The sadness of going home

Before my Mum cracks open the champagne I have to be super clear that I am not moving back to New Zealand any time soon (well actually my visa is up at the end of the year so who knows what the hell will happen, fingers crossed for staying a lot longer!). No, this post is about those whose decision gets made for them, the moment when the visa runs out. Moving to London is part of the cultural identity for Kiwis, but for all that we mythologize the move over we seem to gloss over the eventually moving back home part. After all, surely moving back to the comfort zone is far less of a scary step?

The funny thing about London is that those who love it instantly and unconditionally are in the minority. Most expats arrive at that opinion that while London is pretty damn awesome, its also hard, lonely, expensive and literally a world away from people that you love. Over time things become a lot easier (or you just become more at ease with your choices) but those first few months can be a real struggle. I mean, exciting as hell and one of the bravest steps you have ever taken, but still a struggle.

After the first couple of tricky months most people start to feel a little more comfortable. You know what supermarket to go to, remember to always have an umbrella in your handbag and start seeing the shape of Africa in the mould in your room. But things still aren’t exactly peachy with your new friend London. Even while you are on a sunny pub rooftop it just seems that everyone is doing it better, you feel like no matter how hard you try you are failing at London. ‘Everyone’ else is travelling, dream jobs and Tindering every night. I mean, they’re totally not, but that is how it felt to you.

Then something weird happened, London started becoming a little more like home. A few friends, some cool trip and ice-skating in the moat of the Tower of London made all the big scary bits of expat life a little more friendly. You started falling for bits of your new city, it started to become part of you. At this point the lucky few with convenient dead grandmothers get to let their guards down with London. After the two year point you make more friends, put down roots and find out how to transfer at Bank Station; its like a comfortable sigh after holding your breath for 730days. You become that obnoxious Londoner who can’t shut up about it, like a hipster who just got an Instagram-worthy puppy.

Problem is not everyone gets that extra time to become BFF with London, and that just sucks the big one. For the two year visa squad just as you are starting to make your mind up about the big L the decision gets made for you. You get an end date and short of marrying a Scottish bloke or convincing a company to sponsor you, it’s time to book a ticket home.

As millennials & Kiwis we are not used to having people stand in our way, particularly something that is as big of a blockade as Her Majesty’s Government. Being told no is almost more important than your true feelings about London. With deportation looming suddenly this city that was unconvincing, that stole all your money and made you fat seems like the holy grail, London being taken away from you is the only thing you can focus on.

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Some cool kids move to London for a whale of a good time, travel plus booze for them is essentially the entire equation. For the rest of us London is that first bite at real and isolated independence. We move over just at the point where we are trying to figure out careers, love, intentions, which battles to fight and how to fix a fuse box. The two year squad gets ripped out of London in the middle of this ‘growing up’ process.

As well as the pain in the arse of packing and moving, there is also the fear of stepping back into an old life. What if you become the person you were? What if you don’t know who you are yet? What if you have changed so much you don’t fit there anymore? And after seeing how big the world is, what if NZ is bat-shit boring?

If London taught you anything in your two years here it has to be fuck what other people think. Once you have seen a girl vomit into the sleeves of her trench coat on the tube your life choices look pretty sweet indeed (side note: I once saw a man with a parrot on his shoulder on the Metropolitan line, I feel this is a good if a little piratey life choice). The worst thing you can do right now is focus on what you can’t have, namely: London. It is time to focus on the possibilities, this is an incredible chance to change your life for a second time.

Before you moved to London you probably had a million possibilities running round in your head about the things you would see and the person you would become. Why the hell are you not doing the same thing at the moment?

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Chances are pre-London you went to the same places, hung out with the same people and didn’t really do anything that scared you. Be the brave person you are in London just on the other side of the world. Fuck buying a house; live in town and spend all your money on rent like you did in London. Travel as much as you did in Europe but this time see the Southern Lights, the Milky Way and every single set of the Hobbit. Be creative, take chances and stop for fucks sake stop thinking that London is the only place you can find out who you are meant to be.

If you think going home means being stuck in a certain pattern/life you need to use the flight to shove those thoughts in an overhead locker and leave them there. You are far too valuable to waste on normal.

