. :o)

      I think some cities in the US are more walk-able than others. We lived in a rural area, so it was about 12 miles to my daughter’s school, 35 miles to my husband’s office, and 7-8 miles to the closest grocery store. We would have gotten one heck of a workout if we didn’t have cars! ;o)

      • Asmaa
        November 27, 2013 at 9:45 PM

        Haha! Well that has made my day! And being the traveller you are I’m sure you’re Far more interesting than me :P

        Wowee! A car is a necessity! Side note- I do love rural areas! :)

  • Emmymom
    November 26, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    Oh I would so be in trouble with laundry as I am a once a week laundry kind of girl. That really would be such an awesome experience and so amazing all of the little trips you are taking while there.

  • Gina
    November 26, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    Happy six months! I have loved following along on your journey since I can so relate to so many of the things you are going through. I often read your posts nodding my head and sometimes I think you are reading my mind ~ so sad about the laundry situation lol! The time seems to fly by and I can’t believe it has already been six months since you arrived. I am at the 15 month mark and all I can say is it just keeps getting better. Once you have the adjustment part under your belt it all goes much more smoothly. I miss Ellen too! She always brought a smile ( and a good laugh) to my day.

  • Quyen Nguyen
    November 26, 2013 at 6:23 AM

    London is such a great walking city, even in the rain! I would love to live in a city where I don’t need to drive. Mind the gap! :)

  • Sara Louise
    November 26, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    Always knowing where to find things is one of those things that I still miss about home. Gregory is useless in that department. For instance I want construction paper so we can make Pilgrim hats for Thanksgiving, I’ve been to three stores and still no construction paper! AARRGGHH!!

  • Mrs. Match
    November 26, 2013 at 7:20 AM

    Six months has flown by! You were starting a new life, I was bringing one into this world. Amazing! I’m sad you don’t have a dryer! I lived in a granny unit once with no dryer, and I hated how stiff my clothes (and towels) were. Ouch! Having fun things to do would be nice. We definitely don’t get out much here.

  • Abby Rockwood
    November 26, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    Enjoyed reading your list. I agree no one could ever be bored in London!

  • Rachael
    November 25, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    It is so comforting to read your blog, especially posts like this to remind me that I’m not alone as an American living in England! But seriously ditto to everything you said.

  • Nicole
    November 25, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Has it really already been 6 months?! I swear it feels like 1 or 2 to that you’ve been gone as well! And no grape jelly? Tragic :( I thought of you the other day when i was making a pan of brownies, thinking about how you couldn’t fit a 13×9 pan in your oven, haha. I’m glad you’re able to see both the good and the bad…makes you appreciative of everything!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      I can fit a 9×13 in, it’s just a bit tilted, so the brownies on one side would turn out thicker than the ones on the other side. ;o) It’s the pizza pans that I can’t fit in at all. But that’s okay because I’d rather someone else cook my pizza anyway. ;o)

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    November 25, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    I know what you mean about time flying by – it’s crazy isn’t it! I LOVE that you can get cash out at any ATM without incurring a fee, go London.
    I don’t have a TV in my flat (weird I know!), so I am missing out on all my shows. I do love Ellen, can’t believe her show isn’t on here?!
    Happy 6 months in London :D

  • Miwa
    November 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    What great lists! I really enjoyed reading them ;) A lot of things from both apply to living in a Japanese city too. Pros being things like weight in kg, owning less stuff, walking, public transportation, food, and cons being closet space, grape jelly, things tasting different (cheetos are not as cheesy!), holiday celebrations, and laundry. That’s how we dry our clothes too :/ and the roughness of our towels really makes me sad :(

  • topchelseagirl
    November 25, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Ellen is shown here. I think it just isn’t on at the moment. Really is channel 17 on freeview.

  • Danielle E. Alvarez
    November 25, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    What a list! I would second your theory that all European grapes go to wine production :). Also, I love knowing that even if we live in countries that don’t recognize American holidays (i.e. any country but the US), we can still celebrate it with a bit of foreign flair. Happy Thanksgiving from across the Channel!

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    November 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    I agree on so many points I won’t even list them haha. But seriously, small things like not having to pay at cash machines is golden. The ones that charge? Where I used to not give a second thought about it, I will now walk around the block to find a free one. Funny how things change. We have a washer and dryer combo, and while not ideal, it sure beats hanging clothes for sure!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      We had a washer dryer combo at our temporary flat, and maybe it was just the machine we had, but it didn’t really dry things very well. We’d take them out and still have to hang them up for awhile. It’s almost like all it did was get them started in the drying process.

      I didn’t even know there were any cash machines that charged! So far I haven’t come across any in Chiswick!

      • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
        November 26, 2013 at 9:51 PM

        I definitely think it takes twice as long to dry things, but ours is alright. It just balls and crumples like nobody’s business, and as someone very opposed to an iron, this sometimes poses problems. With the cash machines, it tends to only be cash machines in pubs or other kind of places of convenience. Chiswick has themselves together if they aren’t charging people haha

  • Hannah Taylor-Johnson
    November 25, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    I read this last night on my phone, marked it as unread, came back today to comment but I cannot for the life of me remember what I wanted to say.But, while I’m here, I’ll tell you that Google Chrome and the extension Hola! will be your best friend when trying to watch the Ellen Degeneres show…just sayin’ ;)

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    November 25, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    I know exactly what you mean about the parks, the clothes sizes and the wardrobe sizes.
    I know it’s not fine dining, but we miss and really loved the soup at Olive Garden, oh and the biscuits at Cracker Barrel Mmmmmmm :D

  • Daisy
    November 25, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    So glad to hear you are enjoying your time over here!
    I used to watch Ellen…I think it was daily on the E! channel but it was quite early in the day, around 9 I think…not sure if they are still showing now. I do love her and wonder why we don’t get her show in the evenings! We have a washer / tumble dryer in one, might be a solution if you don’t have much space? I don’t think I could do without my tumble dryer, especially during the winter months when stuff takes forever to dry.
    Will you be visiting winter wonderland? We went last year and it’s so much fun, definitely think we will be there again sometime in December, fun fun!

  • Rebecca
    November 25, 2013 at 5:56 AM

    Hard to believe it’s been 6 mos already! So glad you’re enjoying your time there and getting to see so many new things and places! Love your list, the hardest for me would be not having a dryer! Cute pic of you and Lexie!

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    November 25, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    It’s hard to believe you’ve only been here 6 months. It seems so much longer that I’ve known you, like we’re old friends! :) Glad to hear you’ve gotten past those early adjustments. They can do you in if you let them!!
    We had to get a dryer! I just couldn’t live without it with 5 people in our house. Luckily we had a place for it in the garage, but I know small apartments can be harder. Plus, I haven’t found that our electricity bill is that outrageous compared to other areas of Europe that we’ve lived. I LOVE MY DRYER!! ;)

    I think I’ve finally gotten past my funk of not being home for Thanksgiving. The kids getting approved to be out of school has helped and knowing that I’m still going to have a house full helps too! I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving and can look forward to being with your family for Christmas (I’m jealous about that, ya know?!). ;)

  • Jen Mc
    November 25, 2013 at 3:13 AM

    Six months, already?! Wow! I am sure there were/are big adjustments, but I hope all in all…you are enjoying London!
    No Ellen? I would have some major issues with that…

  • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    November 25, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    I love these two lists! I am with you on the laundry- I did without a dryer for two weeks and I broke down and bought one…and I miss Tide too! All of these “misses” can’t compete with all if the “loves” :)

  • Sarah Grace
    November 25, 2013 at 4:31 AM

    I would recommend trying black currant jam since some people find that similar to grape jelly. You could also install a vpn on your internet connection and that would allow you to watch Ellen online.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      I’ve seen black current jam, but never tried it because I wasn’t really sure what it was. I’ll pick up a jar this weekend and try it out – thank you!!

      I’ll have to research a VPN – I only know a little bit about it.

  • T. Lennie
    November 25, 2013 at 3:25 AM

    Six months already! Wow, time is sure flying. I’m sure you mentioned this before… but why do you get to travel so much, and for long periods of time? Does your husbands job post him somewhere new every few years?

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      We do move every 3 years, but this is our first time moving somewhere outside of the US as a family. Prior to this move we would just move from one state to another, just for a change. We travel a lot, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Cory’s job – just our hobby! :o)

  • andrea
    November 25, 2013 at 2:30 AM

    Definitely try a UK Mars bar, it is just like a US Milky Way!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      Someone else just mentioned that, too! I tried one shortly after moving here just to see what it was, and you’re right – it’s close, but not quite exactly the same. The chocolate tastes a little different, probably because Mars are made with Cadbury chocolate and Milky Ways are made with Hershey’s. Minor difference to most, I suppose. :o)

  • stephanie
    November 25, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    I love this list, it’s the perfect amount of enjoying where you are and what you have while still reminiscing over the past.

  • Molly
    November 25, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    If I remember correctly, UK Mars bar = US Milky Way and UK Milky Way = US 3 Musketeers. So maybe a Mars will work for your craving!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 26, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      They are CLOSE, but not quite the same – the chocolate has a slightly different flavor. I sound like a chocolate connoisseur! ;o) But you’re right, a Mars bar is better than nothing!

    • Claire
      November 28, 2013 at 7:28 AM

      I was just coming to post the same thing! I had the opposite experience in America, when I was after a Milky Way and was all confused and disturbed to find caramel where no caramel should be!