What is the best way to discover Liverpool's personality
April 4, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Travel-filter: I'm headed to Liverpool for a job interview, and I have three days to spend there. What should I do to 1) enjoy the city and 2) get a feeling for if I want to live there?

One slight problem: I'm an introvert. I know about the good things to do in Liverpool, but I'm specifically looking for things that will reveal Liverpool's personality. The best way to do this is by talking to strangers, but I find that mildly terrifying (yea social anxiety!). I'm also not used to traveling alone, even though I love international travel with friends. I have not traveled to the UK before. SuperUltraBonus points for any insight about gay life in Liverpool. If it's relevant, I'm an American from the midwest.
posted by Peter Petridish to Travel & Transportation around Liverpool, England (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to do this is by talking to strangers, but I find that mildly terrifying (yea social anxiety!).

That's OK because you won't understand them anyway.

The good about Liverpool; the music scene, FACT and Steven Gerrard. It's near nice places like The Wirral & has some good pubs. And it's cheap by UK standards.

The bad: coming from Dublin I found the crime rate ridiculous, if you're coming from the American Midwest it's going to be absolutely staggering. People are very unfriendly by small town US standards (but quite nice by English standards). The population appears to be about 50% drunken students for much of the year (this could also go in the good column I guess). It has a lot of housing projects and derelict homes, far more than most cities in the US. There is nowhere to park, which is OK because your car will most likely be stolen and torched by the local youth anyway. There is no good coffee. Like starbucks? you will.

Liverpool in many ways felt to me like a timewarp back to the late 80s/ early 90s: there are tons of little bars, record shops, markets etc that would have been gentrified anywhere else in the Western world by now. People there seem perversely proud and invested in the place being perceived as a dangerous shithole, despite the fact that it's really not by US standards. It's rundown and there are bad areas but it's a far cry from Baltimore or Detroit.

This is the story that I think best describes Liverpool: there are still bombed out buildings from WWII in downtown that when the city got a bit of money they hired a lighting specialist from abroad to come and spotlight in moody and mysterious ways. They wouldn't dream of fixing them up. I thought that was pretty cool.
posted by fshgrl at 9:59 PM on April 4, 2010

Oops, forgot the recommendations part. I had gay roommates when I lived there and overall, there seemed to be less of a separate gay culture in Liverpool and they mostly just went to regular clubs and bars etc. Lark Lane, off Aigburth Rd, is kind of the "alternative" area; there's not much there but it's worth a visit. I lived near there for quire a while and it's fairly cosmopolitan by local standards and has nice parks. The city center is small so if you're going to be based there just walk around and drop into some corner bars or pubs. There are definitely dangerous/ bad areas but I think you will be able to tell quite easily if you are in one of those unless you have never been to a city before.

One other thing: if you're willing to commute check out a few of the surrounding places, one of my co-workers commuted by train from Chester, which isn't that far and offers a completely different character. Other commuted from small villages and, in one case, from Manchester which is a much more modern city altogether.
posted by fshgrl at 10:08 PM on April 4, 2010

Liverpool is a reasonably large city, in U.K. terms, and as such has discrete neighbourhoods with different personalities. It is poor, but one of the advantages of this is that you can live centrally for next to nothing. Petty crime is rife, but the city isn't any more threatening than anywhere else you'd choose to live. There is a certain vibrancy to the place which Manchester lacks, I think. I think it's a city which rewards optimism, so to get the best out of it be sunny, even if you can't be outgoing.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:32 AM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: Regardless of whether you wish to speak to them or not, the people of Liverpool will in all likelihood speak to you, especially if you're in a pub or on public transport, so that solves that problem.
As for gayness, events to this extreme are extremely rare, but you couldn't exactly describe it as a gay mecca; the picture in that link captioned as 'Liverpool's Gay Village', which looks like half a street? That half a street is the 'gay village' in it's entirety - a pub on the cornet, a couple of tacky bars, and a very nice deli.
posted by robself at 2:38 AM on April 5, 2010

The 'corner', rather. Ahem.
posted by robself at 2:39 AM on April 5, 2010

You have a challenge there. Inspiring a fierce loyalty among its inhabitants ("Scousers"), it was then, and I think largely still is, one of the most difficult of UK cities to get to know well and to like. I was born and brought up on the Wirral (across the R. Mersey, to the south of Liverpool) and knew it well in the late 1960s and 70s. I've been back regularly since, and am constantly surprised at how little it's changed below the surface, even if outwardly there are signs of growth and prosperity.

