My third year as a Londoner
I can't believe time goes so fast. 3 years ago today I took the flight who brought me in London. I honestly wasn't sure I could have stayed that long here. Me, the country girl in the big big city full of danger and opportunities. Turned out to be my second home and my second life.
I remember very well all the mixed emotions and feelings during my journey here and the first days in Balham. I realise just now how much I have grown and how much I have changed in these years. London enriched my life in all possible ways and it challenged me like nothing else before. I must admin I didn't expect to be so tough when facing problems and flexible to find solutions but on the other hand I know I could have done better sometimes.
Taking everything into account, I think the London life did a good job on me, especially on what I like to call my "emotional intelligence": I am definitely more assertive, more aware of my worth and my weaknesses, and more independent.
Sometimes I think I moved here too late in my life and that I should have done it right after uni, when I could have done much more and at the same time avoid so many mistakes in my personal life. But then I know I should trust the timing of my life's path and I suddenly understand that it was meant to happen when it was meant to happen. Maybe I was not ready back in my 20s and probably in my 30s I have more chance to make it right. Lately, I have developed a relieving sort of fatalism that helps me to suck up the bad news or what I would like to control but I can't. My boyfriend always says to me a Romanian motto: "What's yours, it's on already put on hold for you." Meaning: if something is meant to be yours, it will find the way back to you and nobody else can have it because it has always been yours. On the other hand, if something it's not meant to be for you, no matter hard you try and fight for it, you won't have it.
I have grown up thinking that you make your own fortune and I still believe that you should work hard to make your dreams come true but now I am more aware that life sometimes is what happens to you while you are too busy making plans, and it is fine. I just needed to be a less control freak and to learn to go with the flow. That's the best lesson London has taught me so far.
It's still love and hate with this city.
I love its parks, they are so well kept and romantic with the little ponds with the ducks and the swans but I miss my sea and the pinewoods enormously. The lack of sea is the hardest thing for me. It has always been my best friend, my place to hide when all was going wrong, and the place where to celebrate my victories. I walked miles and miles on the shore, in every season of the year. Is the place where I was meeting my friends for endless, chatty breakfasts and "aperos", where I was walking my dogs, where I was partying in the summer, where I was parking my car in the rain and looked at it while crying, where I was getting all the precious sunlight I get now in the sad form a vitamin D tablet.
The summer in London lasts for maximum a month, with just few days of heat which are unbearable even for me that I am used to 30 degrees because there is no sea breeze and with all the tarmac the temperatures perceived much higher. In July the central line's trains are saunas!
The best season to visit London is for sure autumn, the colours here are stunning!
I also like the late spring where everything blooms and the air in the parks is filled with the smell of flowers.
Winter is tough for me: there are weeks in row of grey and rain where you can barely see the sun through the tick layer of clouds. Sometimes it snows, but it is not as magical as it might seem. It is actually a pain as all the transports are affected and it becomes even more packed in the train or bus. Not fun.
Why I am in London then?
I love the thousands of work possibilities that it offers: you could really be whoever you want to. This is the part that keeps me here for the time being, especially for my boyfriend. He managed to successfully climb the ladder and he finally got his dream job as a senior 3D artist for a good company. In Italy the companies are still underdeveloped in this field that the salaries are very low and the jobs are often not creative and not satisfying at all. London is the place to be for this kind of technologies.
Despite the amazing range of choices here, I didn't accomplished anything huge work wise, as I am still working in a management position in retail, which I like, but I know I could have done much more with my language and history of art degrees. The thing is my lack of confidence as I have always been uncertain of myself, of my English level and I didn't really try to go further because I didn't like to feel uncomfortable.
It is certainly better of my job in Italy and I have been learning so much that I am grateful anyway but I know that I should have aimed higher. I am still working on it, and I am sure that I will be able to do something better in the future. I would like to do a master degree maybe, or a course to improve my skills that will enable me to get the next step for a better position. This is something that in my country is not really doable.
Meritocracy in Italy is still utopia, even more if you are a woman in your 30s. Sexism is still strong there, even if people wouldn't admit it. Nowadays it's difficult to find a proper job for everyone, but if you a woman it's even worst. I would like to highlight the word proper, though: because you can find A job of you really search (underpaid and in exploitation conditions), but the likelihood that it is a proper and good job is very slight. Government makes things extremely complicated for the companies who wants to hire somebody with sky high taxes, therefore the contracts terms for employees are absolutely outrageous. It's a disgrace for a country that potentially has everything to offer with its history, art, food and much more.
