London or Seattle?
June 19, 2006 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Where should I live? London, or Seattle?

So...I've been living in Seattle for the past four years - It's a great city (the best in America, I think) but I've always wanted to live in London (...someday)

Due to various convoluted visa and work issues, I need to pick one and give up on the other one.

Have you been in a similar situation? Given a choice between living in Seattle or London, which one would you pick?

Things I love/hate about Seattle:
It's beautiful! Summer here is drop-to-you-knees-tears-in-your-eyes gorgeous.
I love the outdoors! Jumping in a kayak 30 minutes after work; Skiing every weekend!
I wish it wasn't true, but...the locals are as insular as you can get. Making friends with Seattleites is torture...which might be because:
It's in the middle of nowhere! Seattle is great, but your weekend getaway options are Vancouver or Portland, or a 5+ hour plane ride.
Condos everywhere! The city is losing its character, I think, as all the new condo developments are flooding in - Capitol Hill is the new Belltown.
Housing prices! Seattle is a tiny city, and all the houses in good spots are waaay past my income level.

Things I love/hate/wonder about London:
(Real) History, Art and Culture! You'll never run out of things to do! But do you miss the outdoors?
How standoffish are Londoners, compared to Seattleites?
How much of London is still London, and how much of it has been overrun with Starbucks/KFC/McDs/etc?
How cold/grey are the winters really? What are the summers like, compared to Seattle?
Buying a house/flat...How doable is it on 1 average salary?

More info:
I've lived in London, for all of 1 month (and loved it!), before moving to the I never got past the honeymoon phase, I guess.
I'm not American or English, if that helps.
posted by f4 to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
About London:

Most of London (bar a few areas like Picadilly Circus / Leicester Square) is still London as such - yes, there are a lot of McDonalds and Starbucks, but mostly quite discreet and not anywhere near as many as New York.

The winters vary - we don't get that much snow (if any) in London, but the weather is very overcast from mid October to March, so I don't know if that'll be okay - I don't really know Seattle's weather so I can't comment about that.

Buying a house / flat? Erm, good luck with that. London is the third most expensive city to live in worldwide (see this list). That is, unless you want to live a good distance from your work, or a very rough area.

Hope that helps!
posted by philsi at 6:19 AM on June 19, 2006

I'm a Londoner who's lived in the States for a short while. It would help if you could give some indication as to why it is that you are faced with this stark choice. Why not somewhere else in the USA? Or somewhere else in Europe? Is it work or family related?
posted by skylar at 6:31 AM on June 19, 2006

London, not as grey as Seattle and you'll get five weeks vacation a year to nip to the continent and get some real sun. You also get free healthcare and a good education for your kids for nothing (in comparison to the US) and London is an awesome city.
posted by zeoslap at 6:50 AM on June 19, 2006

I'm from Liverpool originally and now live in San Francisco and would move to London in a heartbeat for the reasons listed above if I wasn't so well established here.
posted by zeoslap at 6:51 AM on June 19, 2006

I've lived in London for the past year, and, oddly enough, am considering either staying here or moving back to the States... to Seattle. We're twins!

Here are my personal observations on your questions...

The outdoors: London has several amazing parks (including Regent's Park, Hyde Park, and St. James Park, just to name a few), and Hampstead Heath in the northern part of the city, which is not as manicured as the parks. So even though there isn't much of an outlet for doing skiing/adventure-y type outdoor activities, you can still get a good infusion of nature here pretty much whenever you want. I think the English do parks better than anyone in the world.

Standoffishness: Never been to Seattle, so I don't know how they compare to Seattleites. But Londoners I would say are like any big-city dwellers: they've got a place to be, so everyone's sort of rushing off somewhere, but in general people are willing to help and friendly if you ask for directions or help. There is a general English culture of minding your own business, so people don't tend to chat up strangers, but I wouldn't call Londoners cold or unfriendly by any means.

Overrun by Starbucks/McD's/KFC: They're definitely here, but I wouldn't say they overtake everything else. But there are also certain English chain eateries that are everywhere: Pret-A-Manger, Costa Coffee, EAT, etc. Generally, the closer you are to an area that's frequented by tourists, the more of these drab chain places there will be. But there are still tons of independent restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Cold/grey winters: It didn't rain all that much this past winter, but I was pretty shocked by how cold it got. It was also really, really windy, and the cold + wind = freezing wind thing wasn't all that fun. In terms of the length of the winter, it got cold (like gloves, scarfs, runny nose cold) in early November and stayed that way until mid-April.

