London is hostile, expensive and depressing — but I can't imagine living anywhere else

Despite all of its flaws, the capital is now the most popular city in the world

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The Independent Online

Neither the bustle of New York nor the romanticism of Paris can compete with London. A new survey has found the capital to be the most popular city people want to work in. Data from over 200,000 people has revealed it’s not only the most desirable city, but the only city in the study’s top 40.

As someone living and working in London, I can understand why so many people would like to be here above everywhere else. Two years ago I was lured here with dreams of an exciting, febrile city atmosphere.

Every time I visited the capital I would imagine crowd-surfing my way down Oxford Street, late nights in posh cocktail bars and swapping knowing glances with others in museums because we’re so immensely cultural.

But I must warn these people that have the same disillusions as I did: the reality is very different. London is a cocktail of failed dreams and extortionate prices. It’s filled to the brim with corrupt landlords. And it’s packed with rude people, especially on the dreaded Tube. 

Londoners are renowned for their rudeness. It’s easier to feel lonelier in London because you’re surrounded by so many people, none of whom will dial down their scowl if you share eye contact before midday.

Those who move to London are mostly the ambitious and career-driven kind. There’s nothing wrong with that in the office, but on the morning commute it can cost you working limbs if you get in the way.

You will live with a constant film of sweat between you and the city. No matter what time of year, your commute to work will turn the straightest hair into a frizz ball, and you will be in a perpetual state of panicked rush.

Neither the dizzying heights of the Shard, nor all the beards in Shoreditch, will make up for the fact you have to go home to a dark, dingy flat you share with a nocturnal drug dealer every night.

And when you’re not sweating from temperature, you’ll be sweating from money worries. London is the most expensive city in the world. Rent and property prices are extortionate: add to this sky-high demand and you have landlords who couldn’t care less about your living standards and go by their own rules.

You might dream of the exciting bustle of people – but that bustle will start to erode at your ego pretty quickly. You might have once indulged in the odd thought you’re special in some way. But in London, you’ll constantly be reminded that you’re one in eight million.

Walking down any street here will make you feel like an ant. An innocent walk to the corner shop will become an exercise in how many people walk past that make you feel slightly deformed. You'll want to burn every photo of yourself that exists. London has a lot of beautiful people, and their job is to make you feel as plain as a breadstick.

Living here doesn’t feel like living in the real world. There’s nothing about London that will remind you of the rest of the country. People don’t have cars, a lot of us can’t have pets, and you can go six months without seeing a carpark or motorway. Quiet drinks don’t exist, and "fresh air" only happens when it’s very windy and your head’s hanging over the side of the Thames.

You can’t relax because of the restraints that come with living here. You will no longer have any disposable income, and it’s likely your job will take up most of your time. In another part of the UK, 5:30pm means a daily race for the door. But the working culture in London means that the first person to leave might as well pick up their P45 on the way out.

I used to think you could only enjoy London if you were super-rich or completely in denial. But now I know there’s a mid-point: still poor, still a bit in denial, but with a shifted perspective. When a stranger apologises for thrusting their pram over your foot, or maybe a bus driver lets you on the bus with an empty Oyster card. Perhaps you save up for a few months to buy a coffee to drink in, or buy tomorrow’s newspaper the night before.

These little things become big things, and the big things – like being able to survive in a city that doesn’t care whether you live in it or not – turns living in London into a love-hate relationship that you can’t imagine living without.