The last, painful chance if you don't want to live with a hideous part-time, fix term contract that will force you to live with your parents until you are 40 years old ( and even more in many cases) is to leave the country and try somewhere else. For everyone out there saying that it is possible to built your career and your own company in Italy I would like to show the statistics of businesses closing due to the unbearable amount of taxes and all the issues the government puts on the shoulders to who is only trying to work. I know talented friends who opened shops or companies and they were forced to close after few years as of a consequence the tax pressure and for the general difficult economic situation that leads people not to buy, either products or services. No surprise the result is just wide spread unemployment, high corruption and even higher tax evasion.
Enough said, I am here now.
I love that fact that here in London people are polite and respectful of the rules. You can dress however you like and nobody will look down at you. You can be pregnant and still have a job. Sexism and racial discrimination is considerably lower.
Most of the times, people will not jump the queue, will not scream on the public transports, will pay their tickets on the bus/trains and they will always say the famous "sorry" if they pushed you by mistake on the street. You can cross the street safely because the drivers will stop to let you reach the other side. English people are usually calm, quiet and well mannered but I have to admit, I also think they lack a bit of heart. English people are very busy and even if I know they do have feelings and good intentions, they have problems to show that in public. You can cry in a corner of a shop for 45 minutes before somebody acknowledge that you are even there and even more before somebody asks you what's wrong. It happened in my store a couple of weeks ago: a French girl was sitting in one of our chair in front of the fitting rooms looking at her feet with a very sad expression on her face. I was in my office to do some paperwork when one of my sales assistants came to me saying alarmed:
-" Alba, there is a weird girl sitting next to the fitting rooms and I don't think she is waiting for somebody, what shall I do?"
I replied simply: " Have a look and ask if she is ok or if she needs any help."
I couldn't see her from the monitor as we don't have CCTVs in that section of the store so I let her handle it.
After 30 minutes another sale assistant came to me panicking and said: " I am fetching her a glass of water because she started to cry and I don't know what to do"
I was surprised but at that point I went on the shop floor to support her and I asked the girl what was wrong and she started to cry again. She told me she was a French student who have been here for 3 weeks and she couldn't cope with the loneliness. She felt lost in this city and she was angry because nobody from home would reply to her calls as they were at work and she didn't know where to go. My heart melted. I know that feeling very well. I spent 30 minutes talking to her, trying to comfort and motivate her and when I hugged her she said: "Thank you, I think I just needed a hug". My colleagues ( all British) were appalled: for them it was just very embarrassing to deal with it and they felt super uncomfortable in the whole situation. The main reason: they are not mean, it is hard for them to show their feelings. Italians usually are sunny, opened, loud and we are basically shameless, especially from the middle or the south of the country. So, on one hand I prefer the way British people are behaving in public, but in cases like that I thanked my Italian "motherly" nature.
This summer, when I was on holidays in Tuscany, me and my boyfriend stopped to take some pictures on our way to Volterra and after 5 minutes an old man stopped to ask if we were ok and our motorbike was fine. He made a couple of jokes and stayed to talk with us for a while before going back to his journey. That would be highly unusual in London. I honestly don't know much about the rest of the country so I won't say that it wouldn't have been the same in the countryside. I believe it is the city life that encourages diffidence and indifference between people. Honestly, I don't know my neighbours. Nobody does. That's why if you don't have a partner and a few friends it is real tough.
Not having your family around and not seeing your friends can be very hard, especially when somebody suddenly is ill and you can't be there to help immediately or when they are celebrating an special event and you feel cast away.
Life goes on for everyone and you end up calling less, even if you still care for them but the inevitably relationship changes. Sometimes you will loose someone, but it shows you who is superficial and makes you aware of the closest and genuine bonds that not even distance can break.
THE WORST SIDES:
London is cool if you don't drive as the transport links are excellent. No stress parking and if a line is stuck it's easy to jump off and take another one.
Pity that I love driving. I find driving alone with your favourite music very therapeutic.
Not so relaxing the commute to work everyday in the tube, squeezed like anchovies in the ultra packed central line train.
London is a stressful city to live in. Even with the stunning parks, nature is tamed and you cannot find proper quiet. It is difficult to completely relax and disconnect your brain in the weekend. The noise of cars, buses, trains, people down the streets, the hundred of shops opened until late is constant. This summer when I spent 2 weeks at home I ended up napping every day for more than an hour (plus the 8 hours sleep in the night) because of my chronicle lack of sleep. My dark circles underneath my eyes are witnessing that. The worst side of living in London this is renting.
The prices for one bedroom flat in zone 2 (out of the centre but still within 30 minutes) are obscene! Minimum 1300 grands and it's rare to find a decent one. The lack of space is the main problem here, that's why the rip off. People here are leaving their parents' home early but then they are forced to share the flat with others.
