I recently moved to London after acquiring a temporary visa from my home country of Australia. I had big dreams of partying with One Direction, become absolute best friends with Harry Styles and becoming a wizard to join the fight against the dark uprising, because my knowledge of England mainly comes from tumblrs, gif’s and Perez Hilton.
Imagine my surprise that London is in fact a bustling super-metropolis with almost no daily threat of Voldemort attacks, and Mr Styles and I are yet to smash some pints at the local boozer and watch the reds have a good go at the bubble boys, because someone said that once and I think they were talking about sport (if they weren’t then I was in the wrong pub).
I love London. Really. It’s fantastic and moving here is the greatest thing I have ever done.
But it has taken many trials, tribulations and weeks of foetal position crying to get to a point where I feel secure enough with myself to express utter disgust at anyone having the wherewithal to speak while in transit on the tube proper (you may as well punch the royal baby).
To get to this point, I had to realize several things (and not just that it’s always cold):
5. It takes at least three months to gain any semblance of a liveable life in London:
When I came to London, having already been a qualified adult person with a full resume and many rentals (apartment, lawnmower and DVD to name a few) under my belt, I assumed I would coast into an apartment and have my pick of the jobs, be sitting pretty with a new career and a new place and, as aforementioned, be the unofficial sixth member of One Direction by winter solstice.
What I didn’t count on was the fact that the rental and job market in London more resembles one of the party scenes depicted in The Wolf Of Wall Street at Stratton Oakmont (except with 5000% less joy and money, exactly the same amount of testosterone and cannibalistic fear and roughly half the amount of drugs). Almost everyone is trying to find a great apartment and everyone is trying to find a great job, often at the same time. And many people are failing miserably. Which means that everyone is willing to compromise, so you have almost no chance of finding both at the same time. I have met people who literally sleep in cupboards, not out of Harry Potter fandom, but because it’s all they can afford.
All fresh and bright eyed, my first apartment viewing was for a dank, tiny room with a gas cooker, sink and shower/toilet. It cost almost 100 dollars / 50 pound more a week than my whole apartment in Melbourne, and in Melbourne they were begging us to take it. In London the realtor didn’t even show up, and the current rentor just let us in after we patiently waited for 70 minutes. Used cigarettes littered the floor and he had jars of nondescript black liquid everywhere. Twelve people attended this viewing, and it was gobbled up on the spot by two eager, desperate Spanish guys.
I was FOP and I would have to change my expectations. I deleted my pre-emptive and hilarious ‘Harryz XXX’ contact entry of Taylor Swift into my phone (for emergency purposes) and went about finding more realistic contacts and friends. Meanwhile Harry slums it with this nobody.
4. You need a job to find an apartment, and an apartment to find a job:
The major problem I had with renting an apartment in London is it is a bit of a vicious circle. So many people are looking to rent that they can kind of make their own rules. It’s like the thought process behind the terrible service from many of the worlds cable television companies. Do you love to watch Breaking Bad or the NFL? Well then, you can just wait 6 weeks for a simple installation or an engineer callout to fix a broken cable box and also I’m going to put my finger in every apple pie in your fridge. If you complain I’ll cancel your subscription! What do you do? In this metaphorical example you would simply have to eat around the finger holes. As it is with renting in London.
To rent a property where you and your girlfriend are not passing C02 directly back and forth into each other’s mouth due to lack of space, one (I live in England now so I am fancy) must pony up at least 6 weeks rent up front and an insurance bond. Fairly standard but considering the exuberant renting costs it’s was something to negotiate.
The thing is, you also can’t really rent without a job or income. I didn’t want to commit to a place without first getting an idea of where I would be working because London is HUGE. If you work in the east and live in the west you could face a commute upwards of 1 hour, your face tenderly packed into Clive from Clapham’s armpit.
But you can’t do them at the same time as you can’t do one without the other, so you get stuck in this endless Inception style fuck loop where you get scared and anxious to do one thing without the other and spend more money you don’t have on temporary accommodation which is of course some of the most expensive in the world.
I stayed in a hostel for over a month as I got some temporary work (more on that later). The hostel was close but getting up for work at 7am is somewhat difficult when the drunk girl in the bunk across from you is telling her new bed-mate to ‘find her g-spot’ at 4am in the morning.
So you take the plunge on any apartment you can get and hope like Christ your work is close and that it works out for you.
3. Everyone online is less trustworthy than a Nigerian Prince.
Luckily my apartment is absolutely amazing, filled with lovely people and is walking distance from my job, but in terms of ticking every single box I am sure I am in the absolute minority. I am also sure it has greatly impacted how much I love living here. But it took a whole lot of t-ry-in just to get up that hill..
(I am yet to have my piece of the pie, however)
After over-hearing one too many late night orgasms, my girlfriend and I tried desperately to find some similarly priced accommodation that had a door we could close, in a desperate attempt to get 3 full hours of uninterrupted sleep. It was advertised as Zone 1, looked nice and was only 15 pounds a night more expensive. We had reached our emotional limit, so we moved into our new temporary apartment for two weeks.
