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Living in London: An Expat Speaks Out

SmarterTravel

Jamey Bergman graduated from Hendrix College, where he majored in International Relations and Global Politics. He served one year in AmeriCorps and spent a couple of years chasing the summer between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres before earning a contract to write for the Rough Guides travel guidebook series in Central America and the USA. Jamey moved to London in 2009 and served for several years as an editor at our sister site, Cruise Critic U.K.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?

A: Probably how good the food is. Britain gets a bad rap for its food. But even if that was a well-deserved reputation at some point in the past, it’s not hard to find great food in the U.K. now, and that’s especially true in London. Whether you’re looking for a great burger, a locavore, farm-to-table, organic restaurant or something more exotic — Turkish, Indian, Vietnamese or even a Peruvian ceviche — you’ll be able to find it in this city.

Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?

A: Culture shock is fairly muted in a move between two countries where you share a language and plenty of history, and I’d been to the U.K. a number of times before I moved here. So aside from all the normal issues anyone faces with setting up a new life in a new country, I think one of the biggest surprises for me was probably the hours the Brits keep. Lots of businesses in America — shops, restaurants, public transportation — are accessible 24 hours a day, and that’s definitely not the case here.

I remember shortly after I moved to the U.K., I went down to the local shopping area at about 6:30 in the evening only to find that everything had closed. This was in a small town, and establishments in London do stay open later, but most shops still close early. And the city’s main mode of transportation — the London Underground (locals call it “the Tube”) — is only set to become a limited 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday nights for the first time this September.

Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?

A: Definitely. Living in London means I’m surrounded by a huge array of different nationalities, languages and cultures every day. The office where I work is particularly international, so I probably have those comical misunderstandings of language and culture that most people experience when they travel to a foreign country more often than most. I’m not fluent in another language (it’s still one of my bucket list goals), but I have picked up some basic phrases from friends and colleagues in a handful of European languages, which definitely goes a long way when traveling.

And because my work involves travel, I’ve also gotten very good at knowing which supplies will come in handy for most travel situations — so I’ve become a quick and pretty expert packer.

Q: Which tourist attraction in London is most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?

A: I really dislike over-touristed and crowded spots like Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. (But as a teenager who’d never been to a major city, seeing Piccadilly Circus was pretty memorable, so I would hate to rob anyone of that experience.)

There’s so much to do and see in London, I’d suggest focusing in on your own interests when planning an itinerary — particularly if it’s a short trip — to avoid being overwhelmed. If you love theater, see some Shakespeare at the Globe or hit the West End. If you want good views of the city’s historic architecture, walk along the South Bank. If you travel for food or just love markets, try Borough Market.

Q: No one should visit London without tasting ________.

A: The beer. A trip to the U.K. would hardly be authentic if you didn’t pop into a pub and partake of the local brew. If you want to kill two birds with one stone and get some history with your pint, head down to Greenwich (you can take the Thames Clipper boats on the river, which are part of London’s public transport) and spend some time on the prime meridian; then have a glass of lager or ale from the Meantime Brewery.

Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?

A: The toughest thing for me is probably being far from family and friends at home. I manage to get back pretty regularly, but you still feel that pull and the disconnect from your loved ones’ daily lives. And the most rewarding is experiencing all the differences — big and small — of living in a foreign country.

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