I remember when I was seven, I had my first English lesson in Poland, in school. We learned how to introduce ourselves to others and say words apple and pear in English. It seems pretty basic, I know, but trust me. Just a few weeks and shit got real. We were translating Dido’s song “Thank you”, together with our teacher. Verse by verse, where she sings she had too much to drink and doesn’t want to get out of her bed at all. None of us had a clue what the song was about. That’s long years before first heartaches, friendzones and flirting with guys in tracksuits.
Another lesson I remember was a dialogue scene between two people, who randomly jumped into each other on the streets of London. That felt so ridiculous! Maybe we were seven, but we all knew that if people talk like that for real, somewhere, anywhere, something must be wrong with them.
“John, what a surprise! We should meet for a cup of tea and a biscuit!!!!”
We were told since little kids that London is a city of red phone boxes and white townhouses. People are happy there, eating biscuits, drinking tea and living their happy lives. And if we learn English we can get a chance one day.
When I was 18, I worked with this somehow annoying girl. She was so nice, but I’m sorry, at the same time so trash…! She was obsessed with London, talking about it all the time. Oh my god, bitch, just book the Ryanair and go. Do you need a personal hotspot or what? Every few days there was a new picture of London taken from Google images that she would post on her Facebook. She would listen to the most cliche British rock music and walk around being so proud.
I always liked Britain very much too, but not as much as her. When I told everyone I’m leaving, many people replied saying, oh, *she* will be so jealous. If all she can do is post shitty stock images, then she’s going to be stuck in her dream forever.
But London, to my surprise, didn’t meet the expectations. At least not in full. White townhouses are only in SW1. What a shame. I thought I’d live in one… well…
I quickly fixed my mascara in the bathroom, because life is just a classroom, and got over it. But then started discovering more and more cracks in that ceiling. Here are some of my (least?) favourite surprises that no one ever told me about.
1. Standard of living + broken flats costing fortune
I’m from Poland. You guys know we don’t have millions hidden under the sink. That’s why it’s a lot of us everywhere. That’s why from, well, one of the most desirable cities on the planet I expected an upgrade, not downgrade. In Poland, it’s not a lifetime achievement to have a living room in your flat, sofa to sit on, basic furniture or even a TV. In London? If I could get a pound every time I saw mould in someone’s flat, there would be no children starvation on Earth by now.
Many times I spoke to someone on Grindr(for those who don’t know, it’s like Facebook for gay people…) who seemed nice, with profile picture taken at the gym in good area, trendy haircut, just to find out they are like Snow White – living with seven, but no dwarfs, but cockroaches. 112 miles away from central London. Helicopter recommended.
For the record, my rent in London was 580 pounds per month, including bills, for a flat shared with 4 creepy Spaniards I didn’t even know, no lounge or living room. My bedroom had a broken ceiling, one chest of drawers and a bed that remembers the beginning of Cher’s singing career.
2. Tube on Monday morning
A lot of people hate tube. With a passion. I actually like it. After moving out of London I started appreciating the idea of a train coming every two minutes, that can take you literally anywhere. There are other variations of it, like overground(mostly for east London) or DLR which is so cool and sometimes feels like a rollercoaster for bankers working in Canary Wharf… Of course, afternoons on weekdays are tough, so are mornings, but that’s a part of living in a big city.
What do I hate about the tube then?
The war of classes.
Everyone’s using tube. Even Rihanna ditched her driver to avoid horrific traffic jam and took tube to the O2 Arena. That’s why many times I observed signs of mutual hate between people so different, they wouldn’t have agreed to share space if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
I used to live in Bethnal Green and work in Southwark. Which means I had to share the carriage with all the people working in the City – getting off at Liverpool Street or Bank. Type of cheeky middle-aged gentlemen with a beer belly, smelling of Dior Savauge they got for Christmas from their wives they cheat on at the office every day. I remember their facial expressions when they had to sit next to a south Asian older lady of different culture. They kept themselves glued to the screens of their fucking iPad Pros (12-inch version.)
Just not a nice feeling.
3. People drinking outside pubs after work on weekdays
Sometimes certain things just piss you off, big time. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person(I hope). I personally hated being on a bus back from work on weekdays, driving through Moorgate and seeing pubs, one after another, full of the same type of men I described in a previous paragraph, drinking their pints and having a laugh with mates… like a hundred meters from the actual pub. 200 people around one pub, like it’s so hard just to move to another, less busy place. What an idiotic and annoying phenomenon. Maybe I just
fucking hate highly dislike this specific part of society. And I just can’t help it.
4. Old Broad Street
There’s a tiny street between Liverpool Street and Bank. Here’s a picture of it.
Like Trump once said – looks good, doesn’t work. I think Hell might be a city made just from streets like that. 99% of my phone calls to work were made from that street. “Hi boss, I’m so sorry, I’m gonna be few minutes late… yes… yeah, exactly. I’m stuck in Bank. Again.”
There’s a term I find funny, created nowadays, mostly used in job offers that can be found online.
If you’d like to see what busy environment is like, I recommend you to take a bus 388 from East London towards Elephant and Castle on a weekday morning. I need to calculate how many weeks of my life I had lost on that street, staring at some poor guy unloading a delivery for a nearby cafe. He knows how it feels to be stressed. He has 3 buses stuck behind him every morning.
5. People living in Knightsbridge
I still work for the same high street retailer I worked for in London, but it’s much better now. When they first told me I’m going to the Knightsbridge store I couldn’t be happier. I love high fashion and working literally opposite Harrods and next to boutiques of brands like Gucci, Prada, Versace etc. seemed like a dream come true. I imagined myself walking to work in my navy bomber and a cup of latte from french cafe Paul, looking at all of those fashionable people of Knightsbridge…
yeah, my ass.
Working in Knightsbridge was hell. Of course it’s a ridiculously wealthy area, however, I don’t believe people’s wealth makes them assholes. My friends and I worked in a few other rich parts of town but never had to deal with such ridiculous behaviour like in Knightsbridge.
How do I know these people actually live there? Because they kept coming every day, with their children that trust me, were hard to forget.
I remember being given a full shopping tote and told by a customer to count how much it would all be in total. After ten minutes, the screen of my calculator showed £900. From kids t-shirts worth a few pounds each. After telling the nice lady what the amount was, she asked if we can make some of the tops she chose to order, because she’d like the letters printed on them to be red. I told her then, that unfortunately we are a high street LOW PROFILE retailer and don’t offer such options yet, but I’ll be more than happy to let her know personally when the company starts providing services of this nature.
She was happy. Didn’t detect the sarcasm.