There are some routine comments that we all are subject to when meeting someone new for the first time. Mine, when I get new acquantancies abroad and I mention London as my base, is “Oh, how lucky you are”. An that’s something that always sends me itching because, albeit I think I am lucky for a number of reasons, I certainly do not feel so for the privilege of paying for a tiny flat in what I now call Europe’s most overrated capital.
I would be a very poor judge if I denied that London’s vitality and business friendliness is unmatched in Europe; companies flock here in their thousands, as well as many of the world’s brightest minds. And I’d be equally biased if I were to boast any other European nation’s working culture above London’s. And I’m also ready to admit that some of the motives behind my dislike of this place can be found everywhere else in the UK (the ‘computer says no’ culture, binge drinking, the idiotic bureaucracy, HMRC and its 1950’s services, the shodding state of its NHS, the weather).
… But this doesn’t change my profound dislike for this place. And what is it that really irks me the most? Well, a few things, starting from the actual city itself.
You see, what most tourists see are some extremely wealthy areas – Mayfair, Chelsea, Westminster, Notting Hill, Canary Wharf perhaps – but few venture outside and sample the rest of the city. Which is made of ridicolously overpriced properties, with sub-standard plumbings, heating and insulation, owned usually by voracious landlords and are managed by agencies run sometimes by crooks, often by incompetents and not infrequently by complete twats. Ask anyone that has lived in London for some time and you’ll get some very interesting anecdotes.
Another thing I dislike about London is its vastness and transportation. I have visited cities with similar dimensions and I’ve never found moving about in a large, wealthy and industrialised city to be such a long, tedious and expensive underaking. The London Underground is amongst the world’s priciest, yet it seems to be relying on an infrastructurw put together by McGiver with a teaspoon, a napkin and some copper wire. Every commuter in London will become intimate friends with every single signal (obviously red) on its path and will know and dread the words “signal failure”. Every weekend parts of the network (generally the ones you’d like to use) will be closed for “engineering works”, consisting in ordinary maintenance that, I’ve been told, other big cities seem to be doing at night. And I suspect that the Tube’s run by Carmelitan nuns as it calls it a day usually a handful of minutes after midnight. Buses, on the contrary, are more to my liking despite stopping roughly every time they have run twice their length.
The last thing that puts me off London is, well, its people. The Brits are one of the most polite and gentle people in the world; one of the most civilised, accomodating and relaxed lineages ever to walk this planet, but Londoners have taken it to the extreme. All my social interactions with Londoners end up in a bubble of politeness and meaningless conversations. Londoners want to be left alone; they are kind, mildly interested in what you say but, at the end of the day, absolutely non committal. I have been living here for four years and made many friends but none of them is from London or the South-East. I have hung out and can call myself friend with fellows from Scotland, the Midlands, Cornwall and even Yorkshire, but not Londoners.
Now, am I the only one with these issues? Or is it really that living in London isn’t as great as everyone pretends it to be?