Listen to a Londoner: Carolina Baker

Carolina landed in London in November, a bit bleary eyed and nostalgic for what was formerly home. She’s Colombian American and loves Chai Lattes. During the day, she works in finance and at night she can be found blogging at GirlHabits or working out at Crossfit Thames.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
CB: I’m originally from Bogota, Colombia, but consider myself a Colombian American. I went to high school in Bogota, and lived in Boston, Connecticut, and New York for the last ten years. I moved to London in November and my husband brought me here. He wanted the experience of living and working abroad, and while I was a bit resistant at first, we took the plunge when an opportunity presented itself. Evan moved over in August and I joined him here in November.

LLO: Tell us about a fun night out in London. Where were you and what was memorable about it? 
CB: I think one of the most fun nights out in London was when we went to the Christmas Market in Hyde Park. The hubby and I drank some mulled wine, listened to a band play some amazing covers, and just chilled amongst the Londoners. Although it was very cold, the atmosphere was lively, relaxed, and buzzing with the holiday spirit.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
CB: The best part about living in my postcode is that I don’t have to use the tube to get to work and I get to walk by the water on my way to work every morning.

LLO: Is there anything you miss from Colombia or America? If so, what is it? If not, is there anything you’d miss from London if you left? 
CB: From Colombia, I miss the warmth of the people. Latin Americans are very warm, hug-oriented, happy people. We’re also louder than most Americans and Londoners combined. :o) From America, I miss my family, the work culture, the way my barista used to make my chai latte, and my favourite food place near the office, Press NY. Mostly though, just my family and the fact that New York is full of Latin American Immigrants, so I feel at home with the majority of the population.

I think from London I’d miss the little things; the fact that people are more adventurous with their fashion, that we can drink on the streets and not get arrested,  the borough and Portobello Markets, and the proximity of about two dozen other countries.

LLO: What was the biggest challenge (no matter how trivial) you have faced so far as an expat in London and how have you coped?
CB: I think my biggest challenge was remaining happy on a day-to-day basis in spite of  having to adjust to a new culture, work environment, and way of life. Coming to London was more my husband’s choice, so it would have been easy for London to be harder than it was. I focused on building a life around things that mattered to me, and that’s how I coped. I showered my family and friends back home with love, I took a trip to Morocco with my mom, I’m spending quality time with my husband, I visited family that’s scattered across Europe, I found a gym that’s similar to the one back home, and I reached out to people that have similar interests.

LLO: In three sentences, what little observations have you made about London life that you didn’t expect before you arrived?
CB: Even though Londoners aren’t as warm as Latin Americans are, they really love to socialize.  A Londoner can tell you one thing and mean something completely different. And my favourite observation so far? That it doesn’t rain in London all the time.

LLO: I’m coming to London for one night only and want to go out for food and drinks, but not in a touristy area. Where would you send me? 
CB: If you want to spend out, I’d go to Gaucho Tower Bridge as they serve the most amazing empanadas, steaks, and have some killer apple martinis. If you want to keep it more budget friendly, I’d send you to Wahaca on Wardour Street , a very good Mexican restaurant that offers many delicious dishes (the ambience is also very lively).

LLO: What’s your ideal way to spend a free Saturday in London? Is there anywhere you’d like to explore or visit in London that you haven’t gotten to yet? 
CB: I adore the markets here, so I would send you to have lunch at Borough Market and then to peruse the people and the knick knacks at Portobello Market. There’s nothing more enjoyable than buying a £5 pound duck sandwich and passing it down with some Prosecco.  And there’s no better place to people watch and find amazing accessories than Portobello Market. I would like to explore the fashion side of London a bit more. While I know it’s extremely expensive (one of the reasons I’ve stayed away), I can’t wait for summer when I’ll have to start dress shopping for my brother’s wedding. I’m open to any and all suggestions from your readers.

LLO: Tell us about your fabulous website, Girl Habits. Why did you start it, what’s it all about and why should we all stop by and check it out? 
CB: I started GirlHabits because I had a fabulous idea to create a sports bra with a pocket (mi-bra – http://www.girlhabits.com/?page_id=60 ), and I needed a home on the web. GirlHabits also houses my blog, which has awesome interviews with other amazing entrepreneurial women. As I venture out into the freelance world, I plan to also use GirlHabits as a platform to house my professional and personal writing.

You should check it out because I offer the mi-bra in the UK now, and because when you’re in need of a daily dose of inspiration, it’s the perfect place to go.

