Prior to moving, I had hoped to celebrate every six months that I had survived life in this hectic city. Turns out that was somewhat overly ambitious, apparently.
When I first arrived, all I remember hearing from both born and bred Londoners and from longer standing expat buddies, was the constant and incessant use of the word ‘busy’. It used to baffle me that you needed to book a date with a friend weeks out just to catch up, how you could go for weeks on end and not see your friend who lives one tube stop away. We have the same contracted hours in London as we do at home, so how is everyone so busy all the time? I used to feel ashamed if I was – shock horror – free when someone asked to sporadically catch up one evening after work. Ahhhh, those were the days.
Twenty months later, I’m now ashamed to say that I am one of those super annoying people who over uses the ‘b’ word. I’m at a loss as to why or how; I’M JUST GOD DAM BUSY ALRIGHT (and yeh, I know – I look it too).
Given I’ve completely missed both my 18th, 19th and now 20th month anniversaries of London life – I have clearly acclimatised and thus, life and its celebratory milestones have run away from me. Luckily Londoner’s like to celebrate the end of every working day it seems, therefore celebrations on the whole haven’t been lost – just the reason behind this particular one.
Nearly one and three-quarter years ago, I was a little (ok, tall) kiwi girl fresh of the plane. I remember being desperate to be like them; the Londoners. I wanted to fit in and be part of the London culture, just another one of the 8.674 million mad people living here. I began to realise I was facing the same fear and stress all other newbies suffer; standing out. And trust me, the constant worry of trying to fit in while looking like you’re not trying at all, is seriously exhausting.
You don’t want to be seen to be reading a tube map or not having your Oyster ready at the barriers. You don’t want to have to always rely on google maps or city mapper for which end of the tube you should board to get the right the exit for the platform changes which will make your horrendous commute all of 30 seconds shorter. You don’t want to use google translate to understand or use the office lingo. You want to know the local cool spots for a drink after work, or that hot tinder date, without or before reading about them in Tuesday mornings Timeout on your way to work. And god forbid you would never dream of asking someone to take your photo outside the Oxford Circus Station tube sign (oops – sorry Em).
Basically, you want to look like a local – or at least as far away from a tourist as absolutely possible.
In the last three
weeks months, I have found myself pass-ag huffing at the person walking fractionally less than a million miles an hour down the high street. I’ve found myself overlooking the smell of the dead body in the archway under the train station near my work, which was later visited by the funeral ambulance and then miraculously disappeared. I didn’t bat an eyelid at the fact that a man high on meth at 11am on a Sunday followed me down the road telling me he was going to “get me” and proceeded to follow me in to the gym. I found myself actually looking for the park one street over from my flat where the horrendous crime occurred at dusk at the same time I walk 20m parallel to on my way home every night.
As though I was on auto pilot, I just carried on like these things were nothing out of the ordinary – just like one of them, just like a Londoner, right?!
No! These things aren’t normal, they are out of the ordinary – they should shock and scare me. Even walking home from the bus stop in Mairangi Bay shops; in the sleepiest, most family friendly of villages on the North Shore of Auckland used to make me think twice.
While I have been so busy looking to fit in in London, have I lost my kiwi equilibrium of normal?
Following this reality check, I have realised that I now sit on the other side of Queen Elizabeth’s coin; I don’t actually think I want to be a Londoner after all. The grass isn’t always greener, huh. I love living here, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want to be an unaffected, unfazed and almost emotion-less Londoner. I’m a Kiwi at heart and that part of me will always be something I want to hold on to no matter how long I’m here for. While these days my façade, and commute-tude says London; I will never miss the chance to start or finish a sentence in a work conversation with ‘in New Zealand,’ or ‘at home’ and there’s barely a week that goes by where I don’t share photos of the natural beauty of home. Gotta keep them in line, ya know? Wee reminders for them that while London’s bloody cool – NZ is cooler, inn’it.
I guess now I have been here 20 months, I’ve realised that the real irony of my move is the fitting in vs standing out conundrum. You start off being desperate to fit in and before you know it, you’re desperate stand out – to be seen as someone from home who’s proud to be surviving the London struggle from the sleepy, safe, scenic other side of the world.