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Living in London?

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Jan-Peter van Tijk

Living in Great Britain, from Netherlands

"I wish I'd found InterNations sooner: It would have made my first few month as an expat in London much less overwhelming."

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Living in Great Britain, from Ghana

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London at a Glance

Living in London

Living in London is the dream of many an expat. The city’s flair and its multicultural society attract millions of visitors every year. On InterNations, you’ll learn more about living in London, about getting around the city and about London’s exciting nightlife and ample leisure opportunities.

Living in London has appealed to countless generations of British and foreign nationals alike. The city’s charms are manifold, and so are the reasons why so many people consider moving there.

People are attracted to London because of its metropolitan flair and diverse cultural life, its spirit of adventure and entrepreneurialism, its numerous opportunities and different lifestyles, and maybe by its history. After all, for most of the 19thcentury, London was the largest city in the world and the head of a vast empire.

Life in London also has economic advantages. As an “international center of trade and innovation” (in the words of its mayor), this city offers a promising employment market to job seekers living in London, but also a pool of talent and skills for employers to pick from.

A Multi-Cultural Society

The society is very diverse, consisting of people from different financial backgrounds and ethnic origins. More than 300 languages are spoken by the 8.1 million people currently living in London. Multiculturalism – though frequently challenged as a social concept – is writ large all across London’s society.

In London, you will certainly meet people of different races and religious faiths in your everyday life. The prevailing atmosphere of life in London is one of coexistence and tolerance. Racially motivated offences or crimes are usually punished severely.

The Cultural Sector

The enormous cultural sector doesn't only make London an attractive place to live but is of course also a major employer; also London's commercial creative industries contribute considerably to the UK economy. With well-established links between culture and commerce, London attracts artists and people with ideas at the same time as entrepreneurs and investors looking for creativity and innovation. The city's 12 official specialist Arts Higher Education Institutions undoubtedly play a part in creating this hub of cultural activity.

From Cockney Rhyming Slang to Multicultural London English

You speak English fluently, but if someone told you that the loo is up the apples and pears would you understand? Welcome to the cockney accent! London isn’t just a melting pot of languages, cultures and ethnicities. It is also a melting pot of accents. The city is a generator of new words, expressions and slang. The English you learn in school is not necessarily the English you’ll hear people speak.

If you’re living in London your vocabulary is going to get a workout. Apples and pears is an example of Cockney Rhyming slang. Cockney the noun refers to an East London native and cockney the adjective refers to the accent of said cockneys. Cockney rhyming slang replaces a common word with one or more words that rhyme. For example, stairs rhymes with apples and pears. So, if you’re told that the loo is up the apples and pears, it means that it is up the stairs. Sometimes cockney slang actually drops the rhyming word. One example, that is particularly useful, is slang for tea. Tea rhymes with rosy lee and if someone asks you if you fancy a cup of rosy you should probably say yes. After all, drinking rosy is an important part of living in London.

As London has become increasingly multicultural, so has it accents and the popularity of cockney is decreasing. What has become more prominent is Multicultural London English, which is sometimes referred to as Jafaican. The latter is somewhat misleading and steeped in politics, but what Multicultural London English refers to is the street slang of today’s London. Londoners grow up hearing a plethora of accents and ways of speaking English and sometimes their speech begins to reflect this.

Multicultural London English tells the story of the new words that are born when you mix one accent with another. Living in London is likely to influence how you, too, speak.

For more on regional dialects and other languages spoken in the UK, read our article Languages in the UK.

Different Class

Despite its status as an international metropolis and the large influx of foreigners now living in London, the city’s society is still rather traditional and marked by a strong class consciousness, even among younger people.

Members of the upper, middle and working classes in London don´t tend to mix much. They frequent different establishments (even within the same area) and differ in their appearance and way of speaking.

While living in London, you will, however, often find middle-class and working-class residential areas in close proximity to each other, particularly in inner city areas with their ongoing process of gentrification.

The “Big Issues” 

Depending on where you come from, you might be astonished by the huge gap between the rich and the poor living in London. True to its status as one of the world´s leading financial centers, the city has some very well-paid jobs to offer and attracts wealthy investors from all over the globe.

However, it also has problems with long-term unemployment, child poverty, and homelessness, which you will almost certainly come across. Crime rates may also be higher than what you are used to, but in general this shouldn’t give you cause for concern: While there is a lot of violent crime among young people living in London, it is mostly related to gang wars and drug dealing. Unless you get involved in a fight, you are unlikely to become the victim of a major crime.

For more information on Safety and Security in the UK, consult the articles in our UK Extended Guide.

InterNations Expat Magazine