Exactly 1 year ago (to this day), I boarded red-eye flight AA106 and arrived in London at 7:35 AM. I went straight from Heathrow Airport to the Google offices and started my new life in London. It's insane how quickly time has flown by and how much has happened in the last year.
When you're a newcomer with hardly any friends in the city, London can eat you up pretty quickly. The city is massive. It's sprawling, chaotic, overwhelming, exhausting. Coming from a recent New Yorker, that means something. However, if you fully embrace the experience and all the insanity London throws at you, there are few cities in the world that can compete. London is dynamic, culturally rich, diverse and beautiful.
For anyone out there contemplating a move across the pond, I thought I'd bestow a few words of wisdom (some obvious and some less obvious) and fill you in on a few things I've learned along the way.
How do you pronounce Marylebone?
When it comes to British English pronunciations, nothing is at it seems. You're better off just mumbling through words then trying to pronounce them phonetically. Thankfully, here's a nice little video to help us ignorant Americans out!
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What's an annual check-up?
The first time I visited my primary care physician (aka general practitioner), I had no ailments or health issues. I simply wanted a standard check-up. The GP was genuinely confused. If I wasn't dying, why was I at the doctor's office? Needless to say, it was a bit awkward. I asked her to take a look at some moles on my neck just so my visit wasn't a complete bust. With virtually free healthcare, point-of-delivery service is readily available, and preventative care isn't nearly as big of a priority.
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Don't cry when your Chinese food delivery arrives
For everyone who heavily relies on food delivery like I did in New York, you should probably start learning how to operate your oven. Cheap Chinese fare in London is very different from your standard #1 General Tso's Chicken meals in the US. For starters, no vegetable or meat entrees come with rice. I still vividly remember tearing into the plastic bag of Chinese food that first week in London and finding NO RICE. It was terrifying.
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The rental market is fiercely competitive
If you are in the market for a new flat in the city, you better move fast. Not only are prices astronomical, but good units move extremely quickly. It's not uncommon to get into a bidding war with multiple prospects for the same unit. In the states, the typical process is to submit an application for an apartment and just patiently wait for approval. In London, prospective tenants are expected to submit an offer. The landlord then has the opportunity to reject, approve or, in many cases, counter your offer. You can (and should) negotiate for everything, including monthly rent, fixes around the unit, break clauses, etc.
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"Cheers" to that!
When in doubt, just say "cheers!" The word works in pretty much any situation. It can mean "thank you", "good bye", "congratulations", "good luck", "see you soon", and just about any other informal pleasantry you can think of. Makes life so much easier. Cheers!
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No ice cold beers here
Americans like our beers icy and chilled, because no one likes to shot gun a lukewarm pint. In the UK, don't expect your beer to be "as cold as the Rockies." When you order a pint at the pub, expect a slightly warmer beer. The higher temperature actually allows you to taste the flavors and aroma of the beer. Save your freezing Coors Light for the keg stand.
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There ain't no party like a fancy dress party
The Brits love their costume (aka "fancy dress") parties. No celebration is complete without a kitschy theme. In my relatively short time, I've been to themed birthdays, holiday parties, housewarmings and work functions. One of the most popular festivities is the American-themed bash. Who doesn't love to dress like a the Statue of Liberty while drinking CHILLED beer and eating popcorn?
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Aussies & Kiwis have taken over London
Walk into any cool new cafe, bar, barber shop or art gallery in London, and you'll likely be greeted by a friendly face from Down Under. It's almost like a cultural right of passage for Australians and New Zealanders to come to the UK. With relatively lax visa regulations, many antipodeans spend a year in the city on a temporary work visa. Apparently, the numbers have declined in recent years, but you wouldn't know that while walking around London.
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No one works in April and August
The Google London office is like a ghost town in April and August. Most British families exhaust their vacation days during these months while students are on holiday between school terms. Some say that these are the best months to take off. I think these are the best months to go to work :)
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The weather is amazing
London gets a bad rap for having terrible weather year round. Everyone warned me of the endless dark, overcast skies and non-stop rain. Every month, I kept waiting for this to happen. Surely the gray clouds and thick fog would descend upon the city in the winter, right? Nope. Yes, there are rainy days, but in general, the year-round weather in London is fairly mild. The winters almost never fall below freezing, and the summers rarely get unbearably hot. On that note, I think I'm going to go outside for a coffee right about now. It's 60° F and sunny!