And if New Zealand really sucks, there is always Australia.

 

Brunch spots that I love

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O come all ye hungover. Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Kiwis in London Christmas party at the Clapham Grand. Now I know this may shock you, but after being here for four years this was my first ever Kiwis in London event. I know more shocking than Shortland Street’s recent Red Wedding. I’m not quite sure why its taken me this long, possibly because I am allergic to Clapham Junction but also because these big events can be a tad intimidating for a lonesome Kiwi.

So for those of you who are little curious about what goes on at these cult events, or if you had so much to drink last night that you can’t remember what  happened; here is my top 7 things that happened at the Kiwis in London Christmas Party.

1. The guys found it hard to pull in Santa hats

When you walked through the doors you were given the choice of reindeer antlers or a Santa hat to wear (as well as a present from Santa of the new Dave Dobbyn CD!). Much like the Matrix red/blue pill your choice at the door dictated the success of the rest of your night. For the lucky few with the antlers they had the easy conversation starter of ‘accidentally’ getting their headpiece tangled up with someone else. For the rest however this was the night where 400 Kiwi guys figured out that when you pull a Santa hat down too tight you look like a human condom…not exactly a turn on. I even saw girls pulling off the hats and throwing them across the dance floor in desperation of getting across the hat barrier.

2. The easiest way to make friends is to offer boys your chips

Because everyone in the room is a kiwi your brain puts them in the ‘safe’ category. Therefore it seems totally normal to offer total strangers a rifle in your bag of chips (salt and vinegar to be specific). You see people striding across the room with their London blinkers on, but offer them some Bluebird chips and of of a sudden the sun comes out, and through that first bite you get a mumble ‘chur bro’.

3. Drunk kiwis are fun

Sometimes in London you can feel a little threatened by drunken dudes, but kiwis? Kiwis are fun. Two highlights for me were:

  • white shirt guy who I am 90% sure was actually an English secret agent sent to investigate the colonies (he didn’t know the words to ‘How Bizarre’). He wanted to get the party started but everyone else was still enjoying the chips, so he decided to do a strip tease in the middle of the empty dancefloor…almost the definition of peaking too soon given that it was only 4:40pm.
  • Second highlight was the guy who won a prize (it was a random draw) and was so excited that he tried to give an acceptance speech, and was then still so excited that he stole the announcer and wandered off stage. The announcer…not the microphone. He actually picked up Clint (chief dude at KIL) and walked off stage.

Oh and poi on the dance floor – fuck yeah.

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4. You think you know everyone

Normally when you hear a kiwi accent in London it’s because it’s a friend, so you smile and go in for the hug. This becomes massively awkward when you are with 800 New Zealand runaways and you start hugging strangers at the bar. But then let’s be honest, because we were all kiwis a surprise tackle hug was always welcomed.

5. You actually know everyone

Well maybe not everyone, but you know you are amongst your tribe when someone spots their old babysitter on the D-floor and the girl you meet on the tube knows your sisters ex-boyfriend. Oh kiwi land, you couldn’t get any smaller.

 

6. Pies make you cry

Now I am not a big night clubber or gig person, but if I knew that venues had kiwi pie warmers I might just find myself a new hobby. At 4 in the afternoon I found myself running across a disco light up dance floor to be first in line for a steak and cheese pie. Covered in tomato sauce it was mana from heaven.IMG_0036

7. It is an amazing way to feel a little bit at home in London

For old cynical me there was a moment, a moment when my Grinch heart grew three sizes. To see a dance floor packed full of Kiwi orphans singing their hearts out to ‘All I want for Christmas is you’. No you might not know anyone there, but something about knowing that they are your tribe just fills you full of goodness.

Merry Christmas y’all

 

So youve decided to move to London oh

Adore and Endure

As part of this months ‘Travel contrasts’ linkup with Emma, Kelly and our lovely guest host Zoe I was going to write a quite emotional post. It was going to be about how I truly am a different person after three and a half years of living in London but then something happened, something big. I am in the painful process of moving flats and was discussing at work how the new flat only had a washing machine, no dryer. Stick with me here.