Summer: It's been glorious so far. Generally between 60 to 75F, which I consider perfect, though it's gotten up to the mid-80's sometimes. Not humid at all, and a fair amount of sunny days.

Buying a house: Good luck. Think New York real estate prices, then multiply by an outrageous/ridiculous factor of about 10.

Hope this helps!
posted by hazelshade at 7:32 AM on June 19, 2006

I've lived in London for about 3 1/2 years now, and I love it. I lived in LA, DC, Los Angeles, Boston and Princeton NJ, and (while I loved all those places, too) London is my favorite. (Hmmm... As I write this, it occurs to me that I'm probably the kind of person who is happy anywhere, so I guess you should keep that in mind in reading my answer.)

The question about Londoner's standoffishness is a tricky one to answer. Before we moved here, my wife and I heard a lot about how hard it is to make friends with the English, but we have found that to be untrue. We've made a number of friends here and have found that (as with any other place in the world) some Londoners are great and some are jerks.

I think there are three reasons behind the commonly repeated notion that it's hard to make friends in London:
1. London is a big city, and ANY big city is hard to make friends in. However, because London has such great public transportation links, and is relatively dense, I think it's somewhat less isolating than LA.

2. In the US, after college, all your college friends will scatter across the country, depending on where the jobs are. In the UK, virtually everybody ends up in London after university. That means that everybody has their university social network intact, which makes people less likely to hunt out new contacts, and it makes things a little trickier for a foreigner.

3. Based on my very unscientific observations, Americans who end up working in London are disproportionately likely to be consultants, lawyers, or bankers. In America, these are professions that tend to attract hard-driving, outspoken personality types, who have a harder time picking up on the more understated social cues sent out by your average middle- or upper-class Englishman. I'm generalizing horribly, I know. But I've been in a social situation where I was one of two Americans in a group of Brits. I got along fine with the other American (an investment banker), and I got along fine with the Brits, but the banker was convinced that the Brits were "standoffish" and the Brits were convinced that the banker was pushy and a bit of a jerk. The banker was actually a really nice guy, but there were two sets of conflicting social cues going on, and I seemed to be the only one who could understand both of them. (This may be because my parents are New Englanders, and there is a similar kind of polite understatement you find in both New England and the old one.)

I should also point out that I moved to London with my wife. It's difficult and isolating to move to any big city where you don't know people if you're on your own; having a spouse made it much easier to weather that initial transition period. Also, if you and your spouse both work, it gives you two sets of contacts to draw on in putting your social network.

As for missing the outdoors: if that's a concern, you might want to plan on living near Hampstead Heath, or one of London's other big green spaces.

The winters here are really pretty mild. It probably gets below freezing a few times a year, but most of the year, it is neither too cold in winter nor too hot in summer. The real problem with winters is the lack of sunlight. London is surprisingly far north. In the summer, it can stay light until 9PM, but in the winter, it can get dark at 4PM. However, if you have survived Seattle winters, I'm guessing London is no darker!

Buying a house here is VERY difficult, as other posters have noted.

Sadly, you can find a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Burger King on almost any "high street" (as the British call the main shopping street of a neighborhood.) And even the High Street shops that aren't American chains are likely to be British chains, which you will eventually get tired of seeing everywhere. However, London's architecture and cultural life are so wonderful and distinctive that no number of Starbucks can make the city lose its uniqueness.

Another big advantage of London that you didn't ask about: it is easy and relatively cheap to get to the Continent. You can make a weekend trip to Paris or Stockholm or anywhere else.

Also, London (along with New York) is probably one of the two greatest cities for live theater in the English-speaking world. There is a breathtaking array of live theatre here, much of it extremely good, and it is one of the few things that can be cheaper here than in the US.
posted by yankeefog at 7:56 AM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

London. Hey, if it doesn't work out, you can always move back to Seattle in the future.
posted by emd3737 at 8:08 AM on June 19, 2006

I've live in Los Angeles, New York City, and now Seattle. If I had a chance to live in London, I'd grab it and never look back. I don't know how many places you've lived, but Seattle never really felt like a real city to me-- more like a crammed up, overcrowded suburb.

