The 20 Stages of Moving to London as a Foreigner

1. You come to London for the first time as a clueless Westphalian teenager with a massive brain crush on Stephen Fry, who peppers her conversations liberally with words such as “marvellous” and “splendid”. Your only conversations are with TFL employees (when your wallet is nicked on the Piccadilly line between Covent Garden and Leicester Square) and corner shop assistants, who are slightly bamboozled by your German-meets-public-school accent. You get bitten by a squirrel in Hyde Park and decide on the spot that you’re in love with this city.

2. You return to your home town convinced that you are now British. You refuse to read books or watch films in your native language and pretend you can’t remember the German word for certain things. Your friends think you’re a pretentious twat. They are correct.

3. As the end of your school years approaches, you start thinking about universities. You develop Oxbridge ambitions and enter a brief phase of frenzied studying, before you discover the realities of UK tuition fees which your parents never prepared for. Grudgingly, you opt for a German university instead and accidentally end up having the best five years of your life.

4. About twice a year, your overdraft shrinks enough for you to hop on a Ryanair cattle truck to Stansted and stay in a 12-bed mixed dorm in Queensway, where you drink rum with Australians in the hostel basement and get sleazy men to buy you drinks in garish nightclubs in Leicester Square where your feet stick to the ground if you stay in one place for too long. You openly sneer at everyone who doesn’t know how to pronounce Leicester Square and are insanely proud of yourself when you get on the correct night bus for the first time. Back home, you post melodramatic status updates on MySpace about missing your “home from home”.

5. Towards the end of your studies, your uni years relationship conveniently falls apart, so you start thinking about that big move again. You convince yourself that the middle of a worldwide recession is a great time to start fresh in the financial capital of the old world, so you pack two suitcases with mostly books (after all, we’ve now entered the Primark era), hop on that Ryanair cattle truck again and wave your stoic-faced parents goodbye at a provincial airport in Northern Germany.

6. You bunk down on your friend’s sofa and enthusiastically start searching for flats and jobs. Bar that MA degree that testifies you know stuff about dead poets and how to order pizza in Olde Englishe, you have zero qualifications, but you’re optimistic that the HR people at Penguin and HarperCollins will be able to see past that. You are just one step away from being headhunted.

7. The HR people at Penguin and HarperCollins don’tsee past that and nor do they at the obscure right-wing Christian publishing house with two employees you tried after 200 unanswered emails. Your CV, however, turns out to be extremely popular with recruiters who want you to relocate to Cardiff for a 13k customer service job answering phones and emails in German.

8. Money is getting tight and after the third uncomfortable phone call home asking for more dosh, you decide to go for a temp position in Hemel Hempstead, answering phones and emails in German. The most reassuring thing the recruiter can bring himself to say over the phone is “well, it’s a job, isn’t it”, and you still haven’t figured out how to pay for travel, but options are somewhat limited at this point.

9. You get lost in an industrial estate outside of Hemel Hempstead and the recruiter refuses to take your calls from now on.

10. You eventually land a shit job answering phones and emails in German at a company located in Zone 5, and you find a flat that allows you to commute to said job in under an hour. The salary is so low that after rent, bills and travel you are left with less than four hundred pounds a month, in a city where a pint is rarely under four pounds, but everyone you know is also poor, so you figure you’ll make it work somehow.

11. After eating beans on toast for supper for three months in a row, you take a second job in a pub, working five hour shifts three nights a week after your eight hour shift answering phones and emails in German. You are no longer poor, because you have no time whatsoever to spend your money. You’re constantly hungover at work and fall asleep at your desk on more than one occasion. You vaguely intend to land that publishing job within the next couple of months, but somehow you can never bring yourself to open your laptop to do anything other than watch old Buffy episodes. Despite subsisting of pub food, you lose three stone in less than two months and your housemates hate you because you’re never home to clean the bathroom.

12. Despite having made an executive decision to stay away from relationships for the next ten years and the fact that your only topic of conversation is how much you hate your job(s), you somehow manage to land a boyfriend. For the first time ever, your friends approve of your choice.

13. Work gets increasingly ridiculous and you have a minor meltdown when they try timing employees’ loo breaks. After a “reply all” mishap in which you accidentally called the office darling a hippo everyone hates you anyway, so you give up all pretence and start looking at the Guardian job section on your work PC.

14. In a move that looks cliched and predictable in hindsight, you land an entry level job in Digital Marketing. You have no idea what you’re doing and why they hired you, but somehow money keeps materialising at the end of each month, so you stick with it. Eventually you stop being scared of your boss and realise you really enjoy what you’re doing.

15. The months pile up, and suddenly you have been in London for two and a half years. Most of that time you’ve had a W postcode, and you’ve developed a bit of a thing about postcodes. Things change, and suddenly you’re moving East.

16. You’re definitely not cool enough to live east. All your clothes are from the GAP sale and your moustache isn’t even slightly ironic. All the same, you’re willing to try, so you buy a bicycle and subscribe to an urban veg box scheme. You still can’t quite bring yourself to go to a warehouse rave, but you try your best to stay awake whilst your friends are getting ready for one.

17. You stumble upon a promotion at work. Despite being unable to email colleagues without saying “sorry” at least five times, you suddenly head a team of three people. Your boss gleefully lines up all the hoops she is planning to make you jump through, and you google things like “how to be a good boss”. You realise you will possibly have to buy their respect at the pub.

18. After a year in Bethnal Green, you realise that what was meant as a stop gap whilst you sort out your life has become your life. Your flatmate’s intimidatingly cool friends have become your friends and you’ve stopped using the word “hipster” as an insult. You still don’t quite understand how this happened, but you decide not to question a good thing.

19. Because your time in Bethnal Green was only ever meant to be a stop gap whilst you sort out your life, it comes as a bit of a shock when October rolls around and you suddenly have to pack up your life again. This is why on the night before you’re supposed to start packing, you opt for debauchery instead of Netflix and pay the price on Saturday morning. When you threaten to run out of procrastination tools, you remember that old blog thing you started once upon a time. You decide to experiment with the listicle format.

20. You fix yourself a Berocca, move your behind into the shower and get on with things.


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