On landing at Gatwick Airport last year, I was appalled at how there were a very few people to help me drag my luggage around; for heaven’s sake, Dubai had cushioned me in its tender embrace, teaching me not to lift a finger anywhere I went. A few humbling hours of dragging my suitcase to the car left me with toned arms (I know it doesn’t happen that quickly, but the soreness was just shameful) and a rocket ship back to Earth.
In the haste of moving to London from Dubai, I never really considered how radically different the two places would be. The move was quick because, often, the more you mull over a decision, the more reasons you find not to do it. These reasons are often just the cobwebs in your brain too set in its comfort zone, hesitant to move into foreign territory. It soon dawned on me: it’s not just the weather that is dramatically polar in these two places.
Just a couple of weeks later, I went through the glamorous ordeal of falling onto strangers’ laps on crowded tubes. London’s tube system was a more packed version of the Dubai Metro with fewer banal rules. “Wow, actual public transport that doesn’t leave me as confused as when I got on? Gee whiz!” I thought to myself. Much like the 5 stages of grief, however, there are 5 stages of the London Underground:
- Excitement: This phase is characterised by the excitement of using transport that is linked pretty well and doesn’t cost an entire arm and leg.
- Confusion: The excitement is short-lived and makes way for confusion very quickly. A London noob is easily spotted trying to figure out a tube map, asking morbid-looking people for directions, with a far too happy-go-lucky attitude. “Excuse me, are Aldgate and Aldgate East the same thing?!” Just no.
- I Got This: After a while, with some practice and mistakes (I’ve gone the wrong way a few too many times), one reaches a confident stage. Then, checking where the train is headed is too mainstream.
- Rage: You know you’re settling in when you feel rage all of the time. What no one really tells you is that the trains are almost always late; there is forever a fault at Victoria Station (WHOSE FAULT IS THIS?!) or construction work at London Bridge. The tubes will be so packed, that you will often find your face digging into people’s backs only if you are very, very lucky.
- Acceptance: Finally, comes acceptance. You have reached a healthy place in your London life (or what is considered to be healthy for a Londoner) and you come to terms with it: some things simply will not change.
It’s been a year since I left warm& sunny Dubai for wet yet hopeful London; a year that has gone by far too quickly; a year that has certainly left me older and somewhat wiser (or so I’d like to imagine).
Look out for more snippets of Living in London after Dwelling in Dubai by columnist, Zahra Hasan.