I was postulating that it will be annoying to dry my sheets and it might take a while in a basement flat in winter. Then it happened. Global political relations crumbled and Queen Victoria rolled over in her grave as my colleague asked “what do you mean sheets?” (Emphasis on the plural).

Queue my very confused face and me saying “two sheets, you know the top and the bottom one”. This moment was as close to winning The Voice as I will ever come as four colleagues with their backs to me turned on their swivel chairs and exclaimed almost in unison “TWO SHEETS??!!”.

We booked a meeting and got a flip chart so we could really knuckle out what the hell had gone wrong in the UK/NZ relations.

So…New Zealanders in general use two sheets, one is fitted and goes on the mattress and the other is a flat sheet that goes underneath the duvet – when you buy sheets they come in a set with both elements included. You then sleep between the two sheets which means because you are not getting your sweaty self on the duvet every night you don’t have to wash the duvet as often. And yes you still have to wash the top sheet but it is quicker to dry than a duvet cover and you don’t have to go through the hell of putting the duvet back in the cover. HELL.

Brits however are just mental patients who have the bottom fitted sheet but then free ball it by sleeping in direct contact with the duvet. Inefficient both in terms of washing time and also in the summer months where they miss out on the joy of choosing at three am that you are little too hot with the duvet and just going sheet only. Love.

You would think it is the big contrasts that would cause the most outrage, but this sheet issue almost came to blows within five minutes. And then did come to blows after ten.

With defectors on both sides and threats of destroyed relationships and sectioning we decided to just shake hands and walk away. Me to my snuggly suitable to all weather low maintenance looks great bed, and them to the manky duvet only lifeless fun pits.

#politics

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I love travel. It broadens the mind and the waistline in equal measures. I often sit in my London flat just consumed by wanderlust, endlessly scrolling the painstakingly composed travel photos on Pinterest and dreaming about one day seeing them myself. But adventure and that perfect Instagram photo is something that you want, not necessarily what you need.

What did I need? Two weeks ago all I needed was something to nourish my soul and someone to tell me that it was all going to be ok. I wanted Rome, Dubrovnik and Ibiza; but all I needed was my Mum.

And I guess that pretty perfectly sums up my travel personality. Trips fade into a distant memory after a few months, but those singular moments of surreal joy I take with me everywhere. I remember driving though pitch black country lanes in Devon trying to find a pub with friends, sitting on top of a boat on the Nile at 9am drinking cocktails, the first time I stood in front of the Mona Lisa, buying something at Tiffany on 5th Ave in New York and feeling just so grown up, being among the first in the world to see the sun rise on New Years day in Gisborne, and of course that hug with my Mum.

 

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So youve decided to move to London oh fuck

Ok first things first, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy rules apply so DONT PANIC and bring a towel. Actually forget bringing a towel they are quite reasonably priced in the UK, so just focus on the not panicking side of things. I receive loads of emails from people who have just booked that expensive plane ticket and then had a massive OH FUCKNUCKLES WHAT HAVE I DONE moment or two, so here is my advice.

Ignore that person who told you that their OE was the best/worst time of their lives and they spent all their time travelling/drinking/working/fucking and you will to. Yeah nah. You can do London however the rainbow sparkling fuck you want to. Travel every weekend? Cool. Work all the time and advance your career? Cool. Find the love of your life and spend all your time ‘watching DVDs’. Cool. Don’t carry someone else’s expectations on your shoulder like a demented devil and angel with a kiwi accent. I say this because it is hard enough living up to your own expectations without feeling like you are failing at someone else’s.

While we’re at it lets review your expectations. If you are university educated and at a certain point in your career you will get a well paying job over here – you won’t be rich but you will be on the same living standard you were at home. If you are coming over here wanting to temp in an office or work in a bar you will not be able to have it all. By the way, London’s definition of having it all is a nice flat near public transport, brunch every weekend, roof top bars every night, flat whites on tap and travel whenever you want. Don’t worry you will have some of it, but you will have to prioritise.

Its all going to be OK

Life in London is like life at home, just because you are on the other side of the world doesn’t take out the boring/hard/scary/awkward/sad bits.