If you're a city person, into art, culture, theatre, ballet, restaurants, shopping, I'd pick London. If you are very outdoorsy and love to kayak and hike and ski, you might be better off in Seattle.
posted by astruc at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned how insanely expensive London is. If you're planning to move on a single income - make sure it is a very very good income. Any savings you have in US dollars is just about worthless in the UK as the exchange rate is running almost 2 to 1. Cost of living compared to Seattle is going to be at least 50% higher if not more. Housing is more expensive for much less space. It's a great city - no doubt - but if you aren't going to be in a very well paying job - you might not get to enjoy its finer points as much as you'd like.
posted by Wolfie at 9:15 AM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seattle and London - two of my favourite cities on earth. Really. I am sort of in a similar situation - choosing to live on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver/Victoria) or London. I'm choosing London and am moving there in a couple of months.

At this point in my life (late 20s) I need the constant art and culture and access to Europe. Apart from NYC, it's pretty hard to beat London for this in the English speaking world. As for missing the west coast, work will hopefully allow me 6 weeks minimum per year to visit. Having lived on and off in London for the past few years I would say that London is still essentially London. And I have also found the winter weather almost identical to the west coast, if a little less rainy. Spring arrives a little later in London, though.

As for missing outdoorsy things - a ridiculously cheap ticket on Easyjet and you are a long weekend away from kayaking on the Croatian coast, or hiking in the French Alps, or bicycling around Catalonia.

As for buying a property in London - that's going to be a really tough one, unless your salary is pretty large. But you never know what's in your future - I wouldn't base a moving decision solely on a real estate market. (I'm actually heading over there in a couple of days...already salivating about the Royal Academy Summer Show and the theatre and the tennis...)
posted by meerkatty at 9:15 AM on June 19, 2006

I've just gotten back to Philly after six months in London. I wish I could go back. The winter was not that bad - certainly not as bad as in Pittsburgh.

As for people, I made lots of good friends there and was helped out by strangers many times. As soon as I got back to the Philly airport I was shocked at how rude and cold strangers were to me.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2006

Having grown up in Seattle and traveled extensively around the world I can unequivocally say go to London. Seattle is a small town with a LOT of people in it. It will never be more than a pretense of a city. The weather is very similar to what you will find in London, only the Seattle summers are shorter (2 seasons, Autumn and August). Housing will be a problem because London is considerably more expensive than Seattle. But England has a lot more to offer for the sake of variety and hiking or skiing are hobbies that can be taken anywhere. London is also a flight away from anywhere - non-stop. Go, it will be fun.
posted by ptm at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2006

London's a great place in a lot of ways - definitely come for a year or two, but I wouldn't plan on staying forever until you've really seen what it's like.

It's expensive like someone said, and just difficult to do anything. It can be very negative and crime's getting nasty in the areas that you can afford to live in.
posted by lunkfish at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2006

London, hands down. Seattle is a great city, but one that had a peak of being a cultural centre and its not guaranteed it well ever do so again. Londoon is ALWAYS one of the great focal points of the world. I've been to both, lived in London, and now live not far from Seattle.

Seattle is probably about 47 degrees North, London about 50 I am guessing. A little bit of northern difference there, but, the climates are pretty similar. London more variable in the winter -- less the two weeks of grey, more they two weeks of a bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit bit more rain, a bit of shite, etc. Summers are similar to Seattle, a bit wetter, a bit mroe variable, a bit more of the humidity. One huge thing is for the winters, a lot of English houses have totally crap heating and are very hard to get warm and dry without exorbitant expense, or, in, fact, almost impossible.

For average folk, the standard of living in Britain is much less than in North America. Cold houses, damp houses no affordable restaurants, many fewer toys, usually no car, etc. If you can accept this, you are golden; if not, you are resentful. There are cheap ways to live, though, you just need to learn the ropes.

As noted, London has some great parks, especially Hampstead Heath, which is massive. But coming from the same part of the world as you, the English conception of nature is pretty different. Don't expect to get away from it all too easily in England. I lived near the New Forest, which (a) is not a forest and (b) despite being a park, has people living all over it and 9c) has roads cutting all across it. You can think of it has history, and as open land, but not as wilderness.

The great thing about London is every one comes to London. Open any copy of Time Out and you will see more interesting things to do that week than you might find in Seattle in a year. Like any city, to enjoy the higher end stuff (Opera, etc) you need a fair amount of bucks, and if you can't afford to go, the show might as well be in Timbuktu.

