Americans moving to London may have a few surprises in store for them once they arrive from across the pond. Even though our cultures are supposedly similar, there are some huge differences between living in the U.S and living in London. This post is designed to help Americans deal with those differences so they can settle into life in London.
Living in London
London is a beautiful, historic city. However, due to the fact that it was built hundreds of years ago, many of us live in very old buildings that simply were not designed with the 21st century in mind. It’s very common for Londoners to live in flats (English word for apartment) in converted Victorian mansions. A house that once would have had 3 or 4 floors with living quarters for the servants, has now been chopped up into 7 or 8 tiny ‘flats’ in the same building. This poses some problems that English people don’t even think about, but an American who is used to spacious living accommodation may find it to be a bit of a shock. Firstly, forget about lifts, or elevators. You’ll be taking the stairs up to your flat. This is particularly unpleasant when you have 8 bags of shopping or a case of beer to lug upstairs to your humble abode. Don’t despair though, you’ll get used to it and it does save on gym membership.
Once inside your property, you’ll note that it is unusual for London accommodation to have closets. Instead, we have wardrobes of either the fitted (stuck onto the wall) or freestanding variety. The advantage of having a freestanding wardrobe is that you have freedom in deciding where in the room you would like it to be placed. Other storage space in a flat or house is often minimal and trips to take old possessions to clothes banks (often found in supermarket carparks) and charity shops are frequent.
Bathrooms are also often on the small side. It’s common not to have a separate bath and shower, but rather have a bath which has a shower head attachment on it that you would pin to the wall and stand inside of the bath to shower.
The appliances in your flat may be on a smaller scale to what you’re used to in the States. We tend not to be able to fit huge fridges and freezers into our kitchens, so opt for a short fridge with a tiny freezer compartment situated on the top shelf. Dishwashers are rare in London flats. All-in-one washer/dryers save on space so are a popular choice.
So, to summarise, when thinking about properties in London – think small to avoid being disappointed. For further information, including full details on handling estate agents, tenancy agreements, council tax and the difference between furnished and unfurnished accommodation, visit our main Living In London page.
Working in London
Moving to London from the US certainly has some advantages and some of these can be found in the workplace. As permanent employees we tend to get much more vacation or ‘annual leave’ than US citizens do back home. It’s common to get between 20 and 30 PAID days off work per year, plus public, or bank holidays which are also paid.
It’s also worth noting that is normal for employees to receive their pay packets, once a month, unlike US Citizens who tend to be paid fortnightly. Although this may take a bit of getting used to, it has distinct advantages. You can schedule direct debits and standing orders to pay out money for your bills (rent, council tax, mobile phone bill, utility bills etc) on your payday. This way you know exactly what you have left to spend on food, drink and entertainment for the month.
For further details on finding work in London, please visit our Working in London page.
Transport in London
This will undoubtedly be a big difference to the way you’ve been getting from A to B back home. We have an extensive public transport system in London and this is how everyone gets around the capital. Even those people who own cars (of which there are many, but not as many as in America) will regularly use public transport to get to work, mainly because it’s quicker and parking can be a real problem. Check out our Car Sharing post for a great alternative to owning a car in London. One key difference between driving in the US and driving in London, is whilst the majority of American cars are of the automatic variety, people in the UK tend to drive ‘stick-shift’ or ‘manual’ cars. Automatic cars do exist in England, but they’re not as common as manuals. Check out this post for more information on Driving in London.
Next up is walking! Londoners like to walk around the capital and this can come as a bit of a shock to Americans. If there’s the choice between walking for 15-20 minutes to get somewhere, or taking a cab, then we’ll tend to go for the walk. Even in the rain! Maybe it’s because we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and splashing our cash on something needless seems like an absolute waste when there’s another feasible alternative. It’s also quite common to walk rather than take the tube a couple of stops. You’ll be laughed at it if you try and go 1 stop from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Circus for instance, as the distance is so minimal, that taking the tube would be seen as being lazy.
Shopping in London for groceries
We have many supermarkets in London, but the huge ones of a similar size that you’ll be used to back home, tend to be in London’s suburbs. Instead we have frequent mini-varieties of stores dotted over the centre of the capital – for instance Sainsburys ‘Local’ or Tesco ‘Metro’ stores, which have the essentials, but do not have extensive selections compared to their regular sized stores. At these smaller versions of stores, you may not get the full range of cosmetics that you’d be expecting, so instead you should head to your nearest Boots pharmacy, where you’ll be able to get what you’re looking for. If you are unsatisfied with the range of goods on offer and don’t have the time to be marching all over town to get everything on your shopping list, then the supermarkets offer excellent home delivery services for a small fee.
It’s not common in England to have someone bagging your goods for you. Occasionally you may be asked if you need help with your packing, but it would be unusual to accept this assistance. Brown bags are not used for shopping. Instead plastic carrier bags are used. If you buy strong plastic carrier bags from the store, you can use them over and over again and at Sainsburys they will reward you with a Nectar point (loyalty card scheme) each time you re-use.
Food differences between America and the UK are surprisingly huge, so if you’re missing something in particular from back home, try shopping at a store with American Goods, such as Partridges in Chelsea.
Entertainment in London
London is an extremely social city, at times it can be exhausting, but for the most part it’s lots of fun. We have a very prominent drinking culture in the UK. It’s very normal to go for after-work drinks either with friends or with colleagues. This could take place on any day of the week, but is extremely common on Thursdays and Fridays. It’s also acceptable in many office jobs to go for lunch with your colleagues and have an alcoholic beverage or two before returning to work. Whilst this behavior may be a cause for dismissal in the States, in the City, it’s just how people conduct their business. Many Londoners, both male and female have a high tolerance for alcohol and will still appear to be very sober after a couple of drinks, so beware and don’t try and keep up unless you’re confident that you can handle it as well. Also worth noting is that the lagers you drink in the States are quite a bit weaker than the ones on offer in London, so if you’re able to drink 3 or 4 pints in America before slurring your words, you might not have the same tolerance when drinking in London.
There is a difference between pubs and bars in London. Whilst these differences are not set in stone, a good rule of thumb to follow is that pubs will stay open until 11-12pm. There is rarely a dresscode at a pub. Bars are smarter and will tend to stay open a little longer, possibly till 2am particularly at the weekends. A dress code, such as no trainers, may well be enforced. The general rule on tipping is that it would be seen as unusual unless table service has been given. If you’ve ordered your drink or meal at the bar, it would be strange, although obviously welcome, to tip the bar person.
The legal age for drinking in London, as you’ll all know, is 18. However, there are some pubs and bars that enforce an over-21s, or in extremely rare cases, an over 25s door policy. Even so, getting carded, or I.D’d in London is rare, unless you look particularly young. Large groups of young men are most likely to be spot-checked for I.D – bouncers are normally looking for any excuse to get rid of customers that they perceive to be potential trouble.
If you have any further questions about settling into life in London, please email us at email@example.com and we’ll try to help as best we can.
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