It’s almost become a rite of passage, hasn’t it? Moving to London in your early to mid-20s, in search of opportunities, friends and a glimpse of a watered-down and libated Royal. London, the frenetic hub of entertainment, art, culture, history and comedy. It’s a city that pulsates with life, energy and dynamism. It’s also the seed of ambition. Ambitious writers, actors, musicians, suits and creatives scowl the streets looking for the next opportunity, hoarding the coffee shops and ordering one too many Americanos in digital pursuit. We’re all here, and we’re all vying for that ‘break’.
I’ve lived in London for over 2 years. I’m half British, yet living in London I feel more Australian than ever. I’ve written prodigiously on my cultural misplacement and hybridity – but I shall not indulge this time. Rather, this is a piece of greater practicality: the nine things I wish I’d known before moving to the Big Smoke.
You will lose all your money.
…not that I had much to lose in the first place, but lose it I will. The exchange rate was crippling and our bank accounts were minimal. This is resulted in near financial ruin for my boyfriend and I.
It got to a stage when I was replacing food for travel. I was a poor student and paid work was a rarity. I ended up holding down various menial jobs in exchange for £7 an hour – the minimum wage.
Say goodbye to ‘Pride’
London’s a tough city, and it requires people to be thick-skinned, ruthless and unapologetic. I’ve always had a partiality for internal pessimism, and I had to banish all my misgivings and self-doubt pronto.
Pride is something you must bid adieu. I worked as an oven seller, waitress and shop assistant while studying for a master’s degree in journalism – I did it because I had no choice. Yes, I was slightly embarrassed and frustrated, but I also needed to eat.
Don’t be too prideful to ask for a raise, promotion or new job – because someone else will beat you to the pique.
In this city, you are anonymous. Casual greetings on the street is a rarity, and everyone is after the same two elements: money and success. Don’t be too shy or proud to ask, beg and request it.
Your hair will be ruined
The infamous London water, the bane of my existence. Luscious, curly, golden locks begone, and are now replaced with a fine, brittle and straw-like mop. London’s a hard city and this hard exterior extends to its water.
You will have a perpetual cold
One sniff or snivel on an overpacked tube and you’re done. A streaming cold for the entirety of winter will be your ultimate accessory. Rudolph nose, runny eyes and constant sniffle was my façade for one whole year.
You must build up your immune system and start taking Vitamin C!
Figure out the NHS
Cold. Dreary. Impenetrable. Mean. The NHS has a sordid and tainted reputation. Yet, it’s also been a lifesaver for myself. After moving to London, I as diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease (don’t worry, I didn’t know what it was either). It was scary and incomprehensible, but basically referred to my low thyroid level. My everyday tablets and monthly blood tests are all covered by the NHS. Yes, the doctors are bad tempered, but mostly tired and overworked – but it allows you to get medical advice free of charge.
So, when you move to London sign up to your local GP pronto.
Accept that Public Transport is a nightmare
Acceptance is key. Yes, public transport sucks. Especially, when you are sardined into an already packed Piccadilly line tube, suffering from a lack of oxygen and personal space. I endure this experience daily. It’s awful and frustrating that you still pay the same fare – if not more- for a congested and frankly, insalubrious tube.
But hey! It’s not going to change – only get worse. So, accept it and move on. Don’t complain, it’s such a cliché.
Penetrating the Social Sphere is near impossible
I have a confession; I still don’t have any British friends, well, only a few. I have a South African friend, an Irish friend, an Australian buddie and one chum who hails from Suffolk – but no Londonite friends.
It’s true, the London social stratosphere is unbearably tight and close knit. Don’t expect to get an invite to a house party, dinner party or even a coffee date. Londoners have their friends and they don’t want you muscling in.
This is a rare breed of impenetrable and impassable people. It’s an utter clique, and if you’re not Oxbridge, then honey, you’re just not going to make the cut.
You won’t get a job straight away
I so desperately wanted to work in journalism, but I seemingly couldn’t (can’t?) get a break. The media industry is notoriously nepotistic and their partiality for new recruits doesn’t fall with antipodeans.
Keep pushing and plugging, and do not take no for an answer! Send copious emails, attend free events and keep writing – someone, somewhere (hopefully) will notice you.
9 .Never. Ever. Give. Up.
I’m just going to say it: London’s a b****. It’s ruthless, domineering and will break your heart, soul, pride and confidence.
Pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Because, if you make it in London, you can make it anywhere.
This is a city rich with culture and history. There are endless things to do and join. It offers so much, but can simultaneously take everything away from you. Too many of us see London through rose-tinted and unrealistic glasses. The London of movies, film and Instagram. The reality is much more tainted and grey.
My advice? Embrace London and all it offers. I promise you, you won’t regret it. Just be prepared for it to be brutal.