On London

London is full of compromises. The Tube is a stuffy, hot, loud place with lengthy distances when changing lines; and trains are shaking and screeching. But, the trains come every other minute, and that trumps all the disadvantages. Streets are so loud it is impossible to hear another person speaking, because of the endless buses and the crowd. But, you never have to wait more than five minutes for a bus, and may be it is your new friend who is walking in the crowd. Windows of many houses in the centre are not properly isolated and there is a draught, but, perhaps, they have less mould therefore. Many shops have guards staying at the entrance (which is a Bad Thing), but the shops themselves are splendid and full of excellent goods, and that trumps the so-called “security” again.

London is full of fashionable people. In the age group up to 30, I guess, at least 90% are clothed fashionably and/or stylishly. As for the middle age and older people, there are at least 60% who do so. In fact, you can spot a tourist in London by observing their unsuitable, cheap-looking or wrong sitting clothes (comparing to Londoner). Gents dress code in London is either business or smart casual, or something made from these styles by adding a little bit of controlled chaos. Generally, Londoner are even more obsessed with the uniform than Germans (as suits are, in fact, a uniform).

London is full of people, of various cultures, languages and background. It means a lot of positive and welcoming diversity, and plenty of wonderful and delicious world cuisines available around the corner. But also, unfortunately, it means some number of homeless people or families camping just in the centre of the square around Marble Arch. Truly interesting is therefore the feeling of safety I had. Never mind I have been to London a week after the riots, never mind there are signs “Beware of pickpockets” sometimes; I’ve never seen any destroyed property, any aggressive-looking people in dangerous amounts, nor any thieves. Well, I was visiting mostly the West End, the City and Greenwich, but I lived in Queensway and visited Soho, and Chinatown, and Brick Lane. Perhaps, I’ve just avoided ghettos by a lucky chance? As for pickpockets, having lived in Russia for 20+ years, I have had some experience with them, once stopping the hand of one of them trying to grab my month’s salary from my bag, and a couple of times observing them with their hands in some other people bags on a street market. Thus I believe I can sense their presence at times; in the huge London I haven’t seen anything more suspicious than in my sleepy tiny home town.

London is full of world wonders. You can see things that are not available in your home town, like some 3500 years old chinese pottery and bronze devices, and egyptian and assirian statues, and real bones of dinosaurs, and works of Da Vinci and one of the oldest remaining pages of the Bible. But also, the London architecture is a wonder by itself. We’ve landed at the Victoria station, and decided to walk to the Buckingham Palace. Just out of the door, we had to say “Wow” pointing at some building, and then passing that building, immediately another “Wow, look at these”, and then after couple of metres, yet again “Over there, how cool is that?”, and then we’re overloaded and stopped pointing, but not stopped wowing.

Speaking of metres, another rather unexpected impression I had is that the U.S.A. seemingly remains the only country where imperial measures are prevalent. I haven’t seen any sign or poster or other public information in London not using the standard measures. It is always metres, grams, litres, etc. The calorie intake label on foods is per 100gr. A lot of clocks use the 24h format.

They still have the left-side traffic though, and it takes its time to get used to. Even for a pedestrian, who just needs to decide which side of the street he must be on to get the bus in the desired direction. I wanted, but avoided renting a bike, partially due to this reason; I didn’t want to test my right-side reflexes in the London traffic. Speaking of which, it is terrible. There are in fact a lot of cyclists on the London streets; much more than I expected when looking at the traffic and the virtually absent bike lanes (comparing with Amsterdam, there are none). But, looking at the cyclists’ position on the bike, their uniform, their sporty racing bikes, and their faces, I don’t think they have enjoyed the ride. It was rather a fight, a rapid spurt from A to B, full of adrenaline and, perhaps, sometimes war stories they can later share with their buddies. I think, cycling in London should be a rather healthy activity, because of healing effects adrenaline causes to the body and because of the daily training to act quick but rationally under the effect of adrenaline. But, on the other hand, I’ve never seen a grandma on the bike, like plenty of them in the German streets. So, perhaps, the average lifetime expectation of a London cyclist is not to be envy of.

What you can envy Londoner of is definitely the food. I don’t care if there is such thing as English cuisine and what are its limits. I only care what you can get in a shop round the corner. And that’s much more diverse, intriguing, and delicious than in any other city I’ve yet been to. Ethiopian, Korean, and Bangladeshi cuisine I’ve tried for the first time in London. And as if it was not enough, they have Whole Foods Market stores in the city (five of them in fact. Why?! Why London has five stores, and the whole Germany none at all? That’s unfair); the greatest one having a dedicated cheese room and user comments on yelp along the lines “I want to live there”. In contrary to the tourist guides, I wouldn’t say eating in London is or has to be much more expensive. Those who eat on the Autobahnraststätte or in the Airports would pay more for worse food.

All in all, London is a perfect tourist destination, if you want to switch off from whatever feelings or problems pressing you; vibrant street life and clustered wonders would distract and entertain you. I would rather be careful when considering a permanent move or a long stay there though. You should never confuse tourism with emigration, as one of the Russian jokes goes. My extremely limited exposure to London leads to some unpleasant questions that have to be addressed. One of those is the health system. Would I feel myself comfortable living in a country where they sometimes call doctors “your health services provider”, and market their dental services in a same fashion one would advertize all-things-for-one-pound franchises?.. But yet again, answering such questions require much more exposure of the real everyday life in UK than I had.

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