LLO: What has life in London taught you about yourself and the people around you so far?
CB: I think that life in London has taught me that there is no right way to live, and what makes London so special is that everyone is so different. In the States, you can get very caught up in the progression that others expect of you (college, job, masters/MBA while working, marriage, mortgage, babies). Being in London just reaffirms that choosing different is okay and extremely satisfying.

The people around me have taught me to be more accepting of accents that I don’t understand, customs that I’m not familiar with, traditions that I have no knowledge of, food that I’m not accustomed too, and communicating styles that I haven’t been exposed too. Nothing is necessarily better or worse, it’s just different and that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

Thanks Carolina!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family whether you’re there or here or anywhere else!

I think this photo that John Kortland added to the Flickr pool really hits home the fact that even when our lives aren’t perfect or don’t turn out exactly as we expect them to, we still have a million reasons to be thankful.

This is my 6th Thanksgiving away from home in a row, but my aunt and cousin are cooking some American food and making pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dinner. Yum!

So where are you this Thanksgiving and how are you celebrating?
Are you with your family? 
What are you most thankful for in your life right now? 

PS – check out my little list of American food shops in London next time you’re craving some pumpkin pie 🙂

Listen to a Londoner: Elizabeth Remes

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Elizabeth Remes

Betsy is a city girl at heart and is proud to call London home for the forseeable future.  She works in development in the performing arts, sings in a chamber choir, loves the expat blogging community, and intrepidly explores the best (and worst!) that London has to offer.  Her boyfriend wants to you know that although she is assimilating very well to life in England she once fell asleep at a cricket match at Lord’s.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
ER: I am originally from Washington, DC, although I have also spent a significant amount of time in New York City and in Paris. I got my MA in London a couple of years ago and that allowed me to apply for a Tier 1 visa – I moved back in June 2010, happily! I now live in South London and work in North London.  (Yes, I do need a passport to cross the river!)
LLO: What have been your biggest challenges as an expat so far? Any advice for newcomers?
ER: I have found that the biggest challenges are the nitty-gritty! Expats should (and usually do) expect a certain amount of culture shock and so prepare themselves for that. I don’t think that most newcomers arrive ready to do battle with banks, mobile phones, and utilities companies. My advice for newcomers is: try to do as much research as possible on the nuts-and-bolts of living in a different country.
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LLO: Favourite London locations for a romantic or unusual date?
ER:
I actually just wrote a blog post on my top five London date spots – good timing! I think my favorite for this time of year would have to be the Somerset House ice skating rink. It’s a fun date in a gorgeous venue, and you can treat yourselves to a yummy dinner at Tom’s Kitchen afterwards.

LLO: Best place to spend a Saturday night out with the girls?
ER: For a classy girls’ night out, I’d recommend Purl, a new cocktail bar in Marylebone – it has a great speakeasy vibe and very imaginative drinks with secluded booths perfect for gabbing. If you want to be a bit more wild and crazy, though, try The Lexington in Islington – it’s a loungy bar with an incedible selection of whiskey, and they’ve played retro dance music every time I’ve been there!

LLO: You post “Frock Fridays” on your blog. Give us a few of your favourite London shop recommendations that aren’t on the high street, especially since the big NYE is coming!
ER:
I’ve brought my love of Anthropologie with me from the States (there’s one on Regent Street and another on the King’s Road in Chelsea). They’ve got great party dresses plus unique jewelry and quirky accessories. There’s an amazing vintage shop in Shoreditch called Absolute Vintage. They have tons of clothes from every decade you could want, plus shoes and bags galore. Trilogy, which has a couple of stores around London, has a great selection of jeans. And – I want to include this even though they don’t have any physical shops and are only online – I love Boden for basics.

LLO: Best place in London for people watching and fashion inspiration?
ER:
Depends what kind you want! But I think that one of the most entertaining places for people watching and fashion inspiration is The Book Club in East London. Go for breakfast with a newspaper, stay for lunch with your laptop, and then hang around for drinks and music in the evening. They cater for everything – and everyone goes! It’s eclectic and fun, though it can tread the line of too-cool-for-school.

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
ER:
In early September my flatmates and I went to the Mayor’s Thames Festival, a free weekend event on the South Bank. We went on the Sunday, and it was packed! There were tons of food stalls as well as activities for kids and live music – in fact, there was a swing dancing spot in front of the Tate Modern! The day closed with a massive Carnivale-style parade and then an incredible fireworks display. The whole thing was so much fun, and it was amazing walking next to the river, seeing the sun set over iconic landmarks, and thinking, “I live here!”

