I’ve now spent more than one month in London (woah. I can never hope to visit everything I want to, I realize now). Thought I’d try to weigh up how I feel about it so far.
Short answer: I like it. While I don’t consider London a beautiful city per se (although many parts of it are strikingly so), living in it I like. Especially the being able to explore some new spots of it every time bit. I’m quite sure it’s not a place I would want to live in for more than a few years though – I can see myself growing tired of so big a city in the long run. For the moment though, it’s great, even more so if your job is research.
Although the transition has been as smooth as can be, there are a few cultural shocks I have to deal with:
- the food. I know I know I know. An Italian complaining about food abroad. How cliché. (thank god I am not a coffee fan or you’d hear about that too). Anyway, the food is bad. And I don’t mean the restaurants. Eating out is blissful in London. But the supermarkets. Oh. Achingly bad. The fruit you have to either kill or have in your pantry for two weeks before eating. The cheese tastes like plastic. Cookies (or biscuits as they call them here) are industrial, covered in chocolate, filled with all the bad kinds of fats. Yogurt – don’t get me started on yogurt. Awful and slimy or once again industrial thin stuff that will be like milk gone bad on your tongue. The English just don’t do yogurt. But the worst thing is the soups. We don’t talk about soup at home.
- the queues. The English love them and god forbid you try to cut into one! Wherever you go, people are queuing. Quite the difference from Italy.
- professors. I’ve been scowled multiple times for being so formal with them. I shake hands, address them by academic title and end emails with Yours sincerelys and my full name. But no, here academic staff have lunch with you, tell you fun stories about the greatest minds in the field and bring cookies to the office. (It only makes me fall deeper in love with what I’m doing!) I have had young, very nice tutors for my degrees in Italy but the overall impression is very different anyway.
- how many veiled women I see among shopping assistants. Not niqab, that is also widespread; but Muslim women seem to be so much more free here than they are in Milan, and I’m starting to feel that it is indeed a cultural issue – but more depending on Italian culture. People in general give much less thought to others’ judgement and young girls dressed like fairies or princesses will cross your path on a daily basis. Weirdly enough, though, nail polish is not that common.
- how painfully expensive it is to do certain things, among which: finding good quality clothes. It doesn’t come as news that I. am. always. cold. So much so here, and I had to go shopping last week because I didn’t own nearly enough sweaters. Now, they’ll throw cardigans at you for £10 the dozen in many shops, but those you can say goodbye to after washing them once. Better quality clothing is pricey.
- the lack of bidet. Enough said.
- how cashiers and shopping assistants will greet you and ask you how your day is going as soon as they see you. It startled me in the beginning and I tried to get away with mumbling a response. Now, I happily reply that everything’s fine and ask about their day with a big smile on my face. I swear some of them like it. Some don’t. You can’t make everybody happy.
- also, strangers will often engage in random chatting.
- how safe I usually feel in the streets. Now, I always worry as much as I can. You know? As a rule of thumb. (Tim knows). But: I don’t feel as though every shadow is going to try and kill me. In a big city in my own country, I certainly would.
- people suck at foreign languages. Seriously. I remember I used to think: there can possibly be no more inept people than Italians when it comes to learning a new language. We move around like chased by rabid bees and shout. Then I lived in France for a few moths and ended up bending in half every time they tried speaking English. (Still do at the memory. Sorry. I love you, vous le savez bien). And now that I’m enrolled in a beginners course in Modern Greek, I am absoluteky shocked at how s l o w they are. Then again, I would be that slow too if half the globe spoke my language and I hadn’t started learning a foreign one at school at age 8 (not too mention my beloved German Nachbaren when I was a little annoying kid).