Alexander Savin blog

Eng/Ru
10 Jan 2015

One year in London

Exactly one year ago I moved from a hospitable, quiet and snowy Finland to the island of Great Britain. It was sort of a bold move, a leap into something very unknown. This post is a brief list of reflections, which might (or might not) help someone else to get an idea what it's like to live in London.

General feelings

It shouldn't come as a surprise that being a tourist somewhere, and living in exact same place are two very different things. When traveling to London and enjoying its attractions, often you would do it during week in daytime. This is something you will not be able to do once you actually move here. Unless you opt for spending your holidays in London (which is not such a bad idea), daily routine and office hours will push everything else to the weekend. Now, on weekend, in addition to all the tourists there are also local crowds, desperately trying to get around and entertain themselves.

Coming from a place like Finland, amount of people around can be mind boggling. They are everywhere. You start appreciating places with slightly less amount of people. Thing is, everybody else are hunting for such places too.

Cost of living

Food and cafes are slightly cheaper compared to Finland. Renting apartment is about twice the amount you'd pay in Helsinki. Generally speaking, half of the income after tax goes towards rent and utility bills. There is also council tax, which will cost anything between £70-200 depending on the size and cost of the place (better place - higher tax).

Most of houses are not energy efficient - again something you get for granted in Finland. That usually means bad windows with single layer of glass and non-existent insulation. There is generally no such thing as central heating, and every house / apartment is on their own. When you start burning natural gas or electricity in order to warm yourself up, most of that heat will go as contribution to the global warming, and not towards warming of your house - unless you are lucky to live in the energy efficient house with double-blazed windows and good insulation.

People

Pretty much everyone is open and easy to communicate with. In fact, coming from Finland this might be almost shocking. People will talk to you more than usual, will make contact and ask questions about yourself. There is obviously a catch - most of such conversations are small talk, which is important part of being socially accepted and considered a nice person. You might end up doing lots of small talk but not finding anyone, who would actually genuinely be interested in spending time with you.

Having said that, over the last year me and my wife met some of the most wonderful people. I think, if you want to find interesting people and great friends, London is the place to be. In a way, being cramped into a relatively small place, riddled with challenges to survive, you have to help each other. London is also a huge crossroad where you can find all sorts of people. All the most talented people of the world are here all around. And that might be the biggest reason to move here.

Public transport

In addition to obvious choices like tube and doubledeckers, London features one of the best implemented citybike hire system in the world. There are hundreds of stations scattered all around zone 1 and 2, where you can get a bike and start pedaling. There are still some things to improve, this network of hire bikes is pretty much absent beyond zone 2 and even zone 2 coverage sometimes is not great. Hackney is half covered, areas to the south of Thames are also covered very little. Despite all that I've pedaled over 1500km over the last year on a city bike commuting from Bethnal Green to Chancery Lane.

London is the only place in the world where amount of personal cars is decreasing. Having a car here doesn't make much sense. Having a car when living outside of London makes a lot of sense, but again, not for commuting into the city.

Biking usually happens on the very same road with the rest of London traffic. Luckily speed is limited to 20-30mph for everyone, and traffic lights are equipped with mirrors so that lorry drivers could see bikers underneath the cabin.

Communication

Cheque books are not in general use anymore, but role of phone calls is still unnecessary big. I generally despise phone calls - it's one of the most inefficient ways of communicating important information, especially in a new country with lots of unfamiliar accents. Spelling email address and credit card number on a phone are few of those things that just shouldn't exist in perfect world. In Finland most of things can be performed using web. In Britain when you need to change your payment card details for internet provider, you have to call.

Quite anecdotal situation happened when I applied to upgrade my bank account in Halifax to what they call Reward account. After a successful upgrade they sent me a brand new bank card, with a new number. Old card deceased shortly after. Then shitstorm started. Various services tried to charge me for things, but couldn't do it anymore. Highlights were BT and TFL bike hire. BT called me and we agreed to move billing to direct debit (basically, you agree to give access to your bank account to a 3rd party). Despite that they kept telephoning about outstanding debt, and finally I had to call an automated number with robot on the other side, who managed to charge my card. TFL simply blocked my account when they couldn't charge £1 worth of money, and again required a phone call with a new bank card in hand.

Time

Theory of relativity claims that time flows differently depending on the speed you are moving with. It seems that there is no such thing as being bored in London. In fact, you have to make a list of most interesting things, and then prioritize, and then pick a few from the very top. There is no way of having time for everything, unfortunately. But you can cherry pick the most exciting stuff, and leave a bit of time for a cup of great coffee.

Was it worth it?

Yes.