LLO: Have you found a place in this city that always seems to make you happy? Where and why?
ER:
Borough Market always makes me happy! You can tell from my blog that I love cooking and entertaining, and my weekly (if I can afford it!) pilgrimage to Borough Market is an integral part of the dinner party process. I have a whole routine for my Borough Market Saturdays that includes my favorite butcher and Neal’s Yard Dairy for British cheeses – and the trip has to be concluded with lunch and scrumpy from one of the stalls. No matter how hungover I may be after a too-late Friday night, stepping out of the London Bridge tube station and seeing the sign for Borough Market always makes me happy.

LLO: Favourite quirky or unique London discovery?
ER:
There are so many options available to you if you want to get some culture, but my favorite discovery is that there are tons of possibilities other than West End shows and the most famous museums – check out the smaller venues for performances and exhibits that might be even more exciting than the big stuff!

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, which 5 specific things would you miss the most?
ER:

5.
Full English Breakfast – America does good brunches, but if you want to get down and dirty with good hangover food, you have to have a full English. 
4.
Borough Market and the guy at Laithwaite’s Wines (whose name I embarrasingly can’t remember!) who always helps me find the perfect wine to match my menu.
3.
Meandering along the South Bank and watching the sun set at the horizon of the Thames.
2.
All the commons – I love that almost every neighborhood has its own green space.  It makes the city seem more intimate and more spread out at the same time.
1.
My life with my English boyfriend of two years – even if he came with me to wherever I was going, I would miss the life we’ve been making here in London. Even just over the past six months, we’ve really set down roots here together. I’d definitely miss that.

Thanks Betsy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Michele Gorman

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Michele Gorman, 43

Michele Gorman is an American writer, and now a card-carrying Brit, who has made London her home. Her debut novel, Single in the City, charts the misadventures of 26-year-old American Hannah who, upon moving to London, blunders her way through life and love amidst a population who doesn’t always see the funny side of her cultural misunderstandings.

LLO: Give us the basic details first – How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
MG:
I’ve been here 12 years, and am in fact now a card-carrying Brit. I moved from Chicago, but was raised in the Northeast, in a rural town in Massachusetts. I came to London because I followed my heart. My then-boyfriend was transferred from the States and I figured it’d be fun to live in a new city. I was right!

LLO: Interesting that you decided to write a book called “Single in the City” when you personally moved to London for love. What inspired the idea?
MG:
The story is definitely fictional, since, as you rightly point out, I was very much attached when I moved here, and for many years afterwards. So the idea didn’t come from being single myself. Actually it was born out of spite. My background is in literary fiction rather than chick-lit, and I’d just picked up my first chick-lit book, which I thought was terrible. Yet it was a best-seller. I knew I could write something better than that, and my expat experiences were such natural fodder that the book practically wrote itself. I knew Hannah had to be single because the story is a comedy, and a single girl’s misadventures are ripe for humour (though not always to her!).

LLO: Which aspects of British culture baffled you most when you first arrived?
MG:
Just about everything was baffling, from the British approach to getting what they want (and never directly saying what it is that they want), to daily routines like getting on the bus or ordering a sandwich. I quite like to cook, and translating the names for ingredients from American to English took some time (and I’m still not sure what treacle is).

I used to find queuing odd, but now find myself gravitating toward them and standing patiently. My family says I’ve become ‘too civilised’ for America now. I guess that’s the natural result of having to share a little island with 60 million people.

LLO: Share a little story about a challenge you’ve had to overcome as an expat.
MG:
If I had a pound for every time a Brit has said to me ‘But you’re not like most Americans.’ I wouldn’t need to work. Overcoming the stereotype of a ‘typical’ American has been a constant challenge. Part of what they think of as typical about us is that we tend to see our time in the UK as temporary.

The Brits I’ve met over the years have generally been reluctant to make friends with expats if they don’t think we’re going to stick around for the long haul. Many have told me that they don’t want to invest in friendship if that friend is just going to leave, and this has been one of the biggest hurdles against making British friends. It took more than four years before I was invited to my first proper English house party, despite having several English men and women that I counted as acquaintances. I knew I’d finally convinced them that I planned to stay when I got that invitation! And we’re still friends today.

