When you make the decision to finally move to this crazy, messy and wonderful city, you might find yourself tuning in to all kinds of voices: the ones that tell you that everything will be amazing, that it's about time you went, that your whole life will dramatically improve once you're here...and the ones that tell you to abandon this stupid idea, that London is only for rich kids, that you will never make it and will end up crawling back home in a month.
Neither of these extremes is true, and it's imperative not to trust these voices blindly when taking a step as huge as moving to a new city.
The positive myth: London is a buzzing paradise with affordable loft flats, cheap beer and jobs for all.
It is (never) easy to find a job in London.
It's extremely, soul-destroyingly difficult. You will go on tons of interviews, get your hopes up and then receive the 'we hired someone with more experience' response, only to find they hired a 23-year-old who was an intern until yesterday. You will feel discouraged. But it doesn't mean that you won't make it. I didn't say it was going to be easy. I said it was going to be worth it.
The transport system is (anything but) excellent.
Please don't fall for this! The TFL system is fantastically planned and programmed...but it just DOES NOT WORK. No bus has ever been on time in the history of red double-deckers, trains are constantly delayed if not cancelled and two weeks ago customers were encouraged to 'make alternative arrangements' by TFL at Victoria Station, as no trains would be running for hours. Far from a one-time thing, the extreme flaws of this service will also set you back £144 a month, for only zones 1-3.
You can (absolutely not) move here without speaking English.
Sure, you'll 'pick it up'. And there are lots of free classes you can take. But still, I don't understand how one can expect to find a job in England without, you know, being able to communicate in English? I'm sure you all know someone who found a job on their third day here without speaking English, but I have never seen that happen and am very sceptical of it ever happening. Even if it does, pinning all your hopes on it happening to you is a bit naive and very risky. Take a class before coming over here and you'll feel much more confident.
Flatshares are (the opposite of) fun, friendly and a great way to meet people.
If you're lucky, then yes. And nothing says you're not going to be lucky. Maybe you will be. But if you're not, the sad and creepy truth is that your life will be hell until you manage to move out. You'll dread coming home. You'll dread going downstairs to the kitchen. You'll dread going into the bathroom (oh, this was my worst dread!). And friend-making? Well, you certainly will make some. But there will also be that guy whose name you still don't know, three months after living with him.
Don't listen to these stories:
'My friend's friend's friend found a job on their first day in London'
'My girlfriend's brother's cousin found a manager position without speaking a word of English'
'My colleague's grandma's hairdresser met her husband in a flatshare'
'My sister's cat's boyfriend's boss pays only £500 for a one-bedroom flat in zone 2'
'My train was on time today'
The negative myth: London is a smelly hellhole and everyone's either rude, a weirdo or out to kill you. And it's always raining.
The food is (so far from!) bad.
I'm always a bit confused when people say that the food is bad in London. This is a city with such a vast, infinite variety of culinary marvels that it's nearly impossible to quantify 'London food'. If they mean English food, then well, I guess it's a question of taste. As a vegan, I haven't had the chance to try many traditional British foods, but my Italian husband loves most things he's tasted. A note for Italians: yes, Italian food isn't the best in London. But there's not much we can do about that, except you can come to my house and have amazing authentic Italian. Otherwise, David and I recommend Mediterranea in Crystal Palace, which is a delight.
It's (not necessarily) too expensive to live here.
Sure, rents are stratospheric. And, as previously covered, the cost of transport is likely to make you cry. But London also offers a variety of cheap entertainment, free museums and other fun stuff to do and groceries that are cheaper than the ones I found in Sweden and Italy. Plus, salaries here are pretty decent.
It will (not) constantly rain
London weather is a common target of public ridicule, yet I have suffered chillier winters in ultra-humid Milan than here. Does it sometimes rain? Hell yes. Does it always rain? Absolutely not. The summer of 2013 was one of the nicest and warmest I've ever experienced and spring in London is just the loveliest thing on the planet. Come over in May and see for yourself!
It's too chaotic (?? what is this even)
I never know what to say to this as 'chaotic' is such a subjective thing to say. I'm not sure I've ever seen a capital that wasn't hectic, fast-paced and full of people. If calm and tranquility is your main prerogative, than maybe a smaller town might be better suited to your needs. Sure, Victoria station at 8 a.m might not be the most meditative place. But this city is full of huge, lush parks and other outdoor areas that are very relaxing - I can spend entire days at Clapham Common in the summer, with a book and a frappuccino. Anything but chaotic.
Don't listen to these stories:
'My mailman's sister's brother got food poisoning from this very kebab place'
'My cousin's colleague's gardener came here and then moved back to Whatevertown because London was too expensive'
'My dog's grandpa got drowned in all this rain. Such a tragedy.'
'London is just too chaotic for me, so I'll stay in my home town. Which is the poster town for serenity. It's not at all that I'm dying to leave but am too scared, so have to make excuses. It's totally the chaotic thing.'
NB: I'm not saying these stories are all lies. That could very well have happened to your friend's brother's neighbour's cat. It's just that those are exceptions, and you can't base your entire future off of ONE thing that happened to ONE person once. Their experience should teach you something, but it shouldn't make or break your entire London dream.
Photo by David Camilli