Sonntag, 19. April 2015

The Travelogue, Part XLIV: New Zealand - Aotearoa




When you start writing, whether it be articles, books or humble blogs such as this, you always hope that somehow you will convey some unique experience, some special insight to your readers. Unfortunately, unless you are among the most gifted, imaginative or intrepid of writers, the fulfillment of this desire is actually a rare occurrence. By a stroke of luck and hospitality, however, I feel I can for once actually speak of an experience that is indeed rare and unique.

My awesome guide Adria in front of the Whangara Marae

Most of this adventure I owe to my friend Adria and her family, who kindly invited me to join the family reunion festivities of her native tribe, the Ngati Porou of New Zealand's northeastern-most coast, a location made famous by the film Whale Rider, which gained international acclaim. Occasions like these are normally off limits to most non-Maori, and unless you have close friends or become family, even most New Zealanders will never have this experience. It has challenged a lot of my conceptions about not just Maori or tribal culture, but about my native European cultural traditions as well.


Family



 First of all, contrary to frequent Western belief, being Maori is not tied to ethnicity. The only requirement to be considered Maori is to be able to trace your lineage back to a Maori ancestor. Spouses and children of Maori partners are automatically Maori as they are now connected to the ever-expanding web of Maori ancestry, and are subject to the same benefits and duties any other family member would. And it's quite a sizeable family you got yourself there!

The festivities span four generations, here are the Kaumatua

Maori concepts of family are quite different from Western ones. Including only your close relatives under the 'family' umbrella is positively offensive to Maori sentiments. Every single member of your iwi (tribal nation) is family and treated with the same care and appreciation. To exemplify this, if any number of your tribe rocked up on your doorstep at 4 am you would be expected to give them food and a sleeping place as long as they liked to. These are essentially complete strangers (although a Maori would not see it that way), possibly linked to you only by some great-great-great grandfather you've heard a story about once in your life. While this might seem unsettling to anyone growing up in a northern culture, it creates a massive web of support and mutual assistance that spans the whole globe and has been key to the survival of Maori culture.


Ancestry


Paikea, the founder of the Ngati Porou arrived to NZ on whale

Understandably a culture with such intense ties to its members holds ancestry in high regard. While ancestors are obviously important to most cultures to some degree, Maori culture revolves around it to a measure I have not seen anywhere else. The very first thing that two newly meeting Maori will do is to trace their ancestry line back to a common junction to establish familiarity. As you can imagine, this requires solid knowledge not only of your immediate family, but also lots of distant and sometimes ancient relatives who precede your parents by many generations, all the way up to the mythical gods Tane and Tangaroa. As a consequence, remembering your ancestors is a fundamental part of Maori culture and permeates life both as casual accounts in daily life and hour-long storytelling at the big gatherings on the marae (meeting place).

The inside of the Wharenui communal house

In these accounts, the mundane and the mythical blend into one, and tales of grandfather's farm work are treated with the same sincerity as those of Tawhirimatea who gave Flounders and Hammerheads their shape by hitting them with a paddle. No difference is made between the living and the dead either, and Maori can be seen on the graveyard happily chatting with their dead relatives over a pint of beer. This familial web that transcends both space and time creates a sense of belonging and partnership among the Maori community that is admirable, and probably the only thing that carried it through decades of mistreatment and broken promises by the colonial government.

Carved ancestors protect the walls of the Wharenui



A living culture

 

Part of the initial greetings queue. Yes, you have to greet everyone!



Most New Zealanders and certainly almost all visitors experience Maori culture as entirely ceremonial in nature. Maori cultural performances abound, and Maori culture has entered the public consciousness mostly in the form of tribal tattoos and haka-dancing rugby players. While this surely helped raising awareness to an endangered culture, it belies the fact that Maori culture permeates everyday life of its members in the way they think, act or understand concepts. From the definition of family and the way elders are treated to the role of story, song and dance in the culture, Maoridom is a bona fide different way of thinking about the world, and it is a shame that it is only the most flashy parts ever reach the surface of New Zealand's cultural landscape and identity.

