Recall we came to London 14 months ago because I read a provocative book – The New Global Student.
And what an amazing time we’ve had here!
The movers packed our stuff and sent it off to an air crate yesterday. Our kids had their best “mate” Sean over in the afternoon. They went out to lunch, the park, went to the Science Museum and I believe even got Inez to buy them “rides” there – something we’d normally never pay for but at the moment we are trying to liquidate all our local currency.
I took the 49 Bus up to the library with a pile of books to return….and also brought my camera for some final memory captures as I ambled around High Street Kensington, over to Hyde Park near Kensington Palace, and to Royal Albert Hall:
These are just some of the amazing sights I’ve been able to enjoy in our neighborhood for the past year plus.
We are moving on, back to our house in New York so I want to wrap everything up here in London.
First, here’s what I
hated wasn’t totally in love with about London:
Toilets – They don’t call them “bathrooms”. Everyone calls them the toilets. It’s a little off-putting. I understand bathroom is inaccurate because most of the time Americans are not taking baths! But the toilets is probably too graphic an image – ESPECIALLY when you see them. The public “loos” are disgusting almost everywhere. There’s crap on the seats, pee all over the floors….one ice skating rink we went to regularly DIDN’T EVEN HAVE SEATS on the toilets! They were metallic bowls drenched in pee. If you couldn’t hold/control your bowels before coming to London before….you quickly learned how to wait until you got home. I did.
Also, there’s no water in the toilets here. For our first several weeks here my wife and I mistakenly thought we were dehydrated because our pee seemed so dark. Then I realized it was just the lack of water in the bowls!
Also when someone defecates in a low-water toilet, it stains the bowl, obviously. They have these white brushes that poopers are supposed to use to erase the evidence….but guess what color the white brush is afterwards, guess what’s stuck to it! I’m sorry, but in 2015 I’m not going to scrub toilets by hand because they won’t put more water in the bowl. Last I checked, water literally falls from the sky!
Small Portions – Would you pay 5 pounds ($8) for 3 tiny meatballs and a TABLESPOON of lentils? That’s what it costs at a nearby deli. I understand that London is expensive but lentils don’t cost anything. They could have served more than a spoonful of lentils with no added cost – but they don’t. They will starve you here if you aren’t careful. I’ve lost 22 pounds off my already slender frame. I haven’t been this thin, since I was 18…..or more accurately, since MY MOTHER WAS FEEDING ME. (Note – she is half-Brit herself!)
Late Starts – Can you believe our gym doesn’t open until 6:30 am during the week? And on weekends it opens at 10 am and 11 am! We couldn’t get piano teachers to come before noon without arm-twisting. Every home ed class, seemingly, started way too late for my tastes as well. We always got stuck coming back in rush hour Tube and bus traffic. Many stores are annoyingly closed in the mornings too. Brits are slow-movers all around – at least compared to NYC-ers used to gyms, diners, and delis being open 24/7.
Littering Smokers – Londoners think nothing of throwing cigarettes on the ground…even when there are ashtrays on the rubbish bins. I do think it was mostly the non-British Londoner who were the big culprits but nonetheless, the practice was rampant and disgusting.
Tiny Playgrounds – The biggest playground at the biggest park (Princess Diana Memorial, in Hyde Park) has like four swings for the kids to fight over. The average American family has probably 3 swings….in their backyard!
Pitbulls “off the lead” – There are pitbulls running around at all the parks in London, all the time. As a father of young oftentimes clueless small children…it stressed me out to no end. Heck I myself am afraid of these dogs!
“Sorry” – It’s got to be the most common word in London! It was overused, as a get-out-of-jail-free card, too. After they almost run your kids over on the street….they politely say, “sorry”!
Waiters who couldn’t speak/understand English – This would actually be ALL of them. London waitstaff are from all over Europe and they don’t even bother to learn the few words they need to know for that restaurant. For example, when I asked for “tomato sauce” on the side of my stromboli at an Italian eatery….the guy, and he was super-polite….figured I wanted KETCHUP. When my kids asked for whipped cream on their ice cream….he thought they wanted SOUR CREAM added. Order a “PLAIN burger” at Shake Shack and they will ask you if you want “cheese” on it. I have many more examples but will get too worked up if I carry on. It wouldn’t matter how clearly you said it or in how many different ways….they will botch your order and say “sorry”.
