Life in London: 10 Tips for Surviving & Thriving

Life in London: 10 Tips for Surviving & Thriving

Eleanor Büsing
Aug 19, 2013

This month marks my seven-year anniversary of living in London, a city I first fell in love with at nine years old. Last week, I was inspired by Abby's post on Life in Los Angeles, and thought I'd tackle a similar topic on my adopted home. 

When you consider London's English-speaking population, proximity to both Europe and North America, and its relatively strong economy, it's no surprise that this town is full of expats. I've seen many friends move here in my time, and even after seven years my social group still leans slightly more foreign than British. If you're considering becoming one of London's expats (or even just a prolonged visit), here are some top tips for thriving in London. 

Cut your tube apron strings. Look, I think the tube is fantastic, but this is still my top tip to anyone moving to town. This city has fabulous public transport, overground trains and buses as well as the famous Underground. Some of the coolest neighborhoods are served by trains and/or buses, and if you only travel by tube, you'll never discover them. Bonus: traveling aboveground will give you a much better sense of how the city is laid out, and you'll feel at home sooner. 

Having said that, choose to live somewhere reasonably close to your work. Seems obvious, but many people ignore this practical advice. That 1.5 hour tube journey (with three line changes) from your leafy suburb to your office will get on your nerves after three days, and forever more. 

Practice proper tube etiquette. As this is a hot-button issue for most Londoners, I thought I'd break it down into helpful bite-sized chunks:

  • When on the escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left. There are signs. And announcements.
  • During rush hour, walk off the escalator. Standing for those last few steps will bring the whole thing to a crashing halt within seconds. 
  • For heaven's sake, don't make eye contact or be unnecessarily friendly to anybody on public transport; you'll just make us uncomfortable.
Bring some drawstring trousers. The tired old cliché about British food doesn't even bear thinking about: I'll tell you straight, this city is delicious. Whether it's an Indian curry in Brick Lane, Bahn mi off Kingsland Road, fantastic fusion in Soho or authentic Canadian poutine (hey, it's a big deal to me) in Broadway Market, you can get pretty much any kind of food your tummy desires here. There's also a thriving farmer's market scene and tasty pop-ups galore, so get stuck in. 

Despite the common language, expect some things to get lost in translation. Notice how I wrote "trousers" in the above paragraph? Yeah, that's because I learned the hard way that complimenting people on their "pants" was sure to draw funny looks. Ditto ordering lemonade in a restaurant (you'll just get pop), and asking where the bathrooms/washrooms are (just say toilet, trust me). The upside is that your accent will be a great source of glee to those around you, and if you're lucky you might get adopted by a gang of plucky Brits as their token foreign friend. 

Get a dog. This one comes courtesy of an American friend, who's found that walking her pooch in one of London's many parks is a fail-safe way to meet the elusive British. London is extraordinarily dog-friendly; pets are allowed on trains, tubes and buses, as well as in most pubs, some restaurants, and quite a few workplaces I've been in. Note: a cute baby also works. 

A day of sun is a day of fun. Look, it's not always raining here (in fact, we've had a gorgeous summer this year), but generally, truly glorious days are few and far between. As such, Londoners are excellent at fun-on-the-fly, so blue skies and warm temperatures have a way of making people shrug off prior commitments and make ad-hoc plans to enjoy them (not that I'm condoning calling in sick to have a picnic in the park, or anything...).

Speaking of parks, Londoners love to go green. Over one third of this city is covered in public green space, in the form of large royal parks, small squares and urban gardens. Bonus: you can legally drink in these places. Grab some mates and go do that. 

Get some culture. In many large cities, there's a (however misguided) idea that the history and culture is for the tourists, and citizens tend to eschew museums and galleries. Not so in London; this city's museums are packed with locals. It helps that most permanent exhibitions are free, but the real draw is the late openings, which happen weekly or monthly, depending on the venue. Imagine strolling through the National Portrait Gallery on a Friday evening with a glass of wine in hand, or taking a date to the Science Museum on a Wednesday, where you'll have beer and gelato and do experiments (meant for kids but fun for all ages) until you're both giggling nonstop.

Get out whenever you can. Diana Vreeland said "the best thing about London is Paris." I'm inclined to agree with her, but the best thing about your London might be Rome, or Ibiza, or Copenhagen, or Berlin or the south of France. With four airports and the Eurostar train, Europe is truly on London's doorstep. Make the most of it, enjoy, and know that you have a fantastic city to come home to.  

(Image: Nicolas & Fabienne's Quirky & Colorful London Home)

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