Stories are told throughout the day




Being Maori means subscribing to the familial web, and putting yourself second. It's a concept fundamentally different to Western individualism, and requires a commitment to the common good that most people growing up in western culture would not be willing to muster. Because the web stretches beyond your immediate surroundings and time, maintaining the mana, or prestige, of your family line is an important driver in Maori interactions. If you want stories about yourself be told and  your family integrity upheld, you will need to leave your mark in Maori history. So strong is this system of honour, that many of the Maori I asked said they would choose their iwi's needs over their own, and Maori cultural identity over that of that of a New Zealander. That might sound intense, but you don't become a carved guardian tipuna in your family's wharenui (communal longhouse) by just sitting around. Outstanding individuals can even become legends within their life-time, and such elders are respected and cared for with unquestioning commitment, whereas they are readily signed off and sent to old people's homes in many Western countries.

The centerpiece of Maori culture is the marae, the central meeting place of an individual's ancestral homeland. Your standing among the many tribes, your genealogy and your eternal home is tied irrevocably to this place, and regardless of your deeds and whereabouts cannot be denied to you. Hence Maori society knows no exclusion, and regardless of your failures in life you can always return to your marae and expect to be helped and be taken care off. Mind though that despite that forgiveness, Maori culture is rough, and your return to your hapu (sub-tribe) upon serious behavior failures will not be an easy ride. To say that Maori social interaction is straightforward would probably an understatement - and I'm German!


Song and Dance

 

video

 As most of their tradition revolves around ancestors and tribal integrity, Maori art and culture mainly seems to serve the purpose of recounting the life and deeds of its ancestors. As a result, Maori culture fosters showmanship and storytelling which makes family reunions a lot more fun. I was positively impressed by the amount of creative horsepower that was put into the remembrance of those gone before you. Songs are sung, ancient lives acted out in performances, and the many carved tipuna ancestor statues are explained. Haka, by many people perceived purely as war dances, are also a popular expression form chosen for such occasions.

video

In fact, Maori culture centers heavily around singing, which is used to welcome guests, express support for public speakers (if after you speak the singers are silent, you have a problem) or praise the singer's ancestral home. Each marae has its own song, extolling the beauty of its surroundings and the mana of its tribe. Considering that Maori culture is traditionally associated with cannibalism and ceaseless warfare, that's a lot of happy singing and dancing.


video



A difficult future

 

Maori food for special occasions is cooked in a Hangi, a impromptu earth oven

It is only due to the unyielding dedication of a few individuals and the support of their tribe that Maori culture still lives on today, and in fact experiences some kind of revival. Maori language is taught in schools, and the extensive history of the people preserved outside the oral tradition. Maori are still a far cry from being accepted as part of New Zealand's culture on an equal basis, but inroads are clearly made. My personal impression is, however, that not New Zealand's pakeha (white New Zealander) government but rather the demands of a globalized society are the biggest threat to the existence of Maori culture. As it is very much tied to the land, Maori tribes and marae cannot be formed outside the traditional locations on the New Zealand land mass. Tribe members, however, are scattered across the globe and rarely have the opportunity to visit their far-flung homeland. Many of them are already so disconnected from their identity that they cannot even trace their ancestry back to New Zealand. The Tikanga (tribal laws) are thankfully very fluid, and maybe they will allow future generations of Maori to connect with their identity outside of Ao Tearoa, so that its beauty will not be lost.


I'm genuinely grateful that I got to experience an actual live tribal culture from the inside. Maori culture is engaging (if potentially socially taxing) and succinctly different enough from Western ways of life to have given me a new perspective on a variety of ideas I considered a given. I sincerely hope it thrives, and becomes a strong part of New Zealand's cultural identity on par with that of its pakeha newcomers.

I would like to thank Adria's family, the Ngati Konohi Hapu for their hospitality, their helpful explanations and their patience with my inquisitiveness.



Media

 


To anyone interested in Maori culture, here are some bits to get you started.

Whale Rider - the story of a young girl who wants to become chief of her tribe
Trailer

Once were Warriors - a drama about the struggles of impoverished Maori
Trailer

The Dead Lands - a pre-colonial Maori war movie, fresh from this year (2015)
Trailer

Freitag, 10. April 2015

The Travelogue, Part XLIII: Fiji - Namu Levu!