Libraries – They stunk compared to what we were used to in New York or even Boston. Everyone who worked there was nice but the book selection, the hours, the online portal, etc. all really stunk. They also permitted a ton of noise in the library which I still don’t understand. I mean everyone is so quiet and well-mannered everywhere else in London. I complained once and they basically said to me that it was rude to ask people to be quiet. In a library???
Playgrounds Closing – They gate the playgrounds all over the city and kick kids out at super early times. I’ve never seen a gated playground anywhere in America. This boggles my mind. We once went up to Princess Diana Playground (last March?) only to find the gate shut. It was 3:50 pm! Who closes a park before school even dismisses??? They gate many of the parks at night too. It’s not uncommon to see young people trying to hop the fence at Hyde Park either to get in or get out at night.
European BO – The weekends were rough at the our tiny gym. It was probably French, Russians, and Italians though. I understand no one wants to shower BEFORE going to the gym but if they haven’t bathed all week long…My wife added that every single guy at her office had really bad breath – which she attributes to a lack of drinking water.
American Bashing – Yeah I had to endure a little bit – although really only because I’m super-perceptive and fully aware. I’m sure most Americans, if in my place, wouldn’t even notice it. Everyone is America is fat and gun-happy. All America does is “invade other countries”. No Americans have passports. Et cetera. Honestly at first it annoyed me but then I got over it. I learned that the Brits, most of them, know very little about America. I mean there are plenty of Americans who don’t know about their entire country no less its actual history….but many of the Brits are downright clueless and ignorant in a far more dangerous way. You should see the blank look on their faces when I tell them, “You know America was founded by Brits…” They had/have no idea! They know nothing of American history and all of their preconceptions are based on Hollywood, the BBC, and The Guardian. American history is NOT TAUGHT in their schools (Google it). In fact there’s a National Army Museum here in London that walks visitors through Britain’s participation in all its battles going back to the Roman invasion. The exhibits are chronological but guess what the display looks like around 1776….NOTHING. They skipped the American Revolution entirely. I made my son go up and ask the information booth where the American Revolution exhibit was….just to amuse myself.
They act like it never happened! And when I point this out to people, Brits, they say they have been in many more important wars, they have a long history, etc. Okay. But that war launched the most powerful and wealthy country this planet has ever seen. Perhaps it should have been given at least a token mention?
I asked one guy here what he knew about America and he admitted his knowledge was limited to only have read Noam Chomsky. QED.
Before I came to London, I didn’t know a single thing about the city. I mean, really nothing at all about the UK – nothing at all despite my Ivy League education and despite the fact that my grandmother is from Liverpool. I was totally ignorant in the true sense of the word.
The haters are a different kind of ignorant. They lack the knowledge, for sure, but mistakenly think they know what they are talking about. One woman who screamed at me, “America is a horrible, HORRIBLE place…” admitted that she never went to America and that she doesn’t really know any Americans.
(I jokingly told that woman not to worry….we’d still bail them out in the next war. She then exploded like a volcano.)
Whatever. Like I said, it was a minor annoyance that doesn’t bother me anymore. After all, I have profoundly ignorant people IN MY OWN FAMILY for crying out loud. And overall Londoners were 100% awesome to me and my family – regardless of any latent bigotries of theirs.
BTW, the passport thing is “rubbish”. I can’t tell you how many Londoners I’ve met who’ve never been to Paris even though it’s an easy a 2.5 hour train ride away. This would be like a Bostonian who’d never visited New York and I pretty sure they are few and far between.
Scary Anti-Semitism – There were weekly “Death-to-Israel” marches in our neighborhood, up on High Street. There were also a few demonstrations in front of certain embassies. It was scary. It’s what I imagined the streets of Germany were like in the late 30s. It was hardly all Middle Easterners either. There were plenty of locals holding up signs and passing out pamphlets.
Lack of Water – Restaurants won’t give you water. If they do, it’s lukewarm and 4 ounces at most. And you’ll have to twist the waiter’s arm for more. Maybe, MAYBE he’ll bring you another 4 ounces in 10 minutes. Ice? Forget about that too. Get used to drinking warm Coke, if you can. ADVICE – bring your own water, everywhere, especially into restaurants.