More expectations. Yes winter will be bad but not that bad, it’s the getting dark at 3:30pm that is the hard bit to handle. But then London makes up for it with summer days stretching out till 10pm – swings and roundabouts and all that. Remember its London not Game of Thrones; as long as you have a scarf, a puffer jacket and are not sleeping with your siblings you will be fine.

Yes London is expensive but that’s mostly because you are seeing tourist stuff, you would burn through some serious cash in Auckland if you lived like a tourist. And you can live in London very cheaply, although living cheaply might just make you question why the hell you are living on the other side of the world if you can’t afford to see anything except the mold covered walls of your zone 3 flat. Sorry negative I know, but you can rely on me to drop those truth bombs. When you leave that moldy flat and venture into the city, you will walk by St Pauls/Tower Bridge/Houses of Parliament and it will all seem totally worth it.

When in London just drink gin

And talking bombs yes terrorism is a thing and yes it is terrifying. When you first take the tube your heart will end up in your throat at every random stop in a black tunnel and anyone getting on carrying a backpack. But then you just get used to it. Commuting does bring that chance that you will be left maimed/dead by the latest terrorism group de jour, but the tube sure is convenient.

You will say ‘pants’ in the wrong context. It will be funny. People will laugh.

Which leads me on to safety. Whichever demented fuck-trumpet told you London wasn’t safe for girls please punch them directly in the left tit/testicle before you fly. London is a big city with a lot of people in it, and no you can’t be an idiot and walk around oblivious but if you follow the same rules you would at home you will be fine. In general: make sure drunk friends get home safely, if you are walking alone at night don’t listen to your iPod, if you are meeting someone from the internet do it in a public place, and don’t have a handbag that people can just reach in and grab stuff.

You will develop a weirdly strong link to kiwi things like onion dip, even if you didn’t like it before.

You will make friends, just know that it will be hard and they won’t just land out of thin air unless there has been some sort of mega tragic skydiving accident. You will feel like a dork, and wonder what is wrong with you but it will work out in the end. DONT FEEL BAD IF YOU ONLY MAKE FRIENDS WITH KIWIS. Realistically kiwis you meet over here are actively scouting for new friends so it just makes sense. Your definition of friend will change too, from someone you can pour your heart out with, to someone who will meet you for a drink on a Wednesday evening. It’s fine, just different to home. On the flip side you can meet some of the most soul matey friendship sparkles and kittens people here too. It’s down to luck and how much free time you have to stalk them.

Tired of London Tired of Life FUCK THAT

When you have a bad day some ass-hat will tell you ‘when you are tired of London you are tired of life’, don’t worry they just don’t have the imagination or empathy know what to say in the face of your homesickness – disliking London for a bit is just like hating Taylor Swift after hearing Blank Space for the 500th time; just a temporary malaise towards a thing and not a statement on your normal mental health or love of T-Swizzle.

You will get lost, you will figure it out. And once you think you’ve got it all figured out you will get on the wrong tube. But it’s ok because you know how to get back to where you started.

Going back to DONT PANIC. You will panic. But that is ok because you will then book something/call someone/buy something/see something and stop panicking. And every time you get over something that made you panic, it’s just proof for next time that you will survive it and keep going forward.

You will compare yourself to others who have moved to London, and you will feel a bit inferior. As a rule, the two year visa people travel more but the five year and passport people do more cool/expensive stuff in London. It’s all good, as long as you are content try not to worry about it too much.

I use the word content rather than happy because the last truth is that London will be an adventure, and you will grow as a person and get some cool stories and maybe a tattoo but moving to London is not the key to happiness. It’s not a silver bullet or bulb of garlic for every bad thing in your life. It is however a very awesome city with a lot going on, with opportunities everywhere, a chance for creativity for love and travel. A place where YOU CAN FIND REALLY GOOD COFFEE and a place where you can be yourself or failing that figure out exactly who yourself is.

So DONT PANIC. Move to London. Enjoy it.

And if you get stuck/freaked out/desperate for coffee feel free to tweet me @runawaykiwi

She’ll be right mate.

 

For more practical London tips, check out my ultimate London survival guide:

How to survive London