Since November I’ve spent more time in London than I have in Hong Kong. So although I’ve been living in London for two weeks, I’ve actually spent a total of about three or four months here (give or take a couple of weeks). My life a blur of airport lounges, martinis and mummified mornings.

I’m doing all the things you do when you move to a new country. I’m just doing them by killing more trees. My God do they love to push paper here. If I’m not completing one form, I’m opening up another.  It took four tries and one small forrest to open up a joint account with my partner. And I’m learning that securing a new place to live is the mental equivalent of an obstacle course. This would be so much faster in New York or Hong Kong. Cities where real estate agents and landlords play fast and loose with contracts. London is more like Tokyo. Every little “i” must be dotted, every detail fretted over.

So as first impressions are lasting impressions, I’ve already formed some opinions that will now be hard to shake, both good and bad. The good far outweighing the bad. Thank God.

First, they love their pubs here. And I love that they love their pubs here. I’m not much of a beer drinker but I’m on board with any society that believes in a pint or two at lunch and several more after work. As in Japan, the locals bond with colleagues over drinks. Yes, I know most people do this the world over do but believe me, the British and the Japanese have perfected it. When the weather turns warm and the clouds clear, you’ll see people cut out of work early just to enjoy a beer with their mates. Everyone is laughing and drinking and you can’t help but want to join in on all the fun.

Of course the flip side of this is that some people can’t hold their liquor and/or don’t know when to call it a night. Vomiting, shouting, fighting, smashing glass, that fleeting warm afternoon can lead to a night of drunken, mean-ass zombies looking for a fight and a fag. And by “fag” I mean cigarette.

This leads me to observation number two. People love smoking here. Like most big cities in the industrialized West, they can’t smoke in their office buildings so they do it outside. Same for pub crawlers, restaurant goers and club kids. Everyone is outside lighting up. I like their defiance. In New York, smokers are banished to the outdoors in an attempt to help make them stop. In London, you get the feeling that it’s more a way of life than a bad habit. They smoke, so they go outside. Not, Mayor Bloomberg’s frowning Dear Leader shaming everyone into behaving the way he wants them to.

And if I’m going to include, drinking and smoking, I might as well include eating. Hong Kong was a sea of mostly mediocre restaurants. Yes, there were good ones too, but then you’d have to pay up. Tokyo was the land of excellent restaurants that were all mostly expensive. You pay for what you get. New York is and was New York, a mishmash. And that’s what it’s like here. I’m surprised by how many gastropubs there are in London. I’m not talking about places back in the US that claim to be gastropubs but are really just bars that serve bad food. I’m talking real gastropubs. That whole movement to elevate British food with locally sourced ingredients is now a way of life. That and you have a bunch of gastropubs that experiment a bit or take standard dishes from other countries and just do them right. I highly recommend The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Great local place with excellent food. And there are always vegetarian options.

A good friend of mine back in Hong Kong said that most people gain about 15 pounds when they first move to London because of all the cakes, pies and pastries. She’s from Pakistan, married a funny English guy and used to live here. I didn’t really believe her at first but she’s right. If you have a sweet tooth, the UK is the place to be. I find myself staring into bakery windows, wiping the drool off my chin. If I could, I’d place my hands behind my back and plunge my face into a gooey chocolate cake, the icing like heroin, the chunky bits of chocolate like crack, an orgasm for the palate.

But thanks to an iron will and a determination to lose a couple of pounds before my birthday, I’ve actually lost weight. My resolve actually scares me. I basically eat very little if anything during the day and have a sensible meal at dinner. Sensible as in mostly fat-free and usually vegan. Of course, my iron will implodes when a bottle of vodka or red wine is opened. Hell, I’m sipping Cotes du Rhone right now. But I digress.

The thing I most appreciate about London right now is the weather. I’m wearing a sweater and it’s July. Now, I know most people would disagree with me, but I love sweater weather. Even in summer. Does it get old? No. What gets old is not being able to walk a few blocks without turning into a pile of sweaty goo, your shirt clinging to your back, your underwear a moist snack cake, your face dripping of moisturizer and that shit you use to make the bags under your eyes disappear. That’s what gets old. Hong Kong summers were a long nightmare of embarrassment and rage. London summers are like winter days in south Texas. And there is light in the sky until about 10pm. The joy.

Aside from paper pushing, form completing and forrest destroying, my only real gripe so far is the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I’ve had some great experiences at shops. restaurants, bars, museums, supermarkets. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This one bitch had the never to glare at my partner after he failed to follow protocol at our local Waitrose supermarket. I smiled but I wanted to smack the ugly right off her face. I explained later to my partner what he did wrong. I had to learn it the hard way. Something about how you put the groceries on the shortest conveyor belt in the history of the world. I’ve decided not to lose my temper or tell anyone off until I’ve lived here at least six months. That way, I’ll know more or less what I’m talking about.

They might speak English in London but if you are an American, you must understand that the UK is a different country full of different ways of doing things. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm. And right now, this American is loving it.

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