Why London? – a foreigner’s tale

This week’s guest post is from Jonathan Fuhrmann. Originally from Austria, Jonathan studied at Cambridge for five years before moving to London in July 2013, after a year of travelling around the world (he wrote a fantastic blog about his adventures). In this post, he reflects on what attracted him to London in the first place, and the things that keep him here. 

A few weeks ago, I went from being a former UK student to a fully-fledged London resident – with a flat, a job, and dreams of making it big in the world one day. But this wasn’t always the plan; talk to second- or third-year me from just a few years ago and the response to the question of whether I would ever like to live in London would have been a vehement and resounding no.

Being my overly reflective self, I couldn’t help wondering what had brought about this U-turn. After all, unlike most people I speak to, the gradual dissociation and losing touch with friends from school and from home never happened to me. Whenever I visit Vienna, the feelings of coming home, being home, and the comfort and easy contentment associated with being among your family and oldest friends has never lessened.

Objectively, too, Vienna is about the greatest place to live. It consistently features in the top handful of cities in the quality-of-life rankings, and with good reason. The abundant, tranquil and verdant green areas, coupled with plenty of waterfront and riverside activities and the frankly fantastic architecture and grandeur of the inner city and the myriad coffeehouses dotting the city are an attractive combination, after all. And that’s before we’ve even considered the forests, foothills and mountains on the city’s doorsteps, often just a walk or a cycle away.

So. Why London?

First – the obvious reasons. I am fortunate to count many people here – like in Vienna – among my very good friends, and after over a year I finally get to live in the same city as my lovely girlfriend.

Then there’s the fact that as jobs and careers go, I get the impression that they are thicker on the ground here than elsewhere. The World seems a little closer to London than to most other places I’ve been to.

Finally, it has got to be hard to beat London for things to do in your spare time. There are countless parts of London which warrant exploring (and which I have yet to set foot in), and the countryside outside the city is practically begging to be cycled.

These three points make a fairly convincing, if rather objective, case for setting up shop in London as a graduate. But there are some less tangible reasons which I find difficult to put into words, but are just as relevant.

For me, living in London is an adventure. I never experienced a culture shock coming to the UK, never felt particularly out of place. If anything, after six years of living here and speaking more English than German and Hungarian combined and having become almost embarrassingly familiar with a lot of British cultural quirks and features, I feel more British than anything else.

And yet, London still holds an air of excitement, of that “I can’t quite believe I’m here” feeling you get when you first see for yourself places so famous they’ve almost attained an air of mystique. I felt similar throughout my time at Cambridge, but there the excitement was tinged with a touch of awe and disbelief rather than an almost childlike spirit of “everything is possible“.

This strange incredulity manifests itself at the most unexpected moments. Maybe the first such moment was a bike ride with my friend Steve. This was just after the 2012 Paralympic marathon, so the roads were still closed to cars. Cycling across the middle of a deserted London Bridge, with a spectacular sunset view of Tower Bridge, and through a similarly empty City, it felt like there was no other time and place in the world quite like this. And I got seriously excited about moving here.

Since then, cycling to and from work across the Thames evokes a similar reaction every day (despite the endless red lights and bus drivers doing their best to kill me).

I think what adds to London’s charm, and to that of England as a whole, are place names. I often find myself sitting on the tube and breaking into a smile at the announcement of some station or another (I wonder what the other passengers think is going on my head…). There are so many stations that bear such simple English names, and are yet utterly unimaginable in, say, New York City or Sydney or Vancouver. Add to those iconic names (and ones that probably only seem iconic to me) – Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross, Paddington, the lot – and you’ve got a fair idea of why I like the tube even at its worst, congested, delayed times.

The same goes for the street names above ground. Cycling through London is made so much more enjoyable by thinking about just where I am. It may sound a little silly… but being a normally rather pessimistic person, I’m glad I’m appreciating my current situation so much. And being in London adds its own little bit of charm to that situation.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve not turned into a head-in-the-clouds London fanatic who refuses to see any downsides. In fact, an embarrassing number of people I know will be able to tell a tale about my rants about various infrastructural failings and other shortcomings. But whenever I stop and think…it’s really not all that bad (and if it is, then only for a short time). Maybe London has simply acted as an elixir for the part of me capable of appreciating things simply for what they are, and of finding enjoyment in those brief, random moments that make one’s day by bringing a smile to one’s face for little apparent reason.

And to add a little bit of actual context to this admittedly slightly rambling post, there is always the plug. Should you suddenly be drawn inexorably towards moving to (or within) London, you should find your new abode on Find Properly!

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