Sunday, December 13, 2009

My life as an expat in London: hit the ground running

When I moved to London two years ago, I wasn’t a newbie: I had been living as an expat in Dublin for other two years so, with my previous experience and confident in a language not so foreign anymore, I was ready to face the jungle.

Despite grim forecasts, on my very first day in London it wasn’t raining, and this made it much easier for me to understand the bus service and locate the stop of my future university.

I originate from a godforsaken little village in central Sardinia, but I had lived seven years in Rome, so I was aware of the difficulties I will have found at the beginning. However, I was pleased to notice that, despite its size, moving inside London is quite handy: the public transport is very efficient (almost always) and decentralized facilities make every district independent and citizen-friendly. As much as a fast-paced, hectic metropolis can be.

Looking for accommodation in London is always a lottery: luck is crucial. It’s not hard to actually find a place, especially if it’s a room in a house share, but beware, or you’ll end up spending most of your salary in rent and bills. Your best bet is to look for an all-inclusive rent, so that you don’t have bimonthly surprises.

Once I was settled and had all papers sorted out, I tought I could relax a bit. I soon understood it wasn't my case.

I live in what is commonly known as being the “bronx” and I love it. Peckham derives its fame from violent clashes between local gangs that took place years ago, but today it’s a colorful district and by all means my favorite shopping destination: I know I can find anything, especially when it comes to ethnic food.

As soon as I leave the apartment in the morning, I rush to the bus stop, because not catching that bus means missing the other connections and potentially getting stuck in a heavier traffic than usual.



One thing hasn’t changed since my first trip on a London bus: I'm constantly distracted by the colors, the variety of styles, ethnicities and little markets. I keep thinking this is also London’s greatest strength: I live in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

The line between my working day and my time off is very blurry because I work from home, so when I’m not busy I feel guilty and I find myself something to do.

Once or twice a week I work in an office located near one of the busiest tube stations in Central London, Waterloo, and when I get off the bus I get mesmerised by staring at thousands of people darting in and out the metro, up the bridge that connects two street levels, and hundreds of commuters queueing for the bus.

I never have lunch every day in the same place: at times I manage to treat myself with half an hour (nonetheless) at home enjoying a proper meal, other times I grab some noodles or sushi on the road.

Living in London doesn’t necessarily mean being able to enjoy the impressive range of opportunities such as museums, theatres, events, but somehow nobody seems to know what to blame.

Extreme consumism. Zygmunt Bauman has defined London as the "dustbin" of globalisation: sometimes I think he's right. I like living in big cities, but sometimes in London I feel like I'm a number, and this freaks me out.

Nerve-racking red tape aside, time managing is perhaps the most frustrating thing in London. The days fly and once in bed I inevitably realise I have done barely half of what I was meant to. Like in most big cities, tourists in one week visit more than locals in a year.

Truth be said, when I manage to get myself some time off, I’m spoilt for choice. Whether you prefer sophisticated or casual leisure activities, in London you will find what you are looking for.

Food-wise, I’m definitely less fussy than I was when I left Italy almost five years ago. I like going out for dinner and try the huge range of ethnic restaurants, be them Moroccan, Indian, Italian, Chinese. Despite my friends’ warnings, I was pleased to acknowledge that eating out in London is not as expensive as its reputation suggests.

I usually end my day jealously looking out of the window at the willing runners jogging around Peckham Rye Park and I wish I was as athletic as they are.

4 comments:

Pan said...

HI Angela, neat little description of my fav city in the world. Hmm though i must admire ur guts forsticking it out in Peckham. Been there a couple of times near midnight , was scared shitless by all the hoodies ! ;)

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks for your comment, Pan! I think in Peckham our fears reflect the reputation, I've been living here for almost two years, walked and gone past by bus and never had problems.
Of course it's "rougher" than Dulwich, but I think if there are clashes is among gangs, and they don't look at other people. And most kids I think just play "rough" ;-)
But daytime it's really great, in the grocery stores you find literally everything!

Deborah Harmes said...

You've summoned up a lot of memories for me. I loved living in London and the only aspect I didn't enjoy was the diesel fumes in the air in congested traffic areas. You are spoilt for choice in the culteral realms so DO make sure to go and see some of those fabulous museums and historic sites. Very nice article.

AngelaCorrias said...

Thank you Deborah, you are right, London is full of opportunities, but for historical sites, I've noticed they are all quite recent... Have you noticed the same? I mean, I come from Sardinia, Italy, where most heritage sites date back to prehistoric ages, while in London, so far I've barely got to the Middle Age or their Great Revolution (which was truly a great moment!)
Apart from historic monuments, also traditions: we have traditions dating back even 2000 years, while in London they don't really celebrate so old festival.
But I'm still in the quest and I'll report everything here, as I'm going to stay in London for some other two years ;-)

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