High Prices – The price of everything in London (except for cell phone service, which is spotty) is very, very expensive. I mean it’s offensive. Cab fares are painful. Dry cleaning for a sweater ($30+) was prohibitive. Everything in London is 60+% more expensive than it is in New York City – the most expensive place in America. I think everyone in London is broke (or a diplomat). I also don’t think Londoners realize exactly how expensive, on a relative basis, their goods and services are. London has become an enclave for the ultra-wealthy, and them alone. It’s not uncommon to see Lamborghinis and Ferraris parked….on the streets of our neighborhood!
Public Transit Strikes – They were non-stop!
British Sausage – Undercooked, zero flavor.
Small Everything – Not just food, but appliances, chairs, even the bouncers at pubs were midgets. I’m sorry but if the bouncer is my size, 5’10 155lbs…they are underqualified to bounce! I even saw one bar that had a female bouncer! She was a bruiser (“American size” with a deep voice) but still a chick.
University – Now I’m not a fan of college back in the States – not at today’s tuition prices, not as effective “life prep”….but the Brits are even more awed by college in some ways. Everything is “Uni” this and “Uni” that. It’s not even clear what, if any, the hierarchy among the schools is. Are these government-subsidized Universities all the same in stature? I mean there are big differences among colleges in America and most people name the particular school they went to, but not here. They proudly tell you they went to Uni. Even the priests/preachers are forever touting their educational credentials. Who cares???!!! Tell me what you’ve DONE in life. I don’t care about your degree and you shouldn’t either.
Scary Socialized Medicine – It’s called the NHS and it should scare all Americans. I had my fingers crossed the whole time we were here….that no one in my family would need any type of medical care or procedure. I’ve heard some real horror stories. Take a look at their cancer survival rates. And I walked through a couple of hospitals that frightened me. Probably the scariest thing about it all is how the population just accepts it. They let the government run everything here: schools, colleges, medicine, the BBC, the Anglican church. The regulation is off the charts – to an American anyway.
Now those were all sort of mere annoyances – that I had to adjust to and get off my chest.
Our experience here was AMAZING overall as were the people. Here’s some of what I loved:
Food Markets – Borough Market and Camden Market in particular had outstanding food stalls.
Buses (Busses?) – Our whole family LOVED riding the buses all over London. They went everywhere and ran often. Every child should get to ride on the top, in the front of a double-decker bus.
Park Cafes – There were no hot dog or ice cream vendors but every single park had a cafe to take refuge in. I would sit and read, stay dry and warm up while my kids played with the other home edders.
No Bugs – There were no flies, no ants, no cockroaches, no mice or rats anywhere to be found in London. Maybe it’s the cost of living expense?
Manners – Londoners are incredibly polite and well-mannered. It was truly a pleasure to be around most everyone – a respite from sharpened-elbows-out, get-the-eff-out-of-my-way, me-me-me New Yorkers.
Walking – I loved walking everywhere. The car kills me in suburban New York. Driving costs me nearly 2 hours each day and does untold damage to my abs. I’m not looking forward to going back to that. I’ve lived in cities for many years (sans kids) but this year in London has me thinking of moving into Manhattan so that I can ditch the car and walk places again.
Architecture – I never tire of looking at the buildings here in London. They are classical and unique at the same time. The modern buildings are wicked cool too.
Light Rain – London has a bad rap for rain. Yeah it may be “damp” but it never pours. Getting caught in the rain isn’t as penal as it is elsewhere. A hood will suffice. We brought like 5 umbrellas and barely used them all year long! The climate in London is severely underrated. The overall precipitation is actually very low. Spring and fall, the best seasons, are very long – unlike in the NE United States.
No Horns – For a major city….the streets are pretty quiet. No one even honks the horn, EVER. Oftentimes there will be a tie up on the road with some jerk blocking the street, holding up buses on both sides and everyone just patiently waits until it clears. I can’t help but imagine 10 drivers immediately leaning on their horns if that happened in New York. There are no sirens blaring either – another incessant ambient noise all over NY, even in the burbs.
South Kensington – What an amazing neighborhood! It’s clean, has several museums, abuts Hyde Park, is somewhat close to Heathrow and Victoria Station, and is close to most of the city’s attractions but sheltered from the tourist insanity a bit. South Ken is super-safe too. It’s easy to see why so many ultra-wealthy people call it home. I’ll dream for many years about being able to own a flat here. For the meantime, I have my pics and videos….and my vivid memories.
