My Lessons

I recently read a NY Times article titled “Lessons from Living in London.” It was written by a former foreign correspondent for the Times who’d lived in London for almost 20 years.

As I read, I found myself gasping in bewilderment and asking my computer: “Did we live in the same place?” This writer had one complaint after another about one of my favorite places in the world. I guess everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Maybe if I had moved there in my 30s and had spent almost two decades living there, I would be exasperated by the people, the geography, and such.

As it happens, I lived there for six months when I was 22 years old. So here are my lessons…rebuttals to what I found to be her most offensive statements.

1. So she says that London’s buzz dims as you get farther from downtown. I would say that happens in most major cities. Now, she compares London to NYC a lot, and I don’t know much about NYC. So maybe there is a big difference. But the writer lived in what I consider to be posh, expensive boroughs of London. I lived in an area that was buzzing. It was horribly expensive, but not as expensive as other boroughs in London. Earl’s Court was gritty and felt very urban. Different ethnicities, crowded sidewalks, residential buildings on top of each other.

2. She says that Londoners belong to where they’re from, not where they are. And they keep themselves to themselves. Again, she may have felt this way because of where she lived and with whom she interacted. Because my friend and I lived in a less expensive neighborhood, our neighbors were on the young side and were more transient. And being a young person myself, I was open to meeting new people and learning from them.

One night, we happened upon our downstairs neighbors, who invited us right in for tea. They were in their 20s and 30s; they were Italian, Swedish, and Korean-Australian. Most of them were students so we didn’t see each other much, but I did become friends with an Italian couple who were professionals.

And all of my British coworkers were lively and gregarious. I guess maybe I was lucky in this regard. English auditors really know how to have fun apparently! I found all of my coworkers to be friendly and curious about getting to know me—this crazy American who wanted to live in England.

So the writer was bummed that people whom she passed in the park didn’t engage with her. Does this sort of thing happen in NYC? Because I’ve lived in Boston for 14 years, and that’s how it works here. You’re lucky to make eye contact with anyone, much less strike up a conversation.

3. Getting lost in a city definitely sucks. But that’s what happens when you’re in a city that’s been around for millennia. No grids here, folks.

4. Have you seen a map of the tube? The author says it doesn’t go everywhere. Well, it goes to hundreds of places. And like other cities, the subway doesn’t go everywhere. That’s what the buses and commuter rail are for.

5. Stores close early. And yes, the grocery store is only open for six hours on Sunday. I don’t see that as an issue, frankly. Americans are too used to getting anything they want when they want it. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t work like that. And I find that refreshing.

6. For the record, people who loved Princess Di do not find the statue dedicated to her and Dodi Al Fayed in Harrods “creepy.” Her fans actually make it a point to swing by the statue for a moment of silence when they visit Harrods. (At least this admirer does.)

7. The weather isn’t fantastic, and it is prudent to arm oneself with an umbrella. But as R.E.M. says, “I’ll Take the Rain.” I’ll take the rain if it means being in the vibrant, intoxicating, quirky city that is my London.

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