That's why here couples start to live together after only a few months after they have met.
In my opinion, this can be a good thing as you will grow faster and learn to take your responsibilities quickly and also you will understand much better if the person you are in love with is the right one for you. My grandma always says: " you don't know a person properly until you have lived with him/her". So true!
It is not hard to make friends here as there are people all over the world coming here to work or study, but it's very unusual for a foreign to have many British friends that are not colleagues. I have just a couple of good friends that I met in previous jobs and I am still in contact with but none of them is British.
That's probably why my English level is still related to my work knowledge. I don't know all the slang terminology and I can't recognise all the several dialect and accents yet. Maybe it is due to me and my boyfriend are still speaking Italian between each other at home. Since he spent 15 years in Italy, he is fluent and he thinks in Italian too, but he speaks in Romanian with his family over the phone (I do understand Romanian a bit but I can't speak properly yet).
I still think mainly in Italian but when I am thinking about work related issues, my thoughts are mostly in English and I also tend to write in English my every day tasks such as the grocery shopping list and so on. When we are angry though, our real mother-tongue comes out: I swear in Italian and he in Romanian. I just can't relax speaking English at home with him and it doesn't come out naturally as I can't always find the right translations for emotions/feelings related conversations.
Last but not least: food.
I am sorry but the quality of the food in London is terrible. Period.
Now that I found some organic farms is getting better but I still need my mum to send me loads (olive oil, cheese, and typical delicatessen) though courier. My boyfriend has the same issue: we have things regularly delivered here from Romania. It is true that you can find Italian goods here, but I swear: they are not even distant relatives with the original ones. They are just not the same, or the air here contaminated them. I discovered that when I opened a bottle of olive oil that my parents sent me: after a week, the quality of the oil was already getting weird. I don't know exactly what it is but in Italy it doesn't change taste and colour after a mere week.
Anyways, I am very grateful to London as I discovered many more kinds of cuisine and dishes from other cultures. Thanks to that, I improved my skills in the kitchen and I added a lot more creativity and flavours in my meals, either when I am cooking at home and when I am going out.
THE BEST SIDES:
I really like English as a language and I do appreciate English's humor and witticism. I read my books in English ( the literature is unbeatable) and I always watch British TV series and movies. I don't have a TV so I don't follow the programs and I don't know much about their celebrities but I have always found their obsession with the royal family quite amusing.
What I absolutely love of London though, is that everyday bureaucracy is smooth (compared to where I used to live) and common things like paying bills, going to the post, finding a job and having a full time permanent contract, the NHS is amazing (free contraceptive pill for every woman here!) and even track of your pension scheme, the right amount of taxes to pay, and taking control of your bank account are extremely easy.
People don't have time to loose and here all these kind of issues are dealt with quickly and without too much effort. Bank accounts are free, the GP in your area will take you just showing your proof of address, your employer HR department will take care of your taxes and pension (and you can opt out if you think you won't stay long), bills quotes are based on what you are actually consuming (in Italy you have to pay every month just to have a gas and electricity supplier even if you are not using them at all if your house is empty) and IF any miscalculation is done, they will immediately apologise and you will be refunded straight away.
I was contacted by British gas a couple of months ago because according to them I was paying too much and I was in credit so they lowered my bills!
Italy is a pure nightmare in comparison. Nothing works as it should, from the important institutions like NHS and the scholar system to a small town reality such as a local council.
Having everything you might need at your door step is pretty handy.
The choices for entertainment here are endless. You could literally eat in a different restaurant very evening if you wanted to. I love that retail prices are very democratic, so if you can afford it you can shop in the best possible stores but you can be super fashionable even buying from Primark.
I adore that there are a lot of free activities available: free museums and galleries, free concerts, vintage markets, lovely parks and cool things to do without spending a fortune. The best part is that they don't suck at all!
Just because you don't have to pay the ticket it doesn't make the experience less enjoyable. Here all the public places are well maintained the expositions are very interesting. A few examples are the National portrait gallery, the Tate, the Victoria and Albert museum, the British Museum and many more.
Italy has a heck of a lot to learn from it: when I was a student of history of art in Pisa and I needed to visit the Piazza dei Miracoli for an exam, the fare to pay just to see the pendant tower was 30 euros! And even when you are paying a ridiculously high price to see a cultural building, usually they are not well cleaned and many of our best and most precious historical sites are falling apart (see Pompei for instance) which is a disgrace.
Overall, my experience here has been productive and it lead me to a better version of myself and I am really glad of being here.
What do you think of London? I would love to know about your experience as a foreign or as a local!