Experiences of arriving in London

Experiences of first arriving in London

For many people making the decision to move to London, or for children in whose name adults have made the decision to move to London, the experience of moving to London was one of great excitement and is a period looked back on romantically, perhaps through rose tinted lenses.

 

Little Notice to Prepare Emotionally

I suppose what is interesting is that not everyone is given a great deal of notice to prepare emotionally to the prospect of moving to London. Zarlasht Halaimzai, an Afghan teenager, only found out that she was going to London, after having lived two years in Pakistan with her mother, when she heard the immigration official in Pakistan told her mother that the plane to London was leaving in half an hour.

 

Excited anticipation

For many people making the decision to move to London, or for children in whose name adults have made the decision to move to London, the experience of moving to London was one of great excitement and is a period looked back on romantically, perhaps through rose tinted lenses. Zarlasht Halaimzai, an Afghan teenager, only found out that she was going to London, after having lived two years in Pakistan with her mother, when she heard the immigration official in Pakistan told her mother that the plane to London was leaving in half an hour. She recalls reacting with exciteded anticipation, an anticipation that was informed by her father, who had passed away, once telling her that if she did well in her studies, she’d be sent to London for higher education at university, from which point Zarlasht woud dream of living in London. Zarlasht explained, “About two years ago as we were staying in Pakistan my mother came to our room and said to pack our bags and do it quickly. I asked her if everything was all right, but she wouldn’t say anything. After a few hours a cab took us to the airport and although my mother still kept quiet I knew that we were going somewhere, somewhere far away. We made our way to immigration and after checking our documents, the officer told my mum that our plane to London was going to leave in half an hour. Hearing those words from him I nearly jumped in the air for the excitement I felt was indescribable. My mum smiled at me and asked me to calm down, as people were looking our way wondering why was I being so frantic. But I could not care less, as one of my big dreams was about to come true.”

 

Culture Shock

Overwhelmed by the size and complexity

For many people the first days, the first weeks in London are the most electric, not least because one is surrounded by this energy, a bewildering whirlwind of movement and people, that is overwhelming, often in a pleasant way, one feels truly lost in London and amazed. A Spanish woman, who came over to London in her late thirties to get away from Madrid, is amazed on realising that her A-Z, which she thought covered the whole of London, was just a small part, it was just central London, there was more. ‘Are you sure you live in London?’ she asked her new friend after she had tried several times to locate her friend’s zone 3 home on her A-Z, so sure was she that a city couldn’t possibly be bigger than the area covered in her handbook.

Overwhelmed by the assuredness and wealth

Having arrived to London with no history of having money or of having eaten out in restaurants, I remember shitting it the first time I walked up and down Upper Street intending to meet a friend for a meal. I had never seen such well dressed women and men, shirts unbuttoned at the top, courduroy jackets, women with expensive tops, skirts and dresses, scarves, clippety clop high heels. Everyone walked with such an air of assertiveness, purpose and belonging and comfort and entitlement. Oh my god, I felt, look at me, in my humble clothes, no-one is going to accept me in these types of clothes, who am i? What am i compared to these guys? I could never afford their clothes, I wouldn’t know where to buy them, nor how to wear them. I felt I simply didn’t exist in their league, their emotions, their hopes, their expectations and capacities for consuming, for relating, for loving. I felt an outsider, an imposter, a looker in, some kind of voyeur, a voyeruistic rat, hated, despised, but thankfully the people walking up and down Angel, Old Street, all have to give off an air of nonchalance, which is where i can take advantage, where i can exist without attack, yeh.

 

Poor accommodation

Many new arrivals to London take whatever accomodaiton they can afford and whatever is immediately available, which often means, in a city where accommodation is almost always at a premium, living, at least initially, in a hovel. One French woman explained what she had to endure moving into Brick Lane in the earliest twentieth century, to Lucy Ash of the BBC, “How many were we six, seven, if you count the boyfriend that hides in the bbedroom, in brick lane, and we had rats, we had bed bugs, we had everything, it was cold, freezing cold, plus I was smoking and I had to open the windows, it was even colder, and I still thought oh god my friends in Paris they’ve got their own flat for the same price, and ic ould still hear the rats in the walls’. Many new arrivals to London live in squats, accommodation, which is not being currently lived in by its owner, sometimes having been abandoned and left empty or to fall into a state of repair. Squatting has the advantage of saving money for the new arrival, and means they can survive on and therefore take lower paid jobs. Adrian, a Frenchman, who moved to London to find employment as the manager of a wine cellar in Crouch End, started off life living in squats in South London for two years.

 

Easy to find a job

I remember a great story told to me by a Nigerian about how when he arrived in London late one night in his all white African style trousers and shirt combination, not having any kind of idea about where he had ended up, he walked into a convenience store run by Indians and asked them if they could give him a job. They offered him one and asked him when he could start, he said he’d go and book into a local cheap hotel he had just seen, and he came back in two hours, still in his white suit, ready to start work. For some people, with the drive and determination, finding work in London does not seem to be hard. A Frenchman called Adrian commented, “When I arrived here, I did not speak much English at all. Without a diploma, my future in France was rather compromised. Here, I found a job in 48 hours.”

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