Living in London
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A comprehensive guide about living well 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 GO!, you’ll learn more about living in London, about getting around the city and about London’s exciting nightlife and ample leisure opportunities.
Life in London
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.
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.
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Getting Around in London
London has an extensive public transport network including buses, trams, light rail, underground train services, and even boats on the River Thames. While connections are good and services frequent, the size of the city could mean that you spend several hours a day commuting to work!
People who live and work near a Tube (i.e. London Underground) station usually opt for the tube as it is the quickest means of public transport. It is, however, also the most expensive. Moreover, using the tube is definitely not recommended during peak hours if you suffer from claustrophobic tendencies or simply don´t like being squeezed into a small and overheated train compartment 50 meters below street level with hundreds of other people.
The London Underground’s long history is partly responsible for this overcrowding and the relatively poor air ventilation. Having first operated in 1863, the London Tube is the oldest underground railway system in the world. This also accounts for its limited accessibility for people with mobility aids or parents with strollers.
Today the London Underground has 12 lines. Trains run from 5am to midnight from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday the hours are reduced. In a single year the London Undergrounds carries 1.107 million passengers!
Buses and Light Rail
Many people prefer buses as the cheaper and slightly less stressful alternative to the tube. However, they usually take longer, and they, too, can get very crowded. London bus services have greatly improved over the last decade, and you can get almost anywhere by bus. While service on all other means of public transport discontinues after midnight, most buses to and from the center of town run all night long.
The only improvement which hasn´t been greeted with pure enthusiasm was the abolition of the traditional red double-decker “Routemasters” for safety reasons. However, a limited number of refurbished Routemasters are still in operation on parts of the routes 9 and 15. Taking a ride is highly recommended not only for its nostalgic appeal, but also for sightseeing purposes. Route 15 in particular takes you past many of London’s major sights. Since February 2012, a new, “greener and safer” version of the Routemaster serves route 38 between Victoria and Hackney. Its main merits are improved accessibility and use of the latest green diesel-electric hybrid technology.
Light rail services are a good alternative to the bus and the tube, especially if you work in the City or in the Docklands. There are many different lines and operators to connect those areas which are not within reach of the underground network.
Public Transport Tickets
The network is divided into 9 zones, and there are single tickets and day tickets for one or several zones, either limited to buses or valid for all means of public transport. The ticketing system is relatively simple thanks to the widespread use of the Oyster Card.
This smart card can be charged at every station and used either on a pay-as-you-go basis or in order to purchase monthly passes. For detailed information on timetables, tickets, a route planner and service updates, check the Transport for London website.
If you are thinking about owning a car while you’re in London, be aware of the Congestion Charge, a road tax covering all of central London. Although it has helped to reduce traffic in certain areas, the center of London is still heavily congested, and driving through the city rarely makes for a pleasant experience.
Depending on where you live, parking might be an issue. Unless your house has a drive of its own, finding a space to park your car could be a challenge. You will need to apply for a residence parking permit at your local council.
One way of avoiding most of these inconveniences and still driving your own car is getting an electric car. Not only are they exempted from the Congestion Charge, but drivers can join source London, a public charging network, which for an annual fee gives them access to hundreds of public charging points across the capital.
A lot of businesspeople who do not wish to put up with public transport or the hassle of driving a car choose taxis instead. You have the choice between hailing a traditional black cab in the street and pre-booking a minicab.
Minicabs can be cars of any make or model and don’t display the yellow taxi sign on top. Despite being common practice, it is illegal for a minicab driver to just pick people up from the street.
In general, taking a taxi in London is safe, but make sure to avoid unlicensed minicabs (there have been cases of sexual harassment by unlicensed drivers). Also, always check the meter. With minicab drivers, it is common to agree on prices in advance.
Leisure Activities in London
London’s cultural and recreational offerings are vast and impossible to list comprehensively. This page can only give you a brief overview. For a detailed guide to what’s going on in London on a weekly basis, we recommend you check the daily newspapers or Time Out Magazine.
