I’m writing straight outta London!
And sadly, although I’ve been here almost a month, this is the first time. There is no real excuse even though I went through a half dozen reasons as to put my own mind at ease, which I’d then forward onto you all depending on what sat best for me. But writing weekly was my goal, and I failed — I’ll make up the quota though… Exciting things do lie ahead.
The purpose of this article is, due to my blogging absence & make juice with lemons etc., a crash course of what it’s like to be a South African in London for a month… So far. (And no, this isn’t like when you go on a shopping holiday with a fat wad of cash & a hotel room. This is to fling yourself among the pale & pasty for the long run).
*Get this out of the way. Since being in London, things tend to operate differently to coasting around the privileged circles of sunny South Africa and tuning into the news or clicking to our timelines to see a reel of chaos & emotion being pea-shot across classrooms enough to break walls and paintings to fall. I had a lot of time to simply watch, metabolise, conjure up some kind of opinion & blurt it out back into the middle of the classroom’s carpet, to which young girls in the front row (not picking on girls, just sake of metaphor) all haul their confirmation bias with/upon each other (you’re just cowards in my opinion). But here, no one cares about the carpet, or the classroom, or the arse-licking girls in the front row. Everyone here is their own teacher & they chose to bugger off at tea time. The government is mostly theatrics (about to skip themselves into serious economic repercussions with the debate of breaking from the EU — “but at least the immigrants will be gone” excuse being overheard in pubs) but all is not as relevant in our daily lives as our own personal business. A fair amount of sick peodophilia-esque news, which is messed up. But different intensities as to what heart-breaking SA threads are conversing over, or what carries more weight, the stone or meaning/cause students are hurling at one another.
I’m sure everyone is aware London relies on trains & the Underground to get anywhere & everywhere. However! Weird shit goes down on the Underground & there is a certain etiquette (and lack of) when riding these human-carrying-cones through the sewers. Rule 1: don’t try talk to anyone. Don’t even look at them. Just plug in your earphones and stare at the ground or map above you (tip 1: bring your earphones, otherwise you’re the complete bellend who plays their music through the speaker, but as per Rule 1, no one is going to tell you you’re an idiot.) Rule 2: Trains close at midnight. So if you want to ‘tie one on’ (that would be considered rookie hours in SA) make sure you’re prepped for Night Buses — the elusive transport everyone hates & no one really knows how it works, but “there’s an app”, and there’s likely a couple playing with each other’s nether regions in the back seats. Or you can be like me and stroll the streets until 6am with no real clue, collecting interesting acquaintances along the way. Rule 3: This is more like a warning. People are helpful & considerate if you’re a mother with child/elderly/etc, but if you’re a regular person, expect to be hated for even existing and setting foot on the same train as them. You will be screamed at by a rat-lady for something innocent, so prepare for this. There’s no solution to this happening, although I have seen & heard some ridiculous outcomes. Rule 4: It’s expensive. Sometimes easier/cheaper to just walk it. (Closer than you may think as well).
In South Africa we’d say, “Hiiiiiiii, how’re you?” to anyone (friend/stranger). That is not common practice unless you eagerly are asking of the shit day they’re having ringing up your groceries. Keep it to “hello, can I please have…” & the chats to your mates/family.
