While some kind servers will split the check, most of the time it seems like a big dramatic no-no. I quickly realized that it’s easier to have a plan in place before hand to make the meal run smoother. With some handy apps like Venmo or Cash, your London friends deposit funds straight into your account from their cell phone.
Jeans and a button down to go out simply don’t cut it here. The ladies wear exquisite dresses bought just that day from the Oxford Street Topshop. Men somehow transform their brilliant, custom fit work suit from Selfridges into a laid back, but extremely stylish outfit evening look. It’s easy to look so trendy when you have fashion houses like Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Stella McCartney, and Vivienne Westwood right down the street. If you think your ratty old Gap jeans will see the light of most clubs here, think again, old chap.
In London, instead of complaining about being bored and broke, I took advantage of the world class museums that are…wait for it…FREE. I dwelled on inspirational art at Tate Modern and got up close and personal with dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum without spending a pound. I spent my days watching people buy zebra meat at Borough Market, tasted samples, and searching for the ghost of Amy Winehouse at Camden Market. There are always tons of street performers giving exciting shows at Covent Garden and in numerous tube stops around the city. I took a self-guided walking tour to see urban agriculture around Mudchute Park, crossed the Greenwich foot tunnel that was used as a bomb shelter during World War 2, and would wander around “The City” to see buildings that are significantly older than the US. From day one I realized that there was absolutely no way that one could complain about being bored in London.
In London, speed is everything. From Oxford Street to the tube station, if you don’t move with the frantic, hectic crowd, especially during rush hour, not only will you get trampled, but you’ll have a gawking crowd of tourists rushing to snap a photo of you.
I’m a ‘more-ice-than-liquid’ type of guy, and in London that just isn’t how it works. Expect your drinks to have a tiny bit of ice if you’re lucky, and they’re usually just straight from a can or bottle, no fountain. In London you wouldn’t be caught dead walking around with a large Coke from McDonalds. I quickly learned to adapt, though, and weened myself off of ice cold drinks. It wasn’t easy. I might have cried, but I grew up and adjusted.
Every night in the US, I empty the remains of my pocket into a change jar. At the end of every year I add it up to find that my huge jar is shockingly only worth about $43. In London, £1 coins jingling around in your pocket very quickly they add up to something substantial and get used before they get tossed in the change jar.
Recently, in Seattle, I had a bus driver literally drop me off at the scene of a drive by shooting, and not even at the actual bus stop. I think the driver went out of his way to let me know that I was getting off at a sketchy neighborhood. While not every experience on public trans in London was great, most of my favorite nights out included a journey on the night bus. The tube and bus system are highly efficient and I doubt they’d drop me off anywhere near a homicide.
In the states, going to the post office often involves long lines, grumpy employees, and no less than three shouting matches about an undelivered Christmas card. In London, though, I always left with a smile on my face. From conversations about American Football to general interest about what I was doing in London, every trip included engaging and enjoyable conversation in addition to my postcard stamps.
In the US, mentioning “it looks like it might rain” is just something to spit out when you don’t know what to say. Most of the time I’d rather say nothing at all than comment on the sunny skies, but in London people all over the city are genuinely interested in what you think about the weather. Their faces light up when you say the sun is breaking through the clouds, and they’ll quickly let everyone around them know. It’s refreshing and sweet, and something that makes you feel just a little bit more included in such a bustling city.
Photo: Teo Ruiz