LLO: What do you love most about your adopted city and is there anything besides family and friends you’re missing from the States that you can’t find here?
MG:
There is a gentleness about London that is surprising for a big city. What it may lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in peacefulness away from the crowds. Even in frenetic central London you need only to step down a side street to find quiet neighbourhoods, cafes, little independent shops and green squares.

It used to be the case that American products were hard to come by. Like many of us, I imported certain goods like my favourite deodorant, Tollhouse morsels and corn syrup for baking. Going into a Walmart when back in the States was unbearably exciting and my suitcases came back laden with useful gadgets. Now though, most baking and food products are available (if not in the shops then online), as are those useful gadgets. Plus Mom still regularly sends packages of things I don’t realize I need until I see them. Those plastic bags you attach to a Hoover to shrink wrap clothes and bedding are an excellent case in point; how have we lived without them in London’s tiny flats?

I do miss having access to plentiful, cheap or free live music. Coming from Chicago where hundreds of bands played each weekend in bars and pubs across the city, it was an adjustment to realize that you have to book ahead for everything here.

LLO: You’ve written for UK Cosmo, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Guardian, Evening Standard, etc. How did you build up your reputation as a writer having started from scratch as an expat? Any advice for others in the same boat?
MG:
All of my articles have come off the back of the publicity for Single in the City. I have a great PR through Penguin who has arranged all of that. But if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have that kind of help I’d have approached the newspapers and magazines myself. If you’re new here, go into the newsagent and write down the titles you see. And don’t discount the tabloids, though be prepared to write from a salacious angle. The editors on all these publications have to fill them each week/month and are always looking for articles (though they don’t often pay for them, so it’s not generally a lucrative career). Also, blog sites are really great for writers because they are always looking for good content.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
MG:
The Southbank. It’s perfect for a stroll along the river, for having a coffee or drink, or popping in for a free concert/exhibit/reading. There are also of course amazing performances on all the time, and it’s easy to walk back across the bridge into Covent Garden.

LLO: I’ve got one night in London. Recommend the best place to go for dinner and drinks.
MG:
It depends on what kind of experience you’re after. If you want upscale, have a drink at the bar at the Sanderson Hotel (50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG). It’s beautiful and funky inside, and has a great all-season courtyard that is very cool, trendy and a bit romantic. Then go to Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD) for mouth-watering, very interesting Chinese.

For a more casual experience start with drinks at the The White Horse (1-3 Parsons Green, SW6 4UL), then dinner at the always chaotic and friendly Sale e Pepe, for good Italian (9-15 Pavilion Road, SW1X 0HD).

LLO: Have you developed any amusing British tendencies in the past 12 years that you’d like to share?
MG:
I queue. I tut and mutter under my breath when someone jumps in front, but rarely say anything anymore. I walk on the left instead of the right and find myself getting cross when others try walking on the right. And I now ask ‘Are you all right?’. It’s official. I’m British.

LLO: What are you working on now?
MG:
If Single in the City sells well, then I’m ready to write a follow-up.

I’m also writing a book for an older audience. It’s still chick-lit, but the heroine is 39. She doesn’t have ‘issues’ though, no cheating spouse, big behind, social life-crimping children or ticking biological clock. She’s single, well-adjusted and independent, optimistic and enthusiastic about her future. I don’t see much of this kind of writing, despite all of the real-world women like this that I know. So I’m writing one for them.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Michele’s book, Single in the City, head over to Amazon.
For more about Michele and her work, visit her website: www.michelegorman.co.uk
Follow her tweets @expatdiaries or show some support by joining the Single in the City group on Facebook.

Thanks Michele!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Men in Morph Suits

We were heading down into Liverpool Street station when seven guys dressed in “morph suits” – all different colours – casually walked by. In London, you always expect the unexpected, so I wasn’t too surprised, but it was the hottest day of the year and those were some pretty claustrophobic-looking outfits.

Morph Suit Boys

They seemed to enjoy the attention though, and even posed on the platform for photos before entertaining us with typical guy conversation on the tube. Plus, I got a high-five from the purple guy.

Morph Suits on the Tube

If you’re wondering, I did look up the website – morphsuits.com – advertised across their bums and, well, apparently “morph suits don’t need explaining”. 

I did find out that they come in zebra print, comando and American flag varities. And it does offer some useful information such as an FAQ page with questions like “What do I wear under a morph suit?” “Where’s the best place to keep a wallet” and “Can I really drink through it?” 

Just in case you were interested…

(They are, of course, American.) << — Lies. Turns out we can blame the Brits.