PARTY PARTY PARTY
Yup, it’s pretty impressive as you’d imagine. You have absolutely everything at your reach & your options are endless for whatever type of subculture and music-type is your preference for a particular night. Just a couple weeks ago I skipped seeing Tame Impala (a band I really enjoy, because: 1. Tickets were sold out & touts were pricey 2. Seen them before 3. They’ll be back very soon)… That’s the luxury available, I’ve planned my future several months ticking off all the bands I most idolise/blast from my tiny iPhone earphones, which is unreal — something a South African certainly doesn’t take for granted! (Just check out anyone’s facebook conversations around Rocking the Daisies time). And if I don’t make the night, there’s just a short wait until the next time round. A ‘mini bucket list’ of mine was to go to a house party whilst here as soon as possible, and luckily I did that in my first weekend. It is much like Cape Town’s parties, but with less people overall yet seems more, as your house is the size of a matchbox, and everyone making drunken faux-promises and sexual regrets the next morning. Because of the trains ending off around midnight, it is fairly common to have this kind of shindig I think. It’s more a piss up location to a later hour than it is a traditional house party. Bare in mind however, the price of any beer at a pub is north of R85 a pint (draught) and even though the beers are decent, I’d consider killing for a Black Label and/or Castle Lite. Overall partying in general is an expensive affair (probably the priciest thing on your list along side travel & rent). You can quite easily spend £120+ on a night getting wild (wild as in your average Saturday in Cape Town between Shack and P&G)… That’s almost 3 grand, lovers back south. Be warned. A solid pro: You can drink beers in public. Win!
I’ll keep this brief, but the banking system is anything but - it's terrible in the UK. It’ll take you a few weeks to FINALLY get your bank account, and then receive 40 pieces of mail over the next few days, the last being (if following the correct procedure) is your pin code! Then furthermore, you have 98 passwords to get into your account, yet they only ever seem to ask for 3 (good luck remembering the right answer for the right prompt) and an access code sent to your phone (a manual request you need to make on your phone — not instant/automatic) and overall the experience & usability of all the products just simply sucks soggy armpits. In SA, you can walk in on the day, some lovely Mama will say “you’re going to be rich with such a nice smile”, and you get your card/pin instantly with a very friendly banking system to check accounts/top up electricity/airtime/everything! Appreciate it — it’s terrible elsewhere. *Edit: most usability interfaces are useless here. Scanning through TV channels is from the dark ages & would be more useful slapping the decoder with a wet fish to achieve your goal. Pretty much only quiz shows are available to watch anyway & you have to pay 9 different broadcasters to watch a football game. Oh well, you do have 100+mb internet lines, so whatever…
If you thought Cape Town was an expensive & difficult place to rent, then London is like trying to pitch a tent in a shit-storm. Everything costs an arm & a leg, until you negotiate with yourself & settle on a place where you’re only sacrificing a toe every month, but then have trouble travelling 3hours to your daily commute with a toeless foot. The entire flat is also the size of your parents garage… And you share it with 3 other foreigners… Who don’t understand you. Although if you head to Wimbledon & the surrounding areas, you will find yourself in little South Africa. Everyone will be wearing massive windbreakers, beanies & flip flops.
Food is decent, but like everything else, it is stupidly expensive should you wish to eat out, and the overall quality is nothing compared to home’s restaurants & taste. Sure, you can get 4 Rolos chocolates for a R20 equivalent, but you will also pay R240 for the equivalent to an OK Bizarre’s margarita pizza. You can’t take the exchange rate into consideration in all fairness as Zuma is on all counts a complete moron (ref here for more thoughts I have towards that man), so the emphasis is on the calibre of meal — it’s decent & certainly edible. But nothing special like almost every restaurant on Kloof Street.
If you’re into buildings & architecture, then this is definitely a spot to have a look at. From the amazing & endless graffitied walls in Brixton, and the tik-monsters laying beside it, to the the wonderful bridges crossing the Thames, it’s great looking at!
If you’re into wildlife, the ocean, braais in the garden & vast space, then you’re not going to be all that happy here regarding this matter. I’m not sure I’ve even seen a bird other than at the park to be frank.
It’s great to relish where you are. Being anywhere is wonderful. And new homes are special to take & make the best of. Whether I’ve been in Beruit, Bloemfontein or the back garden, it’s always where I’ve wanted to be that very moment — pretty cool huh? London is electric, powerful, beautiful & everything I want right now! The rest of the world is soon to come too. 🙂 So love to you all wherever you are, and I hope you’re having the best time. xoxo