It turned out the place was actually a further 30 minutes out of London, in an area where I actually feared for my life. The guy on quite a reputable accommodation website had just straight up lied about the suburb. Also, the fact that the room was nothing like the picture was not really the issue, as I take pictures on those sites with a grain of salt. But when I arrive to an apartment with a room that has walls that are more green than painted white for the amount of mould they have on them, and contain a boiler that has broken and has running water so loud that I can cross visiting Niagra falls, at least from a sensory perspective, off my list, then I get a little worried.
Also when the guy literally lets a girl in the front door of an apartment rental and runs away as this has fulfilled his online contractual obligation, and then is unreachable for a full week, writing back to thousands of calls saying he is ‘at school’ no matter the time of day, one (I live in London) does tend to feel one has been duped.
Because of the extra time out of London, it was also 90 minutes from my job. I had to travel 3 hours a day to a workplace I was only attending to pay for the money we lost on the apartment, and that was so horrific (and was lorded over by a horrifically mean boss, of whom I did start to feel sorry, as he sniffed all day-every day after persistent bathroom breaks. It must have been brave to come into work every day with such a nagging and persistent cold and still have the fortitude to pay me almost all of the pittance he owed me) that when the film of my life gets made, Michael Fassbender will surely include the scenes depicting it on his Oscar Reel.
2. When you move here you are going to be a new kind of broke, for many reasons.
After shelling out 6 weeks rent and a bond, after getting duped and paying for almost 2 months of hostel and temporary accommodation fees with almost no income, after travelling for 5 months prior, I had such a little amount of money I think it should be illegal. I literally was waiting for a tap on my shoulder from ‘the man’ telling me I had lost the game and had to go home.
What was worse is that London is a cruel, cruel mistress and does not give you a break. I had finally landed a temporary job, but like almost every single antipodean that arrives in London I know, I got incredibly sick. I was coughing up blood, I had a fever, I could not breath, I lost my voice, I couldn’t sleep and was also coughing up black stuff (the English call this ‘Wednesday in winter’)
The doctor at the ever reliable NHS told me there was ‘nothing wrong with me’ and told me to ‘drink water’ just in case I had spent my first 24 years out of utero in some weird walking coma and had just woken up in that room then and there and was completely oblivious with what substance to nourish myself.
This meant that I took two sick days from my job and, because temporary workers are the definition of a number in London, was told I was no longer required and they had replaced me. I was unemployed for another full fortnight.
Temp agencies are also a necessary evil that must be reckoned with in London as well. Thankfully I am out of their figurative grasp and am earning a living wage at a great job. The major problem with temp agencies, while they provide a service, is their ‘take’ of the wage is somewhat exuberant. A girl I knew before I came to London was hired for her position at a company, and was receiving 8 pounds an hour. Her position didn’t change, but later without the temp agency taking their cut it increased to almost 14 an hour. Same work, same position.
The problem is that the relationship between businesses and temp agencies are borderline incestuous. The businesses rely on the temp agencies to fill the many positions they have because it is often cheaper, not as much of a commitment and things just move faster in London, with people leaving jobs, leaving the country and going on holidays with more frequency than in any country. So Temp agencies pretty much have free reign to do what they want, including controlling the interest of a temp even if a business is interested in hiring them full time.
1. You are a foreigner in a buyers market, which puts you at a huge disadvantage in every aspect of life.
If you owned a business that interviewed two somewhat equal candidates, one who is English and one who is more qualified but is on a temporary Visa, and literally has to be forcibly removed from the country within 24 months, meaning you have to spend more time and resources training and hiring a new employee again in two years, who would you hire?
This is the very issue facing many International workers trying to get a job in London.
I got quite far in the interview process for an amazing role as a writer/ media person at a cool software company when I first got here. The girl sent me a lovely complementary email but decided to go in another direction.
Their staff profiles are on their website, so I checked out the position I went for out of interest. The dude who got the job is English/ now my mortal enemy. Now this is just speculation in my case but from all the stories I have heard, this is a main reason many employees have gone in a different direction.
In the job I have now the question I was asked first was not ‘what can you bring to this company’ but ‘how long are you here for’ which I expect to hear in a prison, not a white collar job.
Luckily I landed the role by continually assuring that I would not be a flight risk and high-tail it to Morocco or Spain after 3 months to drink with my Australian brethren.
This also goes for simple things, like healthcare. My NHS friend who told me to ‘drink water’ I think assumed since I was at the free clinic that I was just another international trying to sponge some free healthcare off the frankly great overall NHS system. But I am now a British taxpayer and felt slightly aggrieved with my treatment. Same goes for an international trying to register with a doctor, which is one of the harder things I have done in my life. Honestly I had to woo that doctor like she was Heidi Klum and I was me (I’m average looking!).
In all honesty, living in London is the best thing I have ever done with my life. I love every single minute of it whether I’m grabbing a Kronenburg from the offy, riding the king seat on the night bus back from Shoreditch, wondering why I went to Inferno’s, eating at ‘Chicken’ Corner, shopping at Morrison’s or going to the bevy of amazing markets.
Some may call this piece ‘whinging’, while I call it ‘fitting in’. But in all seriousness, throughout all the subjectively bad things that I went through, I never lost faith. I was bent, but never broken, and I put it down to just how magical this city is and how at the end of the day, I always felt like what was happening was serving some greater good. That it would all eventually be worth it. And it is.
Just don’t ever make me live through one single minute of that first 3 months again.