There is an aggressive edge to the undoubted friendliness of its people and a beleaguered feel about the place that varies from a sullen resentment at one end of the spectrum to a joyful rebelliousness (think Beatles) at the other. And it's people hold a peculiar fascination for the rest of the UK too - witness the countless sitcoms and other TV series made about them: watch an episode or two of "Bread" or "The Royle Family" for an affectionate and not entirely inaccurate caricature of the Liverpudlian character. Crime has been mentioned above. When Liverpool was European "City of Culture" a few years ago, the joke was you'd come out of your house one morning and find your car up on books.

The city centre was built on a monumental scale on the Victorian profits of transatlantic trade and remains in my view austere and soulless and at the mercy of the wind and rain that sweeps in across the Irish sea. The docks never really recovered from the attentions of the Luftwaffe and much of the rest of the town took decades to do so. It's always the first UK city to suffer in an economic downturn and among the last to recover, so my guess, and I haven't checked, is that it will be suffering economically more than the rest of the UK at the moment. Two great cathedrals and two football clubs dominate the place, one currently, and controversially, under US ownership. (I mention this because the first taxi driver you talk to is likely to raise this with you as soon as he hears your American accent.)

You'll love the place or hate it, and I wouldn't like to predict which. If I were you, I'd look to take advantage of its good transport links to live away from the city itself - you can head out North or South and be in pleasant smaller towns within minutes. I'd head south, past Birkenhead, to the Wirral - but then that's where I'm from, so I would.
posted by genesta at 4:11 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

How familiar are you with England and the English in general?"Watching the English" by Kate Fox is a good start. It's possible the general culture shock might overwhelm the Liverpool-specific comments here.
posted by Fiery Jack at 4:23 AM on April 5, 2010

"That's OK because you won't understand them anyway."

How true that is. I thought I wouldn't have too much trouble understanding people there, lifelong Beatles-geek that I am. I was very, very wrong.

"People are very unfriendly by small town US standards (but quite nice by English standards)."

I thought they were very friendly, but then again, I am from Seattle, which is sort of notoriously unfriendly (at least, outsiders think so). Actually, I felt that Liverpool was sort of Seattle-like in some ways. Maybe because it's a northern port city, because it doesn't really look like Seattle, but it had this odd familiarity to it.

"there are still bombed out buildings from WWII in downtown that when the city got a bit of money they hired a lighting specialist from abroad to come and spotlight in moody and mysterious ways."

I thought the "bombed-out church", St. Luke's, was pretty interesting. (Self-link to photos I took while there. Browse around my Flickr stream and you can see my other Liverpool pics -- maybe they'll help you.) The church is an empty shell that has been turned into a place for art and music. Haunting and very cool.
posted by litlnemo at 4:48 AM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: I'm American and living in Liverpool now and I would have to say, very much to their credit, that Liverpudlians are some of the most friendly and open people I've met anywhere. The things that other people have said are pretty accurate, though I sometimes think the stereotype of crime is a bit overdone. Yes, there is crime here, but it's not as bad now as it was, say, in the 80s. Also the city has made leaps and bounds towards becoming more modern in the last couple of years. Simply put, its a different city than when I first moved here.

I could go on and on but if you want to discuss this in any greater detail, please email me. I've lived here awhile and feel like I know the city pretty well. Plus, I know lots of Americans who live in the area and can maybe help you find a few resources you could use to help you make your decision. Best of luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:02 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and let me know if you want to get together while you're here. I could show you around a bit if you'd like. I live in the city centre.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:03 AM on April 5, 2010

If the gay scene doesn't do it for you, there are good transport links to Manchester which has a whole Gay Village!

I visited two years ago and was amazed at how much it had changed since my visit in the Nineties, and also, how it had managed to get a little gentrified whilst keeping some of its soul. I'd recommend reading Paul Du Noyer's book about Liverpool music (the title escapes me just now) and to look up as you walk around - there's sculpture everywhere.

I know someone who moved from smart South Manchester to working-class Bootle and loves it.

It's always the first UK city to suffer in an economic downturn and among the last to recover

This would be Birmingham, surely?

"watch an episode or two of "Bread" or "The Royle Family" for an affectionate and not entirely inaccurate caricature of the Liverpudlian character."

