I never imagined myself living in London and still struggle when people ask me why I moved here. It’s a beautiful city and obviously provides me with opportunities North America doesn’t offer, but I’ve never been particularly fascinated with England or anything identifiably British.
I moved to get away. I moved because I was running from things. I moved because I felt there was something poetic and beautiful about leaving my hometown. I’ve been here for eight months and I move through periods where I absolutely adore this city and want to stay; then there are moments where I would gladly hop on the first plane back to Canada. Either way, this historical city filled with other transients has taught me a few things I may not have learned otherwise.
1. Before now, I have never fully understood what loneliness feels like.
I’ve been lonely, but never like I have since moving to London. At home, a friend or a loved one is never more than a phone call away. On days when you cannot bear the thought of being alone, someone, even if it’s mom and dad, will be available. When your circle of friends is limited and time zones prevent you from calling home, there are days when loneliness is the only option. In an attempt to experience human contact, you opt to sit in a coffee shop for hours, writing about being lonely in London.
2. Anyone is a potential friend.
Everyone you meet when you live abroad is a potential friend. When you’re living and working abroad, it’s easy to find yourself with only work friends. When you meet someone outside of your workplace, you do everything you possibly can to seal the deal and add one more person that you can call upon when you’re trying to rid yourself of the lonely London blues. The bonus of London is that there are so many people in the same situation that if you pick someone with a non-British accent, or even better, an accent the same as yours, they are usually pretty excited to also be making a new friend.
3. Dating, and inevitable heartbreak, sucks more when you’re abroad.
The heartbreak of a failed relationship when you’re abroad doesn’t hurt more because you were really hoping to return home with an exotic, foreign husband (OK, maybe you were praying for this just a little bit), but from the dissolving of one of few relationships. Heartbreak means that there is one less person in a city full of strangers that you know. The heartbreak also stings because there’s a certain feeling of being untouchable when you’re living abroad; you always have the option to run back home. This seems like a viable option until your heart is shattered and you realize that it’s simply not that easy to hop a flight back home simply because your ego has been crushed.
4. British accents get boring.
Eight months ago I wouldn’t believe that I was saying this but some days, I rejoice at the sound of an accent that isn’t British. Living in a house filled with Canadians, some days it’s easy to forget how everyone else sounds. On those days, stepping outside can be either exciting or incredibly annoying. Another thing to note is that in the throes of passion, British accents are particularly hard to understand and the more posh the accent, the weirder it seems in those moments.
5. You get tired of people wanting to talk about your accent and nationality.
At first, you feel exotic. Everyone wants to hear you say different things. Men think it’s cute. Everyone laughs at the way you pronounce words such as “oregano” and “toucan.” Every person you meet asks you if you’re American. When you say no, they ask why you sound American if you aren’t American. This gets old really fast. You will never know how to answer these questions. You grow tired of people asking you to say these or snickering every time you add “eh” at the end of a sentence.
On the upside, you become more patriotic than you ever thought you could be.
6. Despite two degrees, a respectable career, and being in your late 20s, you will live like a college student.
When I first decided to move, I asked the recruitment agency if living expenses were really as high as everyone said. Their reply was that since I was coming from a big city, I wouldn’t find many differences from home. Lies. Between rent, transit, and day-to-day living expenses, I’m not sure how people actually settle down in this city. Some weeks, I thank God that ramen noodles exist. This is quite different from the healthy organic lifestyle I was used to back home. But it’s all worth it when you get your paycheck and head straight to the local pub.
7. You drink more in London. A lot more.
I was warned before I moved that I’d find myself drinking more than I ever thought possible. As someone who didn’t drink much back home, I didn’t see this as a potential threat. I don’t know if it’s the lack of a vehicle or the vast number of pubs available at any moment, but I’ve consumed more alcohol in the last eight months than I have in all my teen years and maybe even some of my twenties. This contributes to the general feeling of still acting like a college student. It also leads to some hilarious stories.
8. Everyone who’s lived in London has had similar experiences..
There are so many articles online about living in London. Reading them, you nod your head repetitively like the annoying guy in your Literary Theory class who pretends he knows more than everyone else about postmodernism. You might even find yourself laughing out loud. Your experience in London—the expenses, the people, the catcalling, and the general ups and downs—are not unique to you. It can be nice to know that you are not alone, but it can also add to the feeling that you are just another pawn in this city’s weird board game.
9. Despite everything, there is something magical about London.
Whether it’s walking down South Bank and taking in all of the iconic sights, lounging by the river in Richmond, or drinking in a pub that’s been around since the 1600s, there are moments where you think, “Holy shit. I live in London.” These experiences will help shape who I am and no matter what I’ve lost with the loneliness, heartbreak, poverty, and homesickness, I will always be able to recall that time I lived in London. I will never forget the amazing people I have met here, the breathtaking places I have seen, and the experiences that have taught me more about myself than staying in Canada ever would have.
Because of this, when I do leave, I will be leaving a piece of me in this crazy city.