 With its main islands named Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, the unassuming obsever might assume that Namu Levu is just one of the many Fijian islands, one that struck me with its particular beauty or remoteness. It might conjure up images of lone coconut palms softly swinging in the soft breeze across a turquoise-coloured bay. It is, however, in fact Fijian for 'lots of mosquitos'. For some reason Fiji's resident vampiric insect population took such a liking to me that the Indonesian jungle seemed like the perfect place to have a naked dusk snooze in hindsight.


Now that that's out of the way, what's to say about Fiji? Originally In wasn't meant to travel here, merely to sit on the veranda of my Fijian friend's newly built house and drink copious amounts of Kava while I watch the tide carry the surfers out and the coconuts home. Unfortunately said friend had to leave for New Zealand, and I was left with no plans. From a travel perspective, Fiji is a resort destination. If you just want to lounge for two weeks on a proprietory beach and have burgers and beer, Fiji will embrace you with open arms. If you are looking to travel and experience all the beauty it has to offer, however, without plans you will struggle. Because falling into the resort trek is so easy here, it's hard to get both information and determination to venture into the less accessible areas of the country.


If you consider coming to Fiji for anything but just chilling out in a heavily curated package holiday experience, I suggest you either a) go and live there for a while or b) have pretty solid plans of what you want to see and how to get there on time and budget. While that sounds like pretty general travel advice, I found it particularly hard to get to the (non-beach) sweet spots in Fiji.


Fijians are fishing experts, finding marine life even in 5 inches of water

Having said that, a lot of the attraction lies in its bountiful marine life, which offers amazing fauna both to divers and simple tidal walkers. If you have never done the latter, I encourage you do venture out to the reef when the tide is low - chances are you will see just as much if not more interesting animal life in the tidal pools than in a dive.

Sea snakes can be seen as close as as few meters from the beach.

Mosquitos aside, it's easy to imagine to retire here, and many do. This is made partially possible by Fijian labour being incredibly cheap, with an average builder earning a meager 3 FJD (1£) an hour. When one is bunkered up in a orchid-studded white sand beach resort it's easy to forget that Fiji is a third-world country with high income inequality and its fair share of social problems.
Fijian Breakfast is flour balls cooked in coconut milk

Fijians, like most Polynesians tend to be strong-framed


All in all, Fiji is a wonderful place. Its slow pace, stunning nature and lack of hassle makes it one of the most relaxing places I have ever been to. It is, however, so relaxing and easy that doing anything else becomes a lot harder, and if you don't want to spend all your time in a pretty but plastic Bula resort I suggest you do solid research.



Donnerstag, 5. März 2015

The Travelogue, Part XLII - Australia: Conclusion



I didn’t originally come to evaluate Australia for its tourism value, but since I kind of got sucked into it, so I guess I might as well. As usual don't take anything too seriously. All pictures are mine this time round.

 

Melbourne

 


Australians will tell you that Melbourne is Australia’s most European city. I think what they mean to say is: it’s the least like a Queensland bush town. Because a suburban sprawl with little to no centre is probably as un-European as it gets. They might also allude to the fact that it has something akin to good public transport, which is apparently quite European. It is also called it the cultural capital of Australia, when truth be told it doesn’t have much more (public) culture going on than Sydney.
If I was to label Melbourne I’d call it the big hipster country town. It’s sort of a mixture of Portland and Berlin, designed by a 90s architect who wanted to raise kids. If you ever wanted to live in a pretty city that always felt smaller than it was, Melbourne is the spot.


Favourite thing: chill in the Royal Botanical Gardens
How to fit in: grow a beard and have a very very strong opinion on coffee.

 

Run, Sydney, run!

 


If Canberra wasn’t around, Sydney would probably be Australia’s capital, and is the only place on the continent that feels like an actual Metropolis. There is more life in the streets, people are busier and there’s a higher ethnic diversity. 


