Welcome to London!
By Manolis Zografakis
Arriving in a new city is a unique experience. For some, it can be a scary experience, for others it will be an exciting one, but it will always be a unique one. And, if you move from a small city to a worldwide metropolis such as London, it can be a life changing experience. I moved to London from Athens, Greece 5 years ago and I still remember the moment I landed at Heathrow airport. I was holding a bunch of luggage knowing that I had arrived in a new city where I would stay the next couple of years, and that exact thought was making me feel dizzy. Everything looked different back then. The rhythm of life, the transport, the people, the roads, the taxis… e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Last month I wrote a blog post with 8 essential tips for London newcomers to save time, money and effort right from the start. This time I have rounded up some of the “weird” things I noticed as an expat during my first weeks in London. Some of you may relate to most of the experiences listed below and those of you who have just arrived or are preparing to move to London will notice them soon.
#1 The bell in pubs:
You are having a nice time with your mates at your local pub and suddenly you hear a bell ring and and the barman shouting. You find yourself wondering… what’s that bell and what is he shouting? Here is your answer: The bell means that the pub is going to close soon and you have around 10 minutes to order your last drink. If you are still wondering what the barman was saying, he/she probably said something like: “Last drinks at the bar” or “Time, gentlemen”. You must have finished your drink 20 minutes after closing time.
#2 Stand on the right:
Most escalators around the world follow a “stand on the right and walk on the left” custom and the same thing applies to London. However, here commuters tend to walk like zombie runners. Never stand in their way (on the left side) otherwise you’ll get mauled. It’s the fast line for walking and Londoners tend to race up or down so if you’re blocking their way, you’ll see a lot of frowning faces (that’s the best case scenario).
#3 Drive on the left:
There is logic to the “walk on the left” custom on escalators. The Brits drive on the left and so they also walk on that side on escalators, it makes sense right? If you come from a right-driving country you should be very careful because it will be a bit of a shock whenever you try to cross a road without a traffic light. You will feel disorientated as you will not know where to look and you will probably knock on death’s door a dozen of times before you finally learn to look in the right direction. So take some time to look around before deciding to cross the road.
#4 Get used to queueing:
Queueing is like a local tradition. According to The Telegraph – Brits spend around 6 months of their life queuing. You queue almost everywhere here. You queue at the supermarket, the pub, the bus stop, the restaurant – even at your home waiting for your roommate to come out of the bathroom. It’s crazy! Be aware that Londoners take queuing personally so cutting in line is a no-no – the chat cut trick definitely won’t work in London.
#5 Think twice before leaving the house:
If you are planning to travel across London to get to a distant destination you should consider bringing a book or kindle with you to read on your trip. Also be sure to have enough battery on your phone to spend some time playing with it on the tube. The trip may take longer than you expected and if you don’t have anything interesting to do it may be super boring and a bit awkward if you end up looking other commuters in the eye.
# 6 Plan ahead:
When you set up an appointment you should definitely plan ahead. London is an absolutely massive city and public transport is not always very trustworthy. That’s why it’s better to find out your routes in advance and also check if there are any disruptions. In London people try to save time the same way they save money so if you consider that a big percentage of Londoners say they are flat broke it must mean that they also don’t have free time right? You don’t want to be late and make others wait, do you? Check out our top 10 free London transport apps to help you be on time for your appointments.
#7 Daily things to do:
There is always something going on in London. During my first year here I realised that having so many options can make things complicated. Especially if your star sign is Gemini like mine – you tend to like 10 events at the same time. If you decide to go out, there are tons of things to do without spending a penny. From watching a free film to visiting a gallery opening, you can definitely find a lot of great free things to do every single day. The only thing you have to do is to bookmark our free events in London page and make it your homepage!
#8 The bloody weather:
Get ready to talk a loooot about the weather. Londoners love to talk about the weather and foreigners who arrive from warm countries like me (Greece) love to complain about it. It is such a popular topic that according to The Telegraph, some years ago England’s football team beat Croatia to qualify for the World Cup, afterwards a mere quarter of men were chatting about the match, compared with almost two thirds discussing the weather. Weather in London is quite boring as it is cloudy and grey most of the time but when the sun comes out for a full day, people go crazy and sometimes get naked! So to recap, in London everyone is talking about the weather and so will you.
#9 Get ready to be broke in London:
Basically, that’s the first lesson you will learn when living in London. You’ll always be broke in London (I may exaggerate a bit to suit our site’s name). Your first impression will be that the rent prices seem super low compared to what you were reading on the web during your pre-expatriating research period but then… you will realise that the rent here is charged by the week and you’ll go “Cou cou”! The rent will probably take half your salary but the worst thing is that you will live in a house with 10 other people! The best thing is that most of your flatmates will come from various foreign countries which can be a once in a lifetime experience. However, also keep in mind that getting a flat is the most stressful race (alongside job hunting) that you will ever enter into.
#10 Never leave the house without your Oyster Card and never pick up a taxi on the street:
The moment you arrive in London you should get an Oyster Card and always carry it with you when you jump onto the bus or tube/train. Never, ever leave the house without your Oyster or contactless card (same principal applies to the 7 Day, Monthly or longer period Travelcards) otherwise you will need to pay cash single fares and trust me, you don’t want that. For instance a single trip in Zones 1-2 with your Oyster card will cost £2.90 while with cash a single trip is £4.80! The Oyster Card is for Londoners like the “precious” ring is for Gollum… Do you think I exaggerate? Just read about this guy who surgically implanted his ‘Oyster card’ into his hand to swipe through gates without having to remember his wallet! So, as you can see your Oyster Card will become your own “precious” thing as well.
Check out here how to transform your Oyster card into a cool key chain so that you never forget to take it with you.
P.S Don’t forget to check out our guide to living in London on a budget where you will find tons of tips and tricks to save money.