10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to London

By  Cat Mills

An outsider's guide to working abroad in one of the world's greatest cities.

When I was a teenager I dreamed of moving to London and working for the BBC. I wasn’t sure what the job itself would be, but I knew it would be important; like documentary producer or something cool. I would live in a house that was over 100 years old and have a green armchair and a mahogany side table with a doily and a pot of tea on it. I would read my book, drink English breakfast tea and stare out the window into the drizzly landscape. I would also get a typewriter and take up smoking; a limp cigarette hanging from my lips and my brow furrowed with the torment of writing. Ah, yes. That was what London would be about. Then, when I was 80 I could look back at those years and the wildly creative, frustrating and inevitably inspiring time that I had and smile softly to myself.

Truth be told, I didn’t take up smoking, have a green armchair or mahogany side table or work for the BBC, though I did buy a typewriter for five quid from the local market and spent a lot of time staring out the window at the rain. As I had imagined, they were incredibly frustrating and inspiring years and I don’t regret a single moment of them.

That being said, as much as I enjoyed living in London I really could have used some advice to make the transition smoother. As such, allow me to share with you the 10 things I wish I knew before moving to London:

1. Most landlords don’t fix things properly. I’m not telling you this so that you’ll accept a crappy flat, I’m just warning you. Of the four places I lived in in London, three of them were not properly maintained and damages were not fixed. Leaky ceiling? Let’s just paint over that. Floorboards rotting away? Just don’t step there. It can be a problem. Also estate agents don’t tend to help you with issues you might have with your landlord.

2. “Pants” in Canada and “pants” in the UK have two very different meanings. Learn the difference so that you don’t inadvertently start talking about your underwear to people.

3. Give yourself an hour to get anywhere. London is a big city and transport is not always reliable. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.

4. Buy a dehumidifier (or get your landlord to buy one). London is a very damp city and the houses are old. You will save yourself a lot of hassle if you just get a dehumidifier when you start seeing black mould, because, you will see black mould. Promise.

5. Samuel Smith pubs have the cheapest pints in London. Though prices are going up almost everywhere, if there is a cheap pint to be found it will be in a Sam Smith chain of pubs. As an added bonus these are some of the nicest pubs around and include The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese; arguably the oldest pub in London with a great décor and rich history. Find these pubs and you will have a great night.

6. Customer service is terrible. I don’t mean to disrespect companies in London as there are many great ones, but in general the customer service is disappointing when compared with Canadian standards. When I was managing an office in Soho it took me an average of five calls to get something sorted out, even if it was just requesting a copy of an invoice.

7. You won’t save money in London, so don’t stress about it. Unless you have a high paying job and an amazing rent, chances are you will be doing the same as everyone else and living from paycheck to paycheck. You don’t live in London to save up money; you live in London to have fun! Go to the pubs, take in the history, make friends from different cultures and explore. Rent is expensive. Transport is expensive. Drinking is expensive. Just come to terms with it.

8. Find your nearby street market. Though London is a pricey city, I was always impressed with how cheap the produce could be. Street markets are common and can be found in most places. My favourite thing about them? It costs £1 for a bowl of fruit or veg. One day I went home with two massive bags filled with leeks, zucchinis and peppers for just £3. London also has many Lidl grocery shops. They’re the cheapest place for food I have found so far.

9. Buy a round at the pub. I know in Canada we tend to buy our own drinks but don’t fall into the mistake of doing this in the UK. It’s considered rude—especially if you are accepting drinks but not repaying the favour at the bar. It does get expensive though, so be aware.

10. Leave London. London is a magical city that can offer you a wide range of exciting and diverse activities ranging from the theatre to live music to charming markets. Chances are that you won’t even have to leave your borough to be able to enjoy a great lifestyle. This is the tragic flaw though. It is important to leave London every now and then—whether that means hopping on a train to Brighton for the day or taking a weekend break in a nearby country. If you stay put for too long you won’t appreciate how cool things are. Give yourself some time off so that you can love this amazing city for what it is.

Cat Mills is the producer and host of the webseries Wicked and Weird Around the World. In the series, Cat travels around the globe in search of the strangest festivals, competitions and celebrations known to man.  

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