Nowhere Australia’s obsession with fitness is more evident than here. Sydney people don’t understand the concept of going to a park to find peace and tranquility in nature. A park is for exercising! Like herds of stressed cattle they are driven across the hills of the Botanical Gardens by neon-clad personal shepherds in pursuit of that elusive beach body.
In terms of style, Sydney is Melbourne’s ditzy teenage sister, and whoever sells peroxide, little dogs and aviator sunglasses in this town must be the richest man in Australia.

Pick a card

Favourite thing: ferry ride around town
How to fit in: post selfies of your abs and your puppy on Tinder.

 

Byron Bay



Described to me as a “chilled out hippie town”, Byron Bay is Australia’s backpacker tourism personified. If even Thailand sounds like a place too daring to go and you cannot cope with even the slightest immersion into a foreign culture, this is the destination for you. It’s got all the cheap drinks and bikini contests your easily entertained heart could want, and if that’s not your thing you can still buy a few crystals, dreamcatchers or natural fiber beachwear to take home to your parents’ house. I have no doubt that this was once a cool place, but the reality is that you could have all of what it has to offer elsewhere better and cheaper.

I call them "Goblin Flamingoes", they're everywhere.


Favourite thing
: Watch teenage Europeans trying to learn surfing while they get drunk on Goon
How to fit in: Try hard to look like an Aussie beach bum while spending as much money as you can afford.

 

Brisvegas



The city of Brisbane woos you with free library Wi-Fi and cat-sized lizards in your backyard. Will it succeed?

Another testament to the Australian fitness obsession

Favourite thing: Going for Japanese barbecue with Mister D. and hanging out with Miss L. (Thanks to you guys!)
How to fit in: Found a family

 

Cairns (pronounced “Kee-airns”)



Being the gateway to the Daintree Rain Forest and the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a pretty faceless tourist town. It’s not a bad place, but it’s not exciting either. I recommend to skip it entirely though for one single reason:
Wildlife likes tourists as much as hungover retirees like screaming children, and will avoid any of the popular routes like the plague.


Diving from Cairns will take you to the most over dived spots on the reef without exception. If you want to dive the reef, DO NOT GO from Cairns. Instead pick smaller towns along the coast which will offer a better experience. Secondly, since the vast majority of Queensland tourists make Cairns their center you won’t get a singular experience even for a visit to the Daintree forest. I would here too recommend going up to Daintree and finding your own bearing there and not book a tourist tour. 


Favourite thing: Hiking the Daintree Forest by myself
How to fit in: Buy a package tour or run one

 

Aussie Slang


Australia has quite a few unique slang words. I’ve listed just a few in case you get lost.

Sanga: not a relative of Laksa or a Buddhist school, short for Sandwich
A(r)vo: short for afternoon, not avocado
Doona: could be sand-boarding equipment, is actually a blanket
Nature Reserve: Australian for park, often the ‘reserve’ is the size of a vegetable patch
Tucker: food
Occa: anything “very Australian”
Bogan: Hillbilly, Idiot
Pots and Schooners: beer measures, a Schooner is bigger than a pot. Probably because it’s actually a type of sailboat.


Verdict

 

  
The Good:

- Beautiful nature
- Good weather
- Abundant and ubiquitous Wildlife (this might be a negative for some) even in cities
- Friendly residents
- Excellent food in the big cities
- Lots of quality local produce

Australia's government hates nightlife almost as much as refugees

The Bad:

- Nice but uninspiring cities
- Food outside the big cities can really hit rock bottom
- Often socially backwards and bro-sy
- Australia’s law system is positively fun-inhibiting (especially in central Sydney)


All in all I love Australia. However, I love it mostly from a prospective resident perspective than that of a tourist. Not that it wouldn’t be worth visiting. It’s got plenty of beautiful nature to offer, and both residents and weather are friendly and welcoming. On the cultural end, however, there isn’t too much to see and Australia’s grid-cities, despite fantastic architecture, are only occasionally charming.
With it’s great food, easy lifestyle and open people I’d move here in a heartbeat, but for a more well-traveled person it’s just slightly short of being a great tourist destination. This is probably proven by the abundance of teenage gap yearers and package tourists, with a distinct lack of more intrepid traveller types. If you are one of these I would recommend doing Australia as part of a bigger trip in the region to make it worth the journey.


