When I jumped on the plane that would take me to London, I never knew I’d stay here for so long. At first, I made common mistakes of vocabulary, such as calling a chap “spunky”, only to have my English flatmate explain that although she watched the Australian soap, Neighbours, and therefore knew what I meant, in England “spunk” meant a male bodily fluid.
Long ago, I ceased calling the popular English washing-up product known as Fairy Liquid “Sunlight”, or plastic cling film “Glad Wrap” (New Zealand equivalents). I even stopped calling a “desk” a “disk”. The accent still pops up from time to time, gaining strength after a reunion with Kiwi compatriots, but it’s a lot more mellow than it used to be. Thank goodness for that. English people no longer have that quizzical look on their faces when I say something that sounds a bit wrong.
Some things still surprise me, though. When I first arrived in London, I thought being here 5 days, 6 weeks, 3 months or 2 years quite an achievement. Many years on, having adapted to life in a place where people sunbathe on a common as opposed to a beach, or where owning a car holds a myriad of unexpected fiscal outgoings such as congestion charges for daring to drive into the town centre, it would seem I might just have become a bit of a Londoner.
There are various on-line jokes listing indicators that you’ve been in London too long. One of the best indicators is feeling you’ve been resident here long enough to complain about delays on public transport without someone inviting you to return to your homeland. Everyone who uses tubes or trains here knows the standard delay excuses “there are leaves on the track” in Autumn, “there’s snow/ ice on the tracks” in Winter, “the heat is affecting the tracks” on a warm summer’s day, but imagine the outburst of laughter when a colleague recently mentioned a friend having been delayed on a train one winter with the loudspeaker stating that it was down to “fog on the line”.
There is also a statistic that in Central London, traffic moves at an average of 6 miles per hour. That would be on a good day.
Another frustration is that no matter what your pay rise, you always need more money the following year. It is horrendously expensive here. Over £3.00 for a pint of lager, that doesn’t count gourmet beers, over £5.00 for a day’s travel pass if you don’t have an Oyster card, a standard cappuccino at Starbucks costs almost as much as a discounted DVD. There is simply no rhyme nor reason to the prices.
In a city filled with historic monuments, world-class theatre and galleries to rival other metropolitan centres, it seems that most permanent residents need the excuse of a visiting out-of-towner to actually get out and enjoy some of these attractions. Why? Well, for one thing, the crowds. For another, popular exhibitions now have timed ticket slots to avoid queuing mayhem. For instance, we recently planned a work excursion to visit the Chinese Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum. The best ticket slot we could find was for 10.30pm. That’s too late for me and too late for my colleagues who have trains to catch to the commuter belt. Ho hum. The younger crowd went to the pub and then the exhibition, but I made other plans.
Another reason why Londoners don’t enjoy their history on a more frequent basis is the ticket prices. When Monsieur’s mother came to visit, we took her to the Tower of London. How much do you think it cost per ticket? £16.00 per adult. Even with an internet booking discount, this was still a very costly excursion.
Given all of the above problems, there are definite benefits to living in London. There are plenty of delivery services (a huge bonus at the end of a long day at work), you can buy lunch at 4pm if that’s when you’re hungry, there are lots of inexpensive ways to enjoy the sights, such as walking along the river or picnicking in the parks, or visiting some of the stunning churches in the capital. It’s possible to eat the food of a different ethnicity every day of the week, and then some. It’s also amazing how much an appreciation of tubes and trains that meet their schedules can suddenly make the day worthwhile.
So the answer to my question: too long in London? Maybe not just yet…