Friday, February 21, 2014

After all this time, I do love you, Don

Let's see if this works! :)

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My mom sent me an article via email several months ago that I only recently got around to reading (this happens sometimes, especially when I'm busy - I get sent articles that people think would be interesting to me, and having the compulsive need to have a zero-unread sum in my inbox all the time, I keep them in my inbox for later reading).

The article, here, outlines London and why it is different than the rest of the UK (or how it's not different, as the case sometimes is).

I've realized that over my 11 months of being here...I have learned to love it. It was a difficult journey for a number of reasons, which I'll outline in just a second, but actually...I do love it here.

This is somewhat of a shock to me, since I had such a vehement dislike of it from the get go. I think a lot of this had to do with high expectations - Helsinki was smooth to integrate into, why would London be any harder, especially when everyone speaks the same language which is my language - English.

Because of these reasons:

  • I already had some connections in London from my friends in Helsinki, but at the end of the day the idea about friendship and connections is different in the UK. Everyone is so busy and interested in being established with a stable group that no one is interested in being your friend. This is in direct contrast to Finland, where all the expats know each other and are open with each other because we're all in the same boat. There is an expectation that you may not stick around for long, but as long as you're here I'll be friendly with you. This is not the case in London - people are busy, have no time for you in their busy schedules, and have usually established friends long ago, which they are extremely loyal to. No room for you, in other words.

  • The dating game is completely different, and strangely, more difficult to understand and play in. In Helsinki it was easy enough for me to find people I wanted to date - the expat community was open and friendly (2% of 500,000 people is enough people to usually find someone you'd like), plus the dating game of Finnish men is fairly simple: I stare at you if I'm interested, and even if I say nothing, I am curious at the least. I will only say something when I'm drunk enough or I've traveled enough not to be afraid of talking to you. Britain is a whole other matter - lots of talking and very very subtle hints, if hints at all. The men here are so afraid of offending you that they say everything they think you want to hear but what they should say. Directness is not honored here; you may never know when someone is interested in you until years later, and by then it is likely too late. Also, long term relationships are only valued by those who are interested in having one with you. Everything else is dismissed as casual. It is not clear which one you are in until the end.

  • Complaining is part of the talking culture as well. They always want things to be better than they are and they will vocalize it. Finns think there is beauty in most things; the appreciation is palpable. Perhaps this makes them less ambitious in many ways, but at least they don't complain about things either.

  • British English and American English are not, in fact, the same thing. They're not even similar. Yes the words are the same but they could mean something completely different. And honestly, most of the time the words aren't even the same. We are literally speaking two different languages. Getting things like "chips, boot, pants, and biscuit" misunderstood actually goes a long way in miscommunication. Sometimes it's funny, most times it's awkward. Imagine talking to someone who is using all words you recognize but they have completely different meanings. 

  • If you are not going along with the culture, it will be pointed out. To you. This is one of the things I struggled with the most - if I wasn't playing along with British culture, it was very obnoxiously pointed out to me that I was doing it wrong. Someone who notices will make you feel embarrassed about it. The shaming is endless. I have learned to live with the fact that I'm interested in compromising and playing along with some things, but definitely not all. Accept me for who I am - I am not from your country, why would you expect me to act as such?
To be honest I could go on for ages about this, and my intent was not to directly compare Finland/Helsinki to London and say that it is better. I merely mean that I had an easier time there because people are direct, only say what they mean, speak American English (instead of British), and don't have many thoughts about immigration that are negative.

But through all that, I have still come to the point where I really enjoy living here in London. The manager that hired me for my current position is Australian and has lived in Helsinki, London, and now lives in San Francisco. He says that though London was one of the hardest to live in from the beginning, it also leaves the biggest impression on you; you'll miss it more than anywhere else you've lived.

I have a feeling he's right. Because my time here has now been transformed to the positive, and though I would be fine with leaving it for the sunny shores of somewhere else (like home in California), I do imagine thinking a smaller scale of life could be both relieving and painful.

And I have survived and come to appreciate this city for these reasons:

  • I finally made good friends who I could count on and feel connected to. This took months and months of socializing and putting in effort to meet like-people. But I did it, and now have a very good established group of friends here in London. It's bigger, more diverse, and more open than my Helsinki crew.

  • I picked up some British Englishcisms but have mostly kept my American accent and vocabulary. I think of it now as being exotic, rather than outcasted.

  • I have found an easier way to explore the activities I am interested in, in a city where information is being blasted at you all the time. I renewed my love of Groupons and local deals which help me discover things I would want to discover. Before I found a system that worked it was just overwhelming and I felt like I was always missing out on things because I would hear about them too late. Needless to say there are endless things to do here in London, assuming you have the money to do them. And now I take advantage of them.

  • This goes for many aspects in my life: I've found a system that works. I know the transportation systems well enough that I can easily figure out how to get where I'm going without mapping every single time. I bring a book with me everytime I know I'm going to be traveling for awhile because things just take time. I have a farmers market near my house that gives me local fresh organic produce and meats and supplement it with small amounts of local grocery shopping. I didn't even bother to do this in Finland. I rediscovered my love of cooking because of it. I've also figured out where to donate my used books and sell my clothes and other unwanted textiles. I have a place to do all the things I really need to do. And can get to them easily.

  • I have a plan and a reason for being here. I moved for my job originally, which was good and dandy, but at the end of the day I started questioning if my job should be the highest priority in my life: dictating where I needed to live or find love or do anything for my future. After applying for grad school, I realized the answer was there all along. I just needed to take hold of it and make it realized, no matter where I was. And now is the time for me to go back to school (while still working). This is something I truly want and am working towards; it's like having a life again that does not solely revolve around my job.

  • I can travel just as easily anywhere I really want to go, and for not so much money. I live right off of the Heathrow Connect train line and think it was one of the best decisions I've made about where I live. Also the buying of my annual rail pass - I'm pretty sure it's made up its monthly fee by giving me discounts everytime I need to go to the airport (which is frequently...I've kept up with traveling about once a month like I did in Finland).

So at the end of the day, I am happy to be here. It gives me a place to plant my hopes and dreams, and allows me to do basically anything I would want to do. The city is my oyster, and I fully intend to explore it and take advantage of everything it has to offer.

I'm glad I've come to this realization sooner rather than later. Thank you Don, for teaching me the hard way, but in a way that I will surely remember for the rest of my life.

I think this is going to work out. :)


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