Holy Trinity Brompton – HTB is the most amazing church I’ve ever seen. We are Catholic but found the British Catholic services a little lacking. So, on a whim and a recommendation, we tried out this apparently world famous Anglican/All-denominational church. Our entire family loved it and will miss it dearly, perhaps more than anything else about London. (This is the church that started the Alpha program.)
Francophilia – The French people we met in London were truly awesome. We lived across from the French Lycee (school) and essentially in the “French Ghetto”. Chrissy even took ballet with the French kids. The French people are….of course French. But the ex-pat French living in London, with one foot out the door, really get it. The French here are like the select few who live in dour Boston, BUT GET IT. They are the best! You might not understand this and that’s okay. I’m speaking in code.
Ocado – This was our online grocery delivery service. Ordering groceries online is a life-changing event. We were reluctant, and have been for many years, to shop for food online but not having a car forced us to. Trust me, IT IS A WASTE OF YOUR TIME to shop in person – most of what you buy is standard stuff. They WILL NOT give you rotten fruits and vegetables. Plus you are less likely to get junk food when you order through a website.
Skype – I was also a very reluctant Skype user; in general I hate talking on the phone. But my New York math students all but demanded I continue on with them from afar. So I started math tutoring via Skype. Then my son re-connected with his chess teacher over Skype lessons. THEN we got an amazing piano teacher to give John Skype lessons. I use it for my personal homeschool coaching clients too. I’m a total Skype convert now and when I go back to New York I will switch all of my lessons and my kids’ lessons to Skype – no matter how geographically close the teacher/students are.
Everything on Our Doorstep – Chrissy’s dance class was on our block. Church was super close. Our gym was 100 feet from our steps. We had everything, all the amenities, almost almost every international cuisine….the post office, bakeries, shops, weekend farmers’ markets, etc. right in our neighborhood.
I LOVED the energy, the vibe of Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, and Chinatown all concentrated within walking distance of each other.
I LOVED traveling from London. We came with the intention of using it as a Continental launch pad and succeeded more than we could have imagined. We visited Amsterdam, Paris, Lake Como and Milan, Sicily, Madrid, Istanbul, Belgium, Poland, Austria, and Switzerland.
Those links above and below are my blog posts. Check them out!
The home ed groups were terrific. There were tons of group activities that we could pick and choose from. And the kids were all very sweet. John and Christine have never been happier than they were this past year home edding in London. They really, really thrived and this took me by surprise a bit as I had no expectations, perhaps even low expectations, for what the homeschooling scene would be like overseas. We are going to have to somehow re-create what we did here, back in New York. I think the answer is to spend more time in Manhattan (we live 17 miles east), to spend more time at Park Days, and less time in homeschooling classes and activities, and non-homeschooling activities(!) that may be of dubious value.
Here are some photos I took today, our last day here:
And here are a couple photos of the kids saying goodbye to some of their home ed friends at Holland Park this week:
Inez remarked to me that “there were no negatives to coming to London” and it’s true. It was all 100% positive.
She LOVED her work here. The kids thrived as I said already – in fact they don’t really want to leave. And I myself had an incredible experience here.
Who would have thought I could give up ice cream, pasta, NY pizza, my cars, watching my Patriots win the Superbowl, and GOLF for 14 months and not only not commit suicide, but I thoroughly enjoyed these drastic changes. I haven’t been this healthy in 20 years and I haven’t been this energized about everything in my life….EVER.
Sometimes addition in life is only possible after major subtraction.
It suffices to say that we had a blast here in London. And it wasn’t merely fun. Living here has been absolutely TRANSFORMATIONAL for the entire family. We are not going back to our house on Long Island, New York the same people that left – not even close.
Part of what motivated me to move to London in the first place was a realization that almost every time I moved, I experienced major personal growth. (It was only Newton, Massachusetts that was blah.)
So I’d encourage you all to do the same. Move. Move, quit, go, and do.
Stop thinking and dreaming about it. Stop wondering what might be. You are getting old. Please, PLEASE don’t turn into your parents.
Even though we are doing the no-carb thing….Inez and I will stay up tonight and drink the 4 lonely cans of Guinness in our tiny Euro-fridge (they’ve been there since September!).
She’s definitely going to have a good cry as we toast our time here in London.
Okay. Thailand tomorrow!
We had to squeeze one more big trip in before going back to the States…
There’s a lot more going on with me, this website, and whatnot. Be sure to sign up for special updates here if you haven’t already.