Oh, and I haven’t even seen one deadly dangerous animal. Just saying.


Dienstag, 17. Februar 2015

The Travelogue, Part XLI - Straya, Mate!

After having been in Australia for a month now I figured it would be appropriate to sum up my impressions. They are based purely on my experiences in Melbourne, Sydney and their surroundings and unlikely to be representative for anything but these major cities. Since Australia is one of the most urbanised country in the world, however, it is probably fair to say that my experiences might be to some degree applicable to a large part of Australians. I'll be keeping my travel musing to the end of the trip as usual, just so much said: I love it here.

Identity struggles




One of the first things that struck me while traveling here is a certain obsession with everything foreign. While Australia’s identity seems to be pretty distinct to most foreign onlookers (you know, surfers, kangaroos and all), its inhabitants seem to feel a lot less so. In fact, I’ve never been to a place whether people’s idea of what makes their national identity is so shaky. Australia is a very young nation, and as such did not have a lot of time to develop a unique and consistent culture of its own. Or at least it seems to me that’s what the Australians themselves think. Otherwise I cannot explain why the highest pedigrees Australians seem to label their surroundings with are EVERYTHING BUT Australian.

I've heard these frequently, for example:

“Australia’s great because we got the best Thai/Japanese/Asian food."
"You can skip the Australian exhibition, go to the [insert random foreign country] one."
“Melbourne is great, it’s so European!”

Anything labeled 'Australian' is often equivalented to being backwards, rural and of lower quality, and even the more conservative countrysiders seem to take the label with a certain sense of irony.

If anything, Australia seems to define itself by its nature. In all national museums I have been at here, the sections about local wildlife are exceptionally large, and a conversation with an Autralian seems to inevitable include some reference to the Bush in some fashion. I guess when the even the key event of your nation’s forming happens in some border island in countryside Turkey some 10000 miles away, then hopping marsupials and over-sized birds are all you’ve got left to make your birthplace stand out.

The Australian Coat of Arms

 In all fairness, Australia did not have an easy ride. When the Dutch first mapped the continent, they hated it in a way that only the Dutch can hate. From derogatory place names (“Rats’ Nest Island”) to marooning sailors on its coast as punishment, they clearly did not deem it a desirable place to live.

The same was true for the British, who decided it was a great location to export all its unwanted citizens to (a time-honoured practice Australia now emulates by sending its illegal immigrants to desolate Pacific islands), setting the first foundation for modern Australian identity: that of the criminal. People who can trace their ancestry back to an original convict do so with glee, and being the descendant of a certified sheep thief or con man is a badge of honour and testament to your Australian-ness.

When Australia abolished its “White Australia” policy in 1966, thousands of immigrants flocked to its shores, changing Australia’s society forever. When you walk through the big cities, it often seems as if half of Australia is Asian, and Pan-Asian culture is well integrated in society through arts, culture, and of course food. Australian cuisine, when heralded, is usually a Euro-Asian fusion mix, and locals seem to be quite proud of the quality and variety that these newer Australians have brought to their streets and dining tables.

Despite a certain amount of Americanization it seems that Australia looks to (northern) Europe as a guiding beacon for its cultural identity, and often people seem to be filled with a almost wistful longing for an imagined Europe that is filled with diversity and wonders. Going there once seems to be an expected wish list item of fundamental importance to one’s understanding of their own heritage, as if Australia would be an inferior derivative of a cool and totally happening other country.


The Pan-European Quality Control approves.
Er, Franco-Germanic Italo-Skandie Cafe?


Ironically, most Australians do not seem to be aware that Australia has established itself as a lifestyle brand abroad, with Australian coffee, cosmetics, fusion food and clothing becoming trendier every year. Australia’s excellent self-marketing has led many foreigners to believe that this is a country of beautiful, liberal, eco-conscious, life-savouring free spirits. There is a wondrous transformation that most young foreigners here undergo, turning full Aussie as soon as they come across their first surf shop, showing the lasting effects of that marketing. Unlike America, Australia has so far mostly avoided being connected with its appalling refugee policies, extensive environmental destruction and sky-rocketing obesity rate in the global public eye.