With 31% of London’s area covered in green space, chances are you won’t be living or working very far from one of the many public parks. Some are beautifully designed by landscape architects, some captivate by their sheer vastness and natural beauty, and others offer large outdoor sports facilities which are either free or can be used for a small fee.
Ideally, they combine all three elements, like Regent’s Park in central London, Hampstead Heath in the north and Richmond Park in the west. Despite the high entrance fee, London’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew near Richmond are definitely worth a visit.
Cycling in London is both a form of recreation and a way of getting around. Although London still has a way to go before it is anywhere close to being a European cycling capital, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, the city is actively trying to increase the number of cyclists.
In 2008 Ken Livingstone, who was mayor at the time, announced a project to build 12 new bicycle routes. These routes are called Cycle Superhighways. The project deadline was the end of 2012; however, to date only 4 of the 12 routes have been completed. The other 8 routes should be finished by 2015. This project may be taking longer than was expected, but it is proof that London is doing its part to promote cycling. In the meantime, the ever-growing army of cyclists commuting to work is still engaged in a constant battle against motorists on the streets of London.
Although it is not compulsory, wearing a bicycle helmet and reflective clothing is strongly recommended for your personal safety. Also, be sure that your bike has a light if you are cycling in the dark, or else you can be fined.
A word of warning: Bicycle theft is a major issue in London. Always make sure to lock your bike to an immobile object and do not leave it outside overnight. New and expensive bikes should be registered with the police so if they do get stolen, they can easily be identified and restored to their rightful owner.
Alternatively, you could join a rowing club on one of London’s many canals, or, if you’re not the outdoor type, there’s always the gym. Most big companies offer corporate gym memberships to their employees, giving them access to private gyms and health clubs at a reduced rate.
If you don’t mind working out in slightly less luxurious surroundings and want to support your local community, you can also join a council gym. Council gyms are local government charities and have the advantage of no minimum contract periods – very convenient for those who will only be in London for a limited time.
At little extra cost, they offer membership to the UK Fitness Network, which will allow you to use any one of London’s approximately 90 not-for-profit leisure centers and swimming pools.
Arts and Entertainment
London has a rich and varied cultural life. It occupies the leading position among the world’s greatest cities on many league tables comparing various indicators of cultural life.
With its free museums, London has a strong tradition of publicly funding the arts. Unfortunately, this has come under attack in recent years. In 2011 the Arts Council England made major cuts to funding. Out of the 206 organizations targeted in 2011, nearly one in four was based in London. On the one hand, this shows how pronounced the funding cuts have been. On the other hand, it also shows how much is culturally happening in London.
Nonetheless, the arts continue to be alive and well. The Tate Modern is the most visited modern and contemporary art museum in the world. Countless cultural festivals take place across the city each year, a lot of which are free to attend and encourage visitor participation. While London’s West End is most famous for its many commercial theaters, the countless smaller, independent venues spread all across town are also worth exploring for their staging of innovative fringe productions.
For music fans, both classical and popular, there is much on offer. London is, without a doubt, a city for music lovers. With abounding music venues and performances, several world-class classical orchestras and ensembles, and countless new bands, DJs and urban music styles appearing every year, you will almost certainly never be bored during your time in London.
London is renowned for its exciting nightlife. If you fancy a bit of everything and don’t mind throngs of tourists and youngsters, pick one of the big night clubs or music bars around Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
Soho offers a more eclectic mix of stylish bars, normal pubs and strip clubs. It is also very popular with London’s gay scene. Executive business people, some VIPs and members of the upper classes tend to prefer London’s many private-member clubs, a lot of which are based in and around the West End.
Angel Islington is another nightlife hotspot with plenty of bars, pubs, and concert and theater venues around Upper Street. Those of you keen to experience London’s nightlife from its most excessive and exciting side should venture into the East End, notably Shoreditch and Dalston.
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