12 Things I wish I knew before moving to London

I’m a smart woman and not particularly naive (I am), but I found myself in many awkward and stressful situations when I first moved to London. Actually, let’s face it, I still have a lot to learn.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes or at least be entertained by my misfortune.

Tower of London

Pants are not pants

We all know about thongs and flip flops, but poor me didn’t know about pants.

I had a very awkward conversation with a male colleague about needing to buy some black pants. It wasn’t until I noticed him looking very embarrassed that I realised we weren’t talking about the same thing.

Pants in Australia means trousers. Pants in England can mean underwear.

Lollies are not lollies

There’s a lot of these little differences between Australian English and English English, but this one really got me.

In Australia when we say lollies, we can be referring to basically any confectionery (jelly babies, smarties, sour snakes, etc.). Lollies in the UK specifically means lollipops or ice lollies (icy poles). Over here, confectionery is referred to as sweets.

You will gain weight

They all warned me but I thought I’d be one of the lucky few. Nope!

Be prepared to gain 5-10 kg.

How I gained weight ^

City Mapper is better than google maps

Much superior to Google Maps is the City Mapper app.

I didn’t know about this for at least two months until my housemate showed me the error of my ways. The app even tells you which carriage to get on when using the tube. This saves you so much time and stops you walking around looking like dumb a tourist (even if you am one).

Only card payments

A lot of places don’t accept cash! So many times I’ve walked into cafes or salons and they have turned away my old fashioned “hand money”.

Get yourself a contactless card. Trust me.

So many stairs!

I thought my encounter with vast amounts of stairs was just because I was staying in hostels and hotels. Unfortunately, like a lot of my problems, the stairs didn’t go away once I moved.

There are a lot of stairs when using the tube but the main source of escalation discomfort is from the way houses are built over here. Houses and buildings in England are very up and down, rather than flat and spread out like in Australia. A typical “house” looks like the below. I’m surprised that anyone living on anything above the first floor doesn’t have an Instagram worthy booty.

It’s properly cold.

I’m originally from Hobart in Tasmania so I thought that I would be ready for the cold weather.

I have never been so cold in my life.

I had to buy a new enormous jacket, buy new thermals and wear gloves at all times. Even with all my new attire, I swear I nearly got hypothermia one day. I couldn’t even walk because I couldn’t feel anything below my thighs. True story.

View from St James’ Park

It’s easy to make friends but hard to keep them

Regardless of what the older generations tell you, everyone here is pretty friendly. Meeting nice new people and making connections isn’t a problem.

You have to be extremely proactive about friendships over here. You never just run into people and even if you do, you’re both in a hurry. You will also have to make plans well in advance as it takes so long to get anywhere and everyone is busy all the time. You really have to make an effort to hold onto relationships.

Keep left… no right!

Keep left while driving, but keep right while walking? But also keep left while walking sometimes in some places.
London, you’re drunk, go home.

Agents are not my friend

Whether you’re looking for a house or a job, using an agent may not be the best decision.

Some real-estate agents will try to lock you into contracts and get you to pay for a lot things you don’t need (and put you somewhere you don’t want to live). From my personal experience, they will put pressure on you to make a decision on the spot without even viewing the property. I’m not saying they’re all like this, but I have seen it happen a lot.

Be VERY careful when looking for work through an agent. Some are very professional, but the more ‘High Street’ types of temping agencies just throw mud at a wall and hope it sticks. I also suggest that you do your homework when it comes to pay. They’ll tell you you’re getting £12 an hour when you’re actually getting £10.71. They can be a bit sneaky with holiday pay (but that could be a whole blog post in itself).

Vogons are real

The amount of red-tape involved in just existing in the UK is, in my humble opinion, completely ridiculous. When I watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I thought that the bureaucratic Vogons were a made up science fiction race. I now wonder whether they really exist and live in the UK.

The infinite loop of horrors

In order to get a lease, you’ll need references. So you’ll need to be working and get references from your employer. But to get paid, you need to have a bank account. To open a bank account, you’ll need proof of address, so you’ll already need to be living somewhere. (Help!)

I managed to get out of this loop because I was staying with my Aunt and I could get my name on the electricity bill as proof of address. I was also lucky because I found somewhere to live where I didn’t need to provide references.

National Insurance Number

To work, you’ll need a national insurance number. I was unlucky with this part of moving to England because of Brexit (Damn it Cameron!). The waiting time for a national insurance number appointment was weeks and weeks. Once I finally had my appointment, I had to wait another six weeks to receive my number (actually, by the time I got it, it was 8 weeks). This meant that for a few months I was being taxed at a horrendous rate, on top of my terrible wage that I was getting through the temping agency. I was under no illusion that I would be living the high life in London but I never thought I’d be struggling that much.

Opening a savings account with my bank

Ok, this one didn’t ruin my day but I found it bizarre.

I went into a branch to open a savings account with my bank. It was literally a case of the computer says no. The system they were using wanted me to provide proof of address, which is reasonable. The problem was, I had already done this and they even had a copy of it on file. The branch manager was called over and she was able to tell us “oh yeah, it won’t let you open the account. Weird”.

I left the building and opened a savings account from the bank’s app on my phone. It took me two minutes and I didn’t need to provide any documentation. Weird.

Missing home

For me, the best part of living in London is meeting so many people from so many different cultures in the one place. The worst part is being away from my beautiful little Island that I call home.

I am so glad that I came out here and and I regret nothing. I am having the most amazing time and learning so much. I’m excited, I’m having fun and I’m really happy. This doesn’t mean that I don’t miss home every waking moment.

I haven’t felt this way since I was a child and I’d actually forgotten what it felt like. I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling when you want to go snuggle up in your bed with all those familiar smells and sounds, but your bed isn’t there anymore. There are strangers everywhere and you can’t even call your family because it’s 3am where they are.

It’s normal and it’s OK to feel homesick. Just remember that everyone is different and some people feel it more than others. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be feeling.

8 thoughts on “12 Things I wish I knew before moving to London

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