In a somewhat haphazard attempt to include the Aboriginal population into what makes the Australian identity, there are also many projects, displays and notes informing visitors of original place names, sites of significance and cultural artifacts relating to Australia’s pre-colonial inhabitants. While these efforts are admittedly in their infancy, I personally find them quite forced. It might be fashionable and appear ethno-conscious to re-adopt indigenous place names and craftwork, yet I find it is still a very white man’s definition of what aboriginal art and culture is allowed to be, and have seen little that hints to a true mingling and pollination of the two heritages.


Courtesy of Wikipages

Among all this it sometimes seems to me that Australians forget that they don’t have to look elsewhere for cultural identity, but have the unique opportunity to shape a future society of their own. When Tony Abbott reinsituted the Australian Knighthood in 2014 it seemed to me that there was definitely a feeling that Australia was a country of importance. Yet there was no idea of what exactly it was, no new collaborative future vision of what this country is to be, and so it again emulated the old. The same is true for the flag raising ceremony on Australia Day, which never quite manages to marry British-style imperial pomp with the low key beach bum rebel vibe of Aussie fame. I mean, you're playing a song about a suicidal sheep thief when your leading politician ascends to the podium on national day -  way to go Australia!

One might argue that Australians are too chilled to worry about such things such as national values and future societies, and that that might be a good thing. But then again, I'd wager it's that mixture of colonial melancholia and easy-going apathy that got them Tony Abbot.

Sonntag, 1. Februar 2015

The Travelogue Homefront Edition - Nine Ways to Survive London


So you've moved? Great! London is a city full of amazing wonders, and you will have the time of your life, guaranteed. There are however some pitfalls that, while not necessarily unique to London, have the potential to make your life difficult. These nine tips aim to prepare you for some of the inevitable that comes with living in England's capital.

The Rule of No Thermopylae

 

 

This ain’t Sparta, and you are not here to defend a mountain pass. If you need to stop and check for directions, whether it be map or phone, move away from any crossings, funnels or exits, unless you want to unleash the righteous hate of London’s fast-moving population upon your inconsiderate ass. Always remember that you are blocking them, and it costs you little conscious effort to just step out of the way before you find your bearings. Learn from Bruce Lee: good peripheral vision is the key to successful navigation in the urban jungle.

Also, there's a special place in hell for those people who try to get into the tube by standing in front of the doors, blocking everyone from leaving the carriage. Let someone from NYC illustrate that for me:



And for God's sake, stand on the right when on the escalators.


Assume every journey to take at least 30 minutes

 


Sounds like a silly rule? It’s the rule that will make you be on time, trust me. Unless your destination is just a short walk away, there is no such thing as a quick ride in London. If it claims to take 15 minutes, just assume it to take 30 instead. Double all estimations if you need to catch a flight. London transport (including in- and outwards) has the habit of unpredictably altering or delaying your journeys, and you don't want to let your friends wait.

By the way, Google Maps is way better for fast and reliable public transport queries in London than its official travel planner, TFL.


Expect Everyone to Be Busy


Every city has its own vibe and population. As opposed Berlin or Barcelona, the majority of people come to London for career reasons. This, combined with Miss London’s relentless demands on your wallet will have a profound effect on your social life, and one that you should be aware of.

Finding new friends in this town is easy. Seeing them again and often enough is where the trouble lies. People tend to work long hours and be additionally occupied with a variety of social calls. If you or your friends work in a high lifetime-cost job such as trading, expect to need to call their PA so you can arrange to have a drink with them in a week’s time. If you are used to having a close-knit inner circle of friends you better prepare for a lot of hard work. Some people cope with this by adding a lot of reliable activities to their schedule to make sure that they have some steady gig to go to, but that in turn makes them more busy and hence less available - you get the drift.