Bread is nearly thirty years old now, so while fun will not tell you much about the city as it is today (and it is very much caricature). The Royle Family is set in Manchester though that kind of working-class family will be seen. What I would recommend on this front is any music by Jegsy Dodd and the Original Sinners - 'Grumpy Old Men', the Scouse version of 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) is a delight - or even watching Of Time And The City, Raining Stones or anything written by Jimmy McGovern.

There's a massive Irish Catholic community there (my parents were among them) so you may meet many people who are 'culturally Catholic' but not practising. 'Millions' is one film that plays on this, as does much of the work of the 'Mersey Sound' poets.
posted by mippy at 12:23 PM on April 5, 2010

That half a street is the 'gay village' in it's entirety - a pub on the cornet, a couple of tacky bars, and a very nice deli.

Nonsense*, I could name at least half a dozen places off the top of my head and I'm not even the target demographic.

Basically, the rule is that bars and clubs on the larger roads running East-West (Tithebarne Street, Dale Street and Victoria Street) are aimed at straight clientele, while bars and clubs on the smaller roads running North-South are aimed at gay clientele.

It's not a great set-up if you were hoping for a separate gay village, but it's ever so convenient for a night of bar-hopping with a mixed sexuality group of friends.

* The part about the deli wasn't nonsense; it is indeed a very nice deli.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:17 PM on April 5, 2010

Best answer: Take a look at this Liverpool photoblog, the chap who does it has an impressively wide-ranging interest in the city--from cruise liners in the Mersey to zombie parades to (in the most recent pictures) swans on a frozen park lake in January. That is, he gives you a pretty good sense of the place and its people. He's a bit heavy on the HDR for my liking but that's a quibble.

I'm a big fan of walking around cities, and looking at them from high points, as a good preliminary measure in getting to know them. I'd written a load of suggestions for places to visit before I (d'oh) clicked on the link to the other thread in your post and saw you already knew 'em. Still, a few things are still relevant.

The ideal high point is the Anglican cathedral, which is amazing more generally, though the recent redevelopment of the cafe/shop area is--speaking as a non-believer--a godless travesty. Go up the tower for a phenomenal view of the whole city and the river, it's great: all the city centre landmarks, the smart bits of town, the rough bits of town, the looooong wide curve of the estuary with the Wirral and the Welsh hills behind it. (NB--If you've got vertigo, watch out--the stairs up through the belfry, although perfectly safe and bounded by a stout concrete barrier, are seriously hair-raising.)

Once you've been up there, and had a walk round that end of the city centre, you could go to Ye Cracke, where my dad had his first (underage) pub pint. It's a real pub. The Everyman Bistro is a good place to eat or drink and is just as friendly and busy now as it was when I was a kid in the 80s; the theatre upstairs is not quite the powerhouse of British theatre that it was in the 1970s, but it's still 'rooted' in the city.

Considering its past, the city has pretty much turned its back on the sea these days--the container port at the mouth of the river takes a higher volume of goods than ever, probably, but employs a minuscule proportion of the city's workforce (and is not in the city centre) where once the docks were a, if not the, major employer. Still, a wander down to the Pier Head and the Albert Dock will give you some sense of that past.

Liverpool provokes strong opinions, not least on the part of its inhabitants. There's an element of truth in positive and negative comments above, but genesta's comment--you'll love it or hate it--is probably most accurate. Personally, I'm very glad to have grown up in a city with such a strong sense of itself, and I'm always happy to go back--though it's much changed in the last fifteen years. Maybe fshgrl hasn't been there recently, but if she thinks it is like a timewarp back to the late 80s/90s, she should have seen what it looked like back in the late 80s, when Liverpool One would have been literally unimaginable. I couldn't quite believe it when it had actually opened, in fact.

Oh--speaking of the suburbs, and the public transport links, get the Northern Line out to Waterloo, Blundellsands & Crosby, or Hall Road (17-21 minutes from Central, depending) and go to the beach, preferably at low-ish tide. Apart from being an amazing beach generally, there are 100 Antony Gormley statues (similar to the ones that have just taken up residence on various buildings around Madison Square Park) scattered over 2 miles of it. Great for a contemplative wander, though trying to approach the far-out ones is probably more dangerous than trying to get close to the one that's halfway up the Empire State. This won't (well, might not) help you get to know the city's character, but it will give you an idea of a good place to go and get a sense of space if you do decide to move there.

Enjoy it!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 4:32 PM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

« Older Flushing the day away   |   Could somebody please translate these snippets of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.