5 London Observations

I moved to San Francisco over 3 years ago and have been living there ever since. I come back twice a year to see my mother and friends. On my trips back, I often get struck by things that seem new, different or perhaps had just gone unnoticed previously. These are 5 things that struck me on my most recent visit (Christmas 2016).

  • Disinterest/misinformation around Trump
    Having lived through my first US election as a resident, I was totally consumed by the endless news coverage, Alexa flash briefings, polls and more. It preoccupied me, causing sleepless nights and, frankly, huge amounts of anxiety. Coming to the UK for Christmas, it felt more remote than I expected. People were  for sure upset, but there was more a sense of “let’s see what happens” than I anticipated. Even more alarming, was the false equivilance misinformation campaign had taken root and I had numerous people say to me “I didn’t really want either of them” and worse “they are both as bad as each other”. Really frightening. I think some Brits struggle with the size and diversity of American opinion and so it’s hard for them to appreciate really how divided it can be and the scale of that division.
  • The joy of professional diversity
    One of the truly lovely elements of London life is the professional diversity. Of course, I enjoy racing into a super in-depth professional conversion at any given SF function, but there is something nice about being in the professional minority in social settings. To be surrounded by people in different jobs, doing totally different things and having all of the stock SF opening small-talk questions done away with. I found myself learning so much from academics, financiers, pub workers and more.
  • The "scene" is changing so much
    The London gay scene has seen such a huge retrenchment in the past few years. Soho, once the home of quirky bars and shops, now is slowly becoming flats (condos for ye Americans) and chain stores. It’s cute but it’s not original. The raw essence that made Soho a haven for young gay boys and girls is slowly fading. Others have written extensively about this but on this trip I noticed it more than ever. It’s sad to see, but I’m hoping that what will come in it’s place is a more distributed, eclectic scene that can escape the tightening grip of the apparent drugs epidemic and become a cultural trailblazer once more.
  • Loss of individuality of the high streets
    London has many of the most beautiful, eclectic high streets in the world. You can wander from shop to shop, exploring the wares offered up by a range of small businesses and sometimes chain stores. Unfortunately as I come back every 6 months or so I notice a sad trend. The quirky (albeit hit and miss) small businesses, restaurants and shops are being replaced by a far more reliable chain store. A homogeneous set of restaurants, shops and bars are taking over all of the once unique rows of shops.
  • Obsession with property ownership
    The British love to talk about property and the accumulation of property. So many people I know have factored home ownership in their life plan as part of 4 or 5 year plan. It’s amazing how culturally embedded property ownership is in the psyche of the nation and goes some way to explaining why the bubble is so robust, despite the fears of brexit.