London vs NYC: a resident’s perspective

For some strange, weird reason, this week seems to be the week that loads of people want to ask me if I miss New York. I don’t know if there’s some kind of NYC-smell in the air, or Sex and the City has been rerun on Living this week, or even the fact that the southern UK is currently sweltering in NYC-like temperatures, but lots and lots of people, friends, family and utter randoms have been asking me this week if I miss New York.

I used to live in New York. Manhattan, actually, the Upper West Side to be precise. I lived there for all of four hot, sweaty summers and bloody unbearably cold winters. I worked for a Bank out there; was thrown a job offer and swept away on a lovely ex-pat contract to enjoy rent-free, guiltless living while enjoying quick trips to Florida for the weekend.

I came back to England four and a half years ago; a mixture of job and circumstance forcing my hand, but ever since then, almost everyone I make acquaintance with, including those I already know, always seem to ask me if I miss NYC.

I usually get “Was it fun?”. “Did you enjoy it?”.  I do think of saying “No, it was shit” once or twice, but usually at this stage I’ve had this conversation so many times, I really can’t be arsed playing along, so I just churn out the same stuff.  “Yes it was great, I had a great time, it was great living there, blah great blah great blah.”

I mean, what do you expect the answer to be, honestly guys? It’s New York, for fuck’s sake.

Missing NYC?

This weekend, I had my mother down in London to visit.  I took her to a local nail bar in Chapel Market and we had girlie pedicures and all that guff.  While we were sitting waiting, she suddenly came out with the gem “Do you miss New York?”.

No lead up, no context, just out with it.  As I looked at her puzzled, she said “Well, as we’re in a nail bar and stuff, and you used to go get your nails done all the time in New York.”

I thought it was a strange question.  I mean given, I was IN a bloody nail bar at the time, and the reason she was asking me if I missed New York was that I used to have my nails done there….er, I mean, a lack of nail bars in London might have prompted the question as to whether I was missing my ex-home town due to the lack of manicurists…  Anyway.  That’s my mother.

But everyone seems to ask me the same thing recently.  Do I miss New York.  Well, it’s a weird one to answer, especially as most people who ask are mainly ex-tourists of NYC, and not ex-inhabitants.  NYC is a different city if you’re a tourist.  It becomes the place you live, not a novelty place to enjoy.  Oh, sure it’s fun and it’s a really great place to live, but it’s not the same experience.

I remember when I got the job in London and I told my team in NYC that I was moving back.  One girl, who’d lived in New York for years was in awe of this.  “London’s amazing! It’s so cosmopolitan!  I’m so jealous!”.  Not the usual response I’d imagine if I said that in Sunderland, to be honest.  But that’s the perception.  And I realised that where you live is all about perception.  And how you treat it, and understand it and don’t take it for granted.

What am I on about?

Well, this weekend, I spent taking my mother to Greenwich. It was frigging hot.  We got the Thames Clipper from the South Bank, next to the Globe Theatre (yes, of Shakespeare fame, but not the original), all the way to Greenwich Pier.  The journey takes about 30 minutes, and passes some lovely old converted wharf buildings, many of which reminded me of NYC’s Battery Park City… they’re newly built, they’re almost self-contained little communities, with shops and cinemas, and the financial district just a stones’ throw behind it.

Greenwich Market was nice.  Some great little stalls, I love it there.  Reminds me of my favourite market in Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

Greenwich Park…hot, sticky….full of runners, and dog walkers and people sitting on the grass having picnics and sunbathing, playing ball sports….I really did feel like I was in Central Park again.

After our picnic, we grabbed the subway, Tube and popped along to Canary Wharf for some window shopping. Underground shops, polished floors, sectioned off with glass doors, all fairly new, all fairly high street….it’s the Rockerfeller underground Mall.  FFS, it even has its own underground station, like its NYC twin.

Oxford Street is as unbearable as Fifth Avenue with it’s mixture of world-renowed department stores (Saks = Selfridges?) and tat shops, pretzel barrows, crappy souvenir shops with I Heart LN/NY t-shirts.  Piccadilly Circus is Times Sq, just on a much much smaller scale, but just as many pickpockets.  London is made up of villages, each with their own culture and ambience – Islington is different to Camden is different to Kensington is different to Soho.  As is Hell’s Kitchen/West Village/East Village/Upper West Side.  Parks have boating lakes here too.  People sell street arts on the pavement/sidewalk, and we have some of those tourist thingys as well.

We don’t have air-conditioned tubes, but I’m not splitting hairs this far into the post.

Obviously there are differences (the prices for one), and each city does have its own unique idiosyncrasies and little reasons to love them.  But when people ask me “New York must have been AMAZING! Do you miss it?” it’s all a bit weird to be honest.  Yes it was amazing. I had a great four years there, really.  But there are people over there who are, at this very moment asking my American equivalent “OMG, how was London?  I’d love to live there, do you miss it??”

Once you’ve lived there, and it’s not a novelty, then it really is just a big city.  As London is to most Brits. New York is London, just squished up into a small space.

Anywhere you live is what you make of it.  It can be a place you get by in, or it can be a city you explore and appreciate.  London and New York, are both the latter to me.

Although, as I sit typing this on my central London balcony and listen to a tiny bird whistle at me from the wrought iron fence that separates me from the next door 18th century ex-water board building, and listen to the sound of the fountain in the gardens softly trickle by, I wonder if there might actually some differences between the two cities, that I haven’t really begin to think about yet.

3 thoughts on “London vs NYC: a resident’s perspective

  1. Very nice post. I’m actually thinking of moving to London from NYC and finishing my school there. I guess it all comes down to what you are doing for a living, who’s in your circle of friends and whether you are close to your family.
    Although I’m not sure if it’s good to be a Pole living in London. There’s so many polish people in London right now.
    The main difference between London and NYC is that one is in UK and the other is in USA.
    I guess it’s a big difference if you are a foreigner trying to make a career in one of them.

    1. Thanks Aneta!

      You’re right, there are a lot of Poles in London at the present time, but if you were to move here, that could mean you have a ready-made support community.

      I’m not sure about the difference in schools between NYC and London, however I think that living in different countries adds more to your CV/resume than just the qualifications – experience of culture, people, independence….

      Good luck whatever you decide!

  2. Actually I prefer LA, (lower Alabama–actually anywhere in rural Alabama) to NYC or London. I’ve been to both. Don’t care to return. Haven’t lived there. Lived in Alabama 28 years. Loved every minute of it.

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