The other great thing about London is, the stuff that doesn't come TO London comes FROM London. There is a phenomenal amount going on there -- for example, there are said to be over 100,000 artists living in London. My sister has lived there for 30 years, mostly on the cheap, as an artist, and I believe that #. Add in that many musicians, that many writers, and .....

The Brits, especially the southern ones, tend to be a very reserved bunch. Try to meet them anyway. But honestly, your best bet is to meet other foreigners, at least at first. In particular, Australians and New Zealanders are there in droves. Canadians too, but tend to be less outgoing. The Aus and NZ community used to have a newspaper/newsletter and you could infilitrate them via that.

The other great thing about London is you can get to Rome in an hour on a plane, to Paris in three on a train, etc. Look out for cheap fares and whatnot.

Things to do in London:
go to a soccer game (even if you hate soccer)
go to a one-day cricket match (even if you don't have the foggiest).

Live as close as possible to a tube line, or, if in inner London, to a good bus line. Some place like SW Hackney is still fairly cheap, you can walk into The City in 25 minutes, lots of good buses. if possible live where you won't feel it prohibitive to go home after work, then back out -- that way you can eat at home.
posted by Rumple at 11:03 AM on June 19, 2006

(Real) History, Art and Culture! You'll never run out of things to do! But do you miss the outdoors?

I know most tourists and most Londoners don't realise it, but there's plenty of amazing countryside within an hour of London, much like there's plenty of amazing countryside outside of Seattle.

I'd choose Seattle by a long shot. I personally find London filthy even compared to LA! Unless you want to live the edgy, beatnik lifestyle, Seattle is fine, and a helluva lot cheaper.
posted by wackybrit at 11:17 AM on June 19, 2006

Quick piggyback question for the Londoners reading this thread: would you say this past winter was typical of London winters? I've heard from some people that it was colder/harsher than it normally is... true/not true? Thanks!
posted by hazelshade at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2006

Just to repeat Zeoslap's point -- jobs in the UK give much more annual holiday than the average in the US. And there are lots of interesting places in Europe to spend it in.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2006

Just to echo what Rumple said about the weather, I think the key difference between Seattle weather and London weather is variability. The weather in Seattle, as I understand it (I wasnt' there for long), is pretty consistent and predictable season to season, but in London it's not even consistent day to day or hour to hour.

It could be sunny in the morning, raining at lunch and stormy by nightfall, or the other way around. It could be bakingly hot in late October, but then again it could snow as late as April. You just never know.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:06 PM on June 19, 2006

"Seattle is great, but your weekend getaway options are Vancouver or Portland, or a 5+ hour plane ride."

I don't agree with that at all.. Well, maybe if cities are your only idea of a getaway. There are islands and ski resorts all over.

I do agree that Seattllites are insular (but polite!), but with patience you can make friends. Londers are equally as insular IMHO.

I lived in London for a few months, and was offered a position there, but ultimately chose Seattle, because my salary was considerably more and cost of living (way) less than London.

Housing may be expensive in Seattle I agree, and it stresses me out, but I certainly can't see a comprable house in London being any where near as affordable. Despite the houseing market slowing down in the US, the Seattle market is still going strong. So you could buy a house and still make money in a few years.

London is great because you don't need a car. The transit system in Seattle leaves a lot to be desired.
posted by delladlux at 4:18 PM on June 19, 2006

London's great, unless you're claustrophobic. Houses tend to have small rooms. The underground is very tightly spaced. Sidewalks over crowded.

To hear Hampstead Heath compared to the wilds around Seattle is really funny! I've been all over the Isle of Great Britain, and I don't recall seeing any 'wilderness', unless, maybe, Isle of Skye (which technically isn't the same island, obviously). Open, wild space is what I missed most in Europe, generally.

HOWEVER! Open, rural space was generally more accessable than many places I've lived in the States. In the London area, the suburbs are great that way (however boring, and the trains are poorly managed).

The human-friendly laws regarding vacation time are not at all to be dismissed. The fact that fabulous and interesting places are easily reached is fantastic.

I can't comment on weather much. I've since moved to the sub-tropics, and I'm spoiled! I also can't comment much on Seattle, my memories of the place are from 30 years ago.
posted by Goofyy at 5:57 AM on June 20, 2006

Hazelshade: In answer to your question about last winter in London, it wasn't colder than usual but it was unusually grey. I felt like I hadn't seen the sun in two weeks.
posted by randomination at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2006

Thanks, randomination.
posted by hazelshade at 5:42 AM on June 21, 2006

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