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.

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Guest Post: Carolina Baker’s Letter to London

Written by Carolina Baker who 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.

Dear London,

The hardest thing for me upon arriving was feeling foreign.

Your baristas in Canary wharf didn’t know me, so they just took my order without smiling or even nodding. Your employee’s jokes I didn’t understand, so I just nodded my head and tried very hard to not space out. Your people’s wardrobes of grey and black didn’t match my own, so my pink coat and pink bag were very ill-matched. Your food was different and a bit bland, so I spent ages choosing what not to eat for lunch. Your General Practitioner made me go see him three times to get my blood test results;  Your people really like to say no; Your letting agencies took their sweet old time with our rental; Your people don’t really like to talk loud; You aren’t home to many Latins, so as a Colombian, I felt different in a loud and exotic kind of way.

But now, your baristas in Canary wharf are starting to warm up to me. Nobody can resist a smile, a “have a nice day,” a pink coat, or someone who orders an Iced Drink for long. We chat about how cold it is outside (really?), and how happy we are that it’s Friday, and that to me, is what I call, progress. Even though my wardrobe hasn’t changed and neither has your peoples’, they are starting to understand me as a bubbly and bright American. I found a way to get your people to talk and that’s by asking question after question, so that’s what I do. Your food hasn’t gotten better, unfortunately, but I’ve narrowed it down to having eggs for breakfast and an iced chai (no water!), a chopped salad for lunch (in which I’m only allowed one egg…), and cooking something from Waitrose for dinner during the week, and trying out random restaurants on the weekends; (Wahaca is a winner; Mestizo restaurant is…not). But your Crossfit Thames is quite amazing and reminds me of my brother every time I go work out; it’s like a home away from home. Your GPs I haven’t gotten used to, but they are teaching me the importance of patience, as there really is no better way to deal with a different medical care system. Your people respond well to being challenged, something that is completely unexpected. And I still talk loudly when given the opportunity. I smile whenever I hear Latin Spanish on the DLR, on the tube, or on random London Streets.

And while it’s important for me to have you feel like home, being here is more monumental than creating a routine that is fulfilling. You feel like an open door, inviting me in. You are a breath of fresh air; a brand new perspective. You are patient with me as I stop idolizing my past and start treading lightly on my present, and with more purpose on my future.  You are introducing me to people and situations that will alter the course of my life, and for that, I’m forever grateful. You are showing me that choosing different is better than not choosing at all, and that sometimes, it’s necessary to jump and feel what it’s like to free fall. Your ground is sturdy and its caught me quite a few times. And you know what? I’ve managed to brush myself off and get back up again.

So before I forget, I thank you. For taking me away from New York and for showing me a new way of life.

Warmly,

Carolina

___

If you’d like to guest post about London for LLO, drop me a line: stephanie.sadler@hotmail.co.uk

Listen to a Londoner: Alexandra Richards

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

Alexandra Richards, 23

Alexandra works as a Buyers Admin Assistant for Topshop. She also writes a blog, Alex Does Fashion. She is 23 and lives in South London.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your blog, Alex Does Fashion.
AR:
 I love fashion, have always worked in fashion and have always wanted to write a blog. And then when my previous job took me to a remote area of Coventry for 6 months, I had not much else to do in the evenings! That’s when I started writing it; it helped me escape and now it’s my baby. Alex Does Fashion is about fashion, art and life from my perspective – because it’s my blog! Plus, I get a bit fed up of all the millions of narcissistic fashion blogs consisting only of thousands pictures of the blogger in outfits, or countless street style photos. Alex Does Fashion is all about what inspires and interests me, and hopefully inspires and interests others.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, talk us through some of the best and worst fashion trends that have hit the city in your lifetime.
AR:
Oh goodness. So many. The one that first sprang to mine was definitely when flat winkle pickers came back as the “pointy shoe” in 2003. When I was 15 I had a white pair with a horrendous silver clasp – not a good look. I also once wore them with black tights…enough said.

LLO: Where is your place to show up in the capital on a Saturday night after buying the perfect new outfit?
AR:
I’d say at the moment I’m definitely more of a bar girl than a club girl, and as a South Londoner, of course I absolutely love going out in Clapham. Tapas and sangria outside on the deck at Carmen Bar de Tapas, happy hour cocktails at Rinky Dinks, more cocktails at the gorgeous art deco Loft bar and dancing in Aqqum. And then of course a good ol’ night time cheeseburger and chips in McDonalds at 4am!

LLO: Where can we find London’s best vintage or retro offerings?
AR:
There’s no doubt about it – Brick Lane is still number 1 for vintage in my opinion. There are countless stores to choose from, but my favourite are Hunky Dory vintage which has fantastically elaborate pieces – and the guys who work there are so friendly and lovely, and I love the Boy London store, housing what’s left of the amazing 80s line, with the fantastically eccentric owner as well as the crazy £1-5 bed sale in the basement (literally a 3ft mound of clothes on a bed). And of course, you can’t forget the humungous Beyond Retro.

Away from East London, one of my favourites is Retromania in Pimlico. It’s almost a costume store and they carry fantastic designer collections. For my birthday, my friends bought me an amazing huge black and white furry angora cardigan from there; and they have a fantastic rail outside which changes every week, where I picked up a great hounds tooth men’s jacket for £1! Perfect for guilt free shopping.

LLO: Which London-based living fashion icon do you most admire and why?
AR:  
I don’t really have a fashion icon – I can admire and be inspired by everything and anyone, especially normal people with normal lives.

