London is one of the cities where man can have everything, if he is willing to take the time and finances. Maybe paradise for the tourists, but most of the permanent residents start to have second though after about the constant waiting and expenses, and decide to relocate to the outskirts, or to the countryside. I spent there 18 months of my life, thence I could gave you a long and boring lecture on history, culture and politics of this conglomerate of cultures. Instead, I just pinned together 10 observations, things that I happened to find interesting since I first entered the “big world” (London is considered a global metropolis) in 2008. Some of them are peculiar only for London, but most of them can refer to the western world as such.
1 American culture
My first glance of London was that of the Gatwick Airport. I had enough time to get familiar with it because I spend there six hours waiting for my cousin, who was coming home from holiday in Spain later that evening. But I can’t say I was bored. I went through all the shops and restaurants, realizing that the prices were quite reasonable. By truth, I was fascinated even by the MensHealth magazine that I bought at one of the newsagents. Everything was new. I have to mention that before I spent most of my life in small city in the south of Slovakia, or Banská Bystrica (my university city with app 90,000 inhabitants in central Slovakia).
Next day I took part in family shopping. Most of the goods in the supermarket I knew only from the American movies. Now most of the people would consider them rather commonplace because the consumer culture has penetrated into Slovakia – and not only the bad aspects. Streets of London were full of fast foods, which I expected; but also of small shops owned by immigrants, which I found surprising (fixing up the article 8 years after the original publishing I have to smile 🙂 ). You can bargain the price, but in general, they only multiply the atmosphere of chaos. Apart from several districts in the city and the parks, London is rather dirty city full of smog. You would not enjoy much of the traditional culture, but for the souvenir shops or hostels, where you can enjoy a tea with milk to wash down your cereals.
2 Commuter culture
London is served by 5 big airports. Actually, only the London City Airport is located directly in the city, and the Heathrow is in the zone six of the tube. With 75 million passengers served in 2015, it is one of the busiest in the world. Further in the north are Luton and Stansted, the final destination of many Slovaks traveling to London with Ryanair. The journey on a shuttle bus to Liverpool Street Station or London Victoria should also rings the bell to many expats.
Gatwick is in the south, approximately 70 kilometers from central London. It took us about one hour to arrive to my cousin’s house. From there it would take me further one and half hour to get to the city. I had to take the overground railway and change for a tube at Waterloo. This is what I had to get used to. I learnt to read newspapers or study on the commute.
Many people travel to work for over an hour on a daily basis. They developed into the culture of commuters. I like their attitude, how they try to use the time spent travelling effectively. They are reading newspapers, checking their mails, working with their laptops or just relax. Traveling by bus last longer than with the tube and often you would end up in a traffic jam. I do not recommend taking a bus on the main lines when you are in hurry. At night the streets are less busy, but you should bear in mind that the people want to socialize. Traffic jams at one a.m. are in the city centre on Saturday night are normal.
3 Hardly anyone speaks English in the city
London is a multicultural city. People from all around the world come here for holiday, but also in order to find a job and reside. Many people and many tourists offer many options. Most of the menial jobs are done by the foreigners. For example I have not seen a single white British cashier in Tesco. I could not understand why some people work their ass off. But one guy from Bangladesh explained me his rationale. He will work here for twenty years, only to enjoy British social benefits for the rest of life in his country. Bangladeshi are the most numerous majority, followed by Indians, Pakistani, people form the Caribbean, Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans and people from the middle east and Turkey. Many of them are quite intelligent, even educated at universities. East Asians are centered in Chinatown. You can find there the gate, similar to the one in Beijing, and many restaurants.
Those, with an intention to improve their English in London would be disappointed. Active vocabulary of average Londoner encompasses about 200 words. Once I addressed a shopkeeper in the present perfect and he did not understand what I wanted. Communication is a mixture of different languages; the African-American grumble, Italian ‘pizza-pasta’ gestures, Russian – where every second word is a swear word, or vodka, and the East Asian gabble. Old good English can be heard on the BBC or at some office. Often, instead of improving their English, people would learn Polish.
4 Sport in the streets
People from the west are rumoured to lead sedentary lifestyles, avoiding any sport activity. However, I could see people jogging everywhere I looked. Some of them would even go for a run in the streets during their lunch break. Afterwards they grab a healthy alternative of their favourite sandwich and resume work. Many people commute to work on bike, treading the pedals in suits. There are special park places for the bicycles. On the other hand, you can come across many obese coach potatoes that would benefit from the much wider offer of the unhealthy sandwiches.
Lot of people are gym members. They pay the membership fee and enjoy free access to all facilities, including fitness, aerobics, swimming pools, membership benefits, massages and sport bars. Some of them would boast of being a gym member, but actually their only visit is the bar where they socialize with their friends over a glass of juice. It seems that an average football rowdy puts more energy into singing and fighting than some of the gym members. My conclusion is that although not many people participate in sports actively, those who are involved do it properly. They get quality garment and shoes and learn the basics. The runners and cyclists in the streets often wear gas masks to protect themselves from the exhausted fumes.
5 It is easy to become a manager
Another thing I appreciate is the work attitude. Most of the people here work 9 to 5 + extra time, six days a week. It is the toll of the costs of living. The prices of lodging are high, mainly if you want to live near the centre. Not to mention the travel expenses. People approach their work with respect and awe. Maybe it is because it is part of the corporate culture of the world’s top companies which have branches in the city. Moreover, long queue of applicants is lurking for any vacancy. It is not worth just hanging around at your workplace. To get a job is quite easy if you speak English and are willing to undergo the initial training. However, most of the jobs the immigrants get aren´t something they would like to do for the rest of their lives. Key is to work hard and be productive. From there, you can be promoted to managerial position, because the effort is appreciated. You can become a manager, which brings much more responsibilities and usually just modest increase in pay.
In Slovakia the term manager evokes a chief executive at a bank, or a CEO at a big enterprise. But in London, it refers to any head worker in charge of two or three people. My manager at McDonalds wore an apron and was ready to rescue the burgers that I nearly burnt. Similarly, to be bestowed the title ‘engineer’ in Slovakia you have to complete a university degree in economics or technical institute. But here engineer can refer to any plumber or construction worker. Recently, I realized that even some Slovak PR managers started to translate the job vacancies into English, in order to make them more attractive.