If you’ve read my blog post about moving to London, you’d know that I actually never planned on moving to the British capital in the first place and that I didn’t think I would stay there as long as I did. London is a great city, but very busy and very expensive. The life there is something a lot of people (me included) can’t sustain for different reasons – ranging from financially to emotionally.
I absolutely loved that everything seemed to be possible in London, that so many different types of people found their niche there and that there’s so many and such a variety of things to do. It was great for someone like me, who gets bored quickly and needs new experiences to stimulate the mind. While it was exciting and inspiring, life there was exhausting. From soaring rents, exorbitant costs of living to a chronically underfinanced public transport network and too many people everywhere at all times.
Tales (Nightmares) of London Housing
What has bothered me most from the very beginning was housing. I was shocked when I first started looking for a flatshare by how desolate houses, flats, apartment buildings are in London. You’d expect a city like London with an image of being trendy, modern and innovative, to have at least decent western European living standards, but a lot of what I have seen is well below that and wouldn’t be legal in other countries (maybe it actually is illegal, but they’re definitely not doing anything against that either).
During my years in London I have viewed flats with black bathroom ceilings from the mould, gas heaters that looked like they were older than me and have never been maintained, rooms without windows or ventilation, supply closets converted into a “cosy room” and “fully furnished” rooms that consist of a mattress on the floor and a chest of drawers. All of that, of course, for hundreds of Pounds per month and landlords that aren’t willing to change a thing because there’s always gonna be people settling for conditions like that. Generally speaking I felt like a tenant in London has very limited right. I know on paper there are but in real life, especially if you rent a room in a flatshare, there’s not much you can do about your sketchy landlord.
I could write several separate, full length, in detail blog posts about my housing adventures in London but don’t want to get into that too much now. Below are 2 examples of things I experienced to show you that I’m not an oversensitive princess who’s never satisfied with anything.
Overcrowding, mould and mice
The first flatshare I lived in when I first moved to London was in Shadwell. As I was new in the city, I wanted a fairly central location but had a limited budget (I was 21 at the time). I found a fairly cheap room in an ex-council house for 480 Pounds per month. I lived in that flat with 6 (!) others. The living room had been converted into an extra bedroom housing a couple. The kitchen facilities were run down, the bathroom mouldy and we had mice in the flat once (even though the flat was on the 4th floor).
Illegals and Crazies
The next flatshare was in the same area, also ex-council (even though I’m not really sure if it was actually “ex” or still council). This time I lived with 4 others, also no living room as it was converted into an extra bedroom. I had a written contract with the landlord claiming that my rent included utilities and tax but he came to collect rent in cash every two weeks (we all know that was illegal af and the council did not know I was living there). My room was fine (one of the biggest I had in London), the bathroom was decent too but some of my flatmates were not. A thing to consider in Londons ex-council flats is, that the kitchen is tiny, it’s not much bigger than a box room, so if it’s a flat share you can’t really have your dinner in the kitchen – you have to bring the food to your room. One guy in specific was an absolute nightmare (-> read more about that here).
Dealing with flatmates
As a young person in London, even if you have a decent job, renting your own flat is near to impossible without having rich parents supporting you. You are pretty much forced to live with others. Whilst that was ok when I first moved to London in my early 20s and didn’t know many people, sharing an already small space with others gets old quickly. Walls in the UK are paper-thin, so you can hear EVERYTHING people are doing in the flat and privacy is a bit of an issue. Especially Monday to Thursday when you have to be well rested for work and/or coming back tired having people around you constantly (that are not your family or friends necessarily) is annoying and draining.
As an adult, I don’t think flatshares are ideal and most people don’t choose to live that way but are forced to by crazy rent prices. After sharing 3 flats with several other young people in a fairly central location, I ended up moving further out into a house with a guy in his mid-40s. I enjoyed that a lot more but had to move out unexpectedly from one day to the next due to a tragic event. Which brings me to the next downside of living in London. A lot of the time it’s uncertail how long you can actually live at a place. Yes, there might be contracts but they tend to be fairly short term and landlords in “up and coming” areas might want to sell, have their children move in etc.
Too many people, everywhere, all the time
The people is what makes London great but, for me at least, are also a factor that makes the city less enjoyable. From the crowding in public transport to the masses at markets on a sunny spring day or other events – for me it was draining having to deal with that many people all the time. Sometimes the crows and lines made me anxious even though I have lived in a city before moving to the UK but you can’t compare the 2 million people city I was used to to the 8+ million London.
Work was not the biggest factor for me leaving but it did play a role when I had to weigh the pros and cons of staying vs leaving and I’m very well aware that what I’m about to write (and you’re about to read) is complaining on a very high level/standard. I’m from a country where employees – by law – get a lot of benefits and – traditionally – have a lot of rights. Before starting my (re-)starting my professional life in the UK I was used to having 25 days of vacation per year (by law), flexible working hours, overtime pay, paid sick leave, being able to go to the doctors during working hours without having to take a holiday and getting extra holiday and Christmas money in addition to my regular monthly salary. On top of that, I’m from one of the countries with the most bank holidays in Europe (thanks catholic church).
Maybe it was bad luck but I worked for 3 separate companies and none of them offered flexible working hours (even though for 2 of my jobs it would have been possible considering my duties there). 2 of them were so anal about their working hours that you had to call your boss in advance and forcing you to make up the time you were late (even if that was 2 minutes because of a delayed train). A one company I also had 25 vacation days – at the other two I had 22 and 24. In the UK the companies gave us a max. of 4 paid sick days. One of the companies didn’t give us any paid sick days at all and a friend of mine had to ask her parents for money after she wasn’t able to work for over a week due to a severe stomach infection. Finally, the UK has more of a hire and fire culture than other countries.
Finally, even though Brits are extremely proud of their NHS (and I don’t want to offend anyone), I’m just gonna say this: I don’t know how the NHS performs outside of the capital but in London it’s not that great and I prefer health services in my home country.
Why I ended up not just leaving London but the UK
As mentioned before, I knew I wouldn’t stay in London forever, but thought I would stay in the UK longer than I did. I was intrigued by moving to Brighton, Bristol or Manchester at some point. The reason why I started thinking of leaving the country came in June 2016 – Brexit. With all its faults, I do believe the EU has benefitted its member countries greatly and that a united Europe is the only way forward (not united states of Europe though).
With the pound dropping, stagnating salaries and the uncertainty if I would even be allowed to stay, I opted to leave and go back home. I don’t have any family in the UK, most of my friends have left (or are about to leave) the UK as well and I definitely have a more comfortable live in Vienna for now. This does not mean that I don’t appreciate or regret my UK experience. My years in London were some of the best of my life and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on anything (good or bad).