LLO: After living in NYC for a bit, how does fashion in London compare to the styles in the Big Apple?
AR:
Like London style, fashion in New York you couldn’t even begin to encapsulate in one sentence. There are so many neighbourhoods, and so many different types of people. Although one thing I did notice that there are a lot more vintage stores and small boutiques scattered about, and many New Yorkers do look to London as the most directional fashion city. One thing about New Yorkers though, is that everyone looks a lot more put together. Everything in New York inspires me – from the people, the bars, the buildings and the New Yorkers’ incessant style. I  truly and absolutely heart New York.

LLO: Favourite London-based designers?
AR: 
I love Mark Fast, Issa, Marios Schwab, David Koma, Holly Fulton – and of course, Vivienne Westwood.

Thanks Alexandra!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Sasha

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers. 

“Sasha”, early 30s

“Sasha” is in her early thirties and writes The Happiness Project London anonymously.  The HPL encourages Londoners to live their lives by a set of rules shown to improve happiness; including being active, connecting with family and friends, doing charitable acts and learning new things. 

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
Sasha:
About seven years with a brief sojourn to Prague in the middle.

LLO: Tell us a bit about The Happiness Project London.
Sasha: 
It started out as a “make the most of London” blog to inspire myself and my friends to try new restaurants, exhibitions, gigs.  I love giving recommendations and finding new things to do, so it allows me to express my interests and enthusiasm, and put all my suggestions in one place.  However, the thing most Londoners lack is free time so I try not to overload people with what’s on.  Even visiting a new restaurant or pub once a month would fit into the HPL rules.  Oh and I try not to blog about places I don’t like and only focus on the positive.  

The blog developed when I went to Turkey during Ramadan and spoke to a man who told me how fasting had made him feel closer to his family and friends, and charitable towards those who were hungry.  Even though it was hard, he felt happier for doing it.  I thought about London, and how we live a rather selfish life, and decided to add a charitable element to my blog – doing things for others to feel truly happy.  So, it became The Happiness Project London.

LLO: Have you found a place in London – other than your home – that always makes you happy?
Sasha:
The view from Waterloo bridge at any time of the day or night.  I try to stop there, take it all in, and have a “London moment”. 

LLO: You’re also a budding photographer. Share a photo with us?
Sasha:
My problem is I don’t take enough time over photos which is why they are all blurry.  But anyway here’s one of a bus thundering past outside Liverpool Street and my beloved but underplayed trombone.

LLO: One of your Happiness Project rules is to keep active. Do you have a favourite gym or park for workouts?
Sasha:
I hate the cold, so in winter, I either go to the gym, do yoga or play hockey in Battersea Park.  In summer, London’s best asset is its many parks – I love playing tennis in Brockwell Park with its views over the City, or cycling to somewhere like Richmond Park.  I have an old-fashioned ladies bike with wicker basket, which makes me sit up tall and take in the sights.

LLO: In another rule, you recommend taking classes or attending talks or exhibitions. Have you found any unique classes worth taking or know of any upcoming talks or exhibitions you could recommend?
Sasha: 
City Lit has great and cheap classes – everything from jewellery-making to history of art.  I’d like to do an arts and crafts course because I’m fidgety and it would occupy my mind better than TV. 

Otherwise, the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy is definitely worth visiting; the British Museum has some great free events and I’m hoping to watch some Mexican guitar there this month; and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum is always great – especially late night Fridays where you can drink wine under the dinosaur skeleton afterwards.

LLO: Are you still on a quest for the perfect burger in London? What’s the best you’ve found so far?
Sasha:
Hell yes.  I love burgers; have to have at least one a month.  I’ve tried about four or five since the quest started, mostly in pubs and once at McDos, but have not found anything great enough to write about yet.  My list of places to try is huge thanks to comments from people visiting the blog, worrying as I’ve put on half a stone since writing about food.  I’ve heard a lot about Byron and I’d also love to try a posh burger at the American Bar in the Stafford hotel in Mayfair.

LLO: If I only had one night in London, where would you tell me to eat dinner and then go for drinks?
Sasha: 
Great Queen Street or the Anchor & Hope serve wonderfully simple hearty British food like pheasant, duck or beef – it’s what I imagine people eating during a hunting weekend in the 19th century.  Or if you want to see London’s upmarket cooking at its best, I’d direct you to Chez Bruce, a Galvin restaurant, Pied A Terre or the Wolseley. 

Although I’m partial to the odd martini, my favourite places to drink are comfy old men’s pubs, so I’d suggest you try something like the Prince Regent in Herne Hill, the French House in Soho, or The Scolt Head in Dalston.

LLO: Will you share three of your favourite London blogs or websites?
Sasha:
The London Foodie (http://www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk/) has a wonderfully positive attitude to life and food and is a great supporter of my blog.  Urban Junkies and Le Cool are great for suggesting exciting things to try (although my main problem is finding free time in my diary). 

LLO: Describe a perfect day in London
Sasha: 
It’s a summer Sunday, about 30 degrees.  I start with coffee at Opus on Acre Lane or at Rosie’s in Brixton market.  I text my friends, none of whom are busy.  We arrange to meet at Brockwell Park or Clapham Common, someone brings a Frisbee and another a big blanket.  We sit and drink ciders and chat until later on when we go to a nice old man’s pub with a beer garden to eat burgers, chips and coleslaw – The Landor or The Coach and Horses.  Finally, we watch some live music – perhaps at The Windmill in Brixton or Cargo in Shoreditch. 

Thanks Sasha!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.