Thursday, May 31, 2007


The virus that left me begging for a soft couch and a submarine sandwich forced us to cancel a trip to Ticino, but I didn't let it spoil a glorious bank holiday weekend in London. By Friday morning, I had beaten the virus and packed my bags. It turns out that I didn't pack them with enough sweaters though because the weather was nasty and, well, English, but we still had a fantastic time. A business trip to Google's London office inspired the trip and we began to wonder how our lives would be different if we had chosen London over Zurich as our European home away from home. How would we fare as residents of London? In order to answer that question, we had to ask ourselves several others.

Could we afford it?

After glancing at the prices for basic travel goods and services, shoppers accustomed to paying with the American dollar think the numbers look right, even reasonable. A room in a Bed and Breakfast: 100, okay that's fine; an entree at Middle Eastern restaurant: 14.50, great; a movie ticket: 9.50, not bad. And then you find out that the British pound is worth more than two American dollars and you realize that this trip to London will be your last for a while.

Friends who have lived there argue that 'if you're earning the pound,' London is affordable and you can enjoy a decent standard of living. Mickey's current arrangement with Google allows him to work in Switzerland while still based in Mountain View and paid in dollars. The company has made it easy for us to move here and I imagine they would've done the same in London, but perhaps we'd never get over the shock of paying for two movie tickets and thinking, 'whoa, that cost me forty bucks.'

What could I do?

Perhaps Mickey wouldn't earn the pound, but I could! It is easier for expats to secure working visas in the UK than it is here in Switzerland and I wouldn't "have to" work as an au pair. Nor would I have to take German classes because the language on the streets, in the offices and in the classrooms is my own. Yes, I could even go back to school and study almost anything (I say almost because sadly, Hogwarts is fictional) at a fine English university. If nothing else, I could fine tune my British accent and read trashy tabloids all day. Brilliant!

What's so great about London?

The anthropologist and teacher in me are reluctant to use the term 'culture-packed' because it is incorrect and barely makes sense, but just go with it. The short answer to what's so great about London is that it is culture-packed. You can find almost anything you want at almost any hour of the day or night. I love the fact that tourists and locals alike can queue up (do I sound like a local or just pretentious?) at Leister Square to purchase discounted theatre (how 'bout now?) tickets for that very same evening. We saw Avenue Q and I laughed for two hours.

Another big selling point for London (especially if you live in Switzerland) is the quality and quantity of its pubs and restaurants. But English food is wretched, you say? True enough, but Londish food, now that is a horse of a different curry, er... color. Talented chefs from all over the world have brought their A-game to London and unlike Switzerland, where there are no mid-range restaurants, you can find good eats at a dining establishment that meets your needs and budget, be it a chip shop or a three star Michelin bistro. Of course, we wasted no time in filling up on old favorites. Finding great Indian food was a no brainer, but we also enjoyed fresh hummus at a Middle Eastern restaurant, sushi with melt in your mouth toro (Andrew is so jealous) and a rather authentic American style brunch. No, I didn't scour London's countless McDonalds for a BE&CB; why would I when I could instead fill up on a traditional English breakfast with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and beans on toast?

Eating out as often as we did last weekend would not be an option if we lived there, but I imagine London's food markets make cooking at home even more fun than dining in its restaurants. Borough market made me wish it was physically possible to digest more than four meals a day. Its vendors offered everything from fresh oysters to pre-bagged flour and spices for pakoras to the richest cheesecakes I had ever seen. Though I nearly froze last weekend in only my spring jacket, my biggest regret was not not packing more layers, but instead not coming to Borough market hungrier. In sum, if we moved to London we wouldn't starve. According to my friend Michelle, our resident expert, moving to London produces the opposite problem. "You've heard of gaining the freshman fifteen?" she asked. "Well, unfortunately it's a London thirty." That's one way to start earning the pound. :)

So how should a girl counterbalance those extra bickies (cookies)? Mickey and I tried to dance off those calories at an event called Guilty Pleasures. The title really says it all; several hundred young people came to dance to the songs we are ashamed to love. Forget hip hop and techno, only the cheesiest pop songs would do. Last week's theme was 'A Night of 1,000 Dollys,' Dolly being Dolly Parton. Watching Brits decked out in enormous blond wigs, padded bras and cowboy boots hit the dance floor was unreal. Stranger yet, though, were the Pleasure Boys, three male dancers who wore only underwear, sweatbands and loads of glitter.
What's not so great about London?

As far as transportation goes, the Tube is great... when compared to the Metro in Paris. It is pretty clean and it gets you where you want to go most of the time. But we've been spoiled by Zurich's superior system of public transport and thus were annoyed by relatively minor delays and inconveniences on the Tube. Likewise, the cold, rainy weather was fun for a weekend. We imagined we were getting the real London experience and enjoyed spending time in cozy theaters and restaurants. London fog would grow tiresome, however, and the Californian in me would whine about the lack of sunshine.

Mickey loves city life; he loves living near fine restaurants and he is thrilled that he doesn't own a car, but I wonder if I could handle the big city. This may sound strange coming from a native of southern California, but I find London too large and too crowded. I wonder if we would get lost, not in a physical sense, but I wonder whether we could make friends in another home away from home.

When I tell people here in Switzerland that I am an American from California, the response is always positive despite Bush's unpopularity. 'I love California!' or 'I want to go there,' people say. More than one person has responded with 'what are you doing here?' And they're not trying to ask what jobs/situations brought me here, they are surprised that I would want to move away from a place as lovely as California. Sure we love London, Switzerland and Rome, but there's no place like home.

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