The Menu and the NBT


At one point in your London stay your plans will fall victim to the New Best Thing (NBT). The NBT is just cooler, funner or can simply be reached with less hassle than your happening. In a city this size, opportunity is just so much more plentiful, and people will often leave deciding on where to go to the last minute. Be prepared for people to RSVP and not arrive. Or to fall victim to that show that everyone’s talking about and that has its last run today. Or one of their other friends is permanently leaving the country and they have to see them off. The best way to deal with this is to either always invite a little more people than you’d like or be equally flexible and move your own party to wherever the NBT is.


Because there is so much cool stuff on, many Londoners will gather a selection of competing weekend items to then make a decision where to go. If someone asks you what you are up to, it does not necessarily mean ‘let’s hang out’. It’s a menu call. If you provide the best item, you become the NBT on the menu. If you don’t, you will have to look for someone new or join whatever the NBT is. Don’t fret about this, just keep your plans flexible and accept that people will shop around before they make a decision. If you are the very sociable kind, you can become a menu master, meaning you have enough gravitational pull to ensure that you are always enough people's best menu pick. You might end up being London's top party organizers, which is a surefire road into a life of sexual adventure and substance abuse, so if you think you've got it - be my guest.


Budget your Friends

 


If you come from a smaller place, chances are you don’t have to do a lot of friends management. In fact, small town friends management usually consists of arranging yourself with people who you don’t like but you have to be friends with anyway. In London you will find the opposite is the case. You will be inundated with awesome and interesting people, and you will have to make hard choices on which of your many new friends you want to spend your limited time with. At first glance this might seem cynical, but we are only human and there’s only so much attention you can distribute. It's the only honest thing to do. If you don’t make those choices you will end up in the Catchup-Loop.


Avoid The Catchup Loop

 


You know those friends you see once every month, and you’re having such a lovely time? You meet for a coffee or a drink and you catch up. And then it takes another month and you catch up again. And again. And again. And while you are having a good time, the person never seems to make a fundamental difference to your life. You’re stuck in the Catchup-Loop, and it’s a good recipe for loneliness.
Human beings only have a limited bandwidth to engage with their social surroundings in a meaningful manner, and you should chose carefully how you allocate this limited supply to, even if that seems counter-intuitive. Not only will it make you happier, but you also owe your friends your genuine and full dedication. Remember there are always parties or other gatherings, where you can maintain any more superficial relations, should you chose to do so.

The Love Drought

 



Like in any big city, sex is easy to come by and most Londoners can get laid when they feel the need to. Consequently London is not a sex-starved city, but love-starved it sure is. As a result dating in London can be an intense affair.
Obviously no three-line advice can save you from the myriad of weird and wonderful pitfalls that human love interactions pose, but there are some things you should keep in mind while looking for ‘The One’ in the Big Smoke. Firstly, just like your weekend time, you are subject to the NBT (see above). Expect people to cancel, to clearly have several pots in the fire or be less excited about you than you would like to (also see ‘Small Fish, Big Pond’, below). Secondly, remember that in a hard-working, anonymous and transient city people tend to be desperate for affection and will likely jump at any opportunity to have their love box ticked. Unfortunately, often their lifestyle forbids a meaningful exchange of such deep feelings, and you find yourself in an unhealthy co-dependent limbo or even worse, being slowly drained by a emotional vampire. Be protective of yourself and take it slow, if they really care they will stick around.


The Bank Always Wins

 


Being one of the great financial hubs of the global economy, London (in fact the whole of Britain) dances to the beat of the banks. This means that from housing to drugs, the best of the city is always reserved for the highly affluent and spend-happy finance population. If that was not enough, the very business seems to turn the majority of its employees into self-obsessed, socially incapable teenagers who will basically ruin any venue they go to*. Thankfully this serves as London's only reliable coolness indicator: if the bankers have discovered it, it's certifiably dead. So when your favourite haunt has 'The Suits', it's time to move on - chances are you are late already.

*There are some thoroughly nice people who work in finance. They do, however, tend to agree with the above statement, usually accompanied by a slow, apologetic nod.


Small Fish, Big Pond

 



From Celtic plunderings to ravenous fires, from magnificent minds to despicable murders, London has seen it all in its two millennia long history. You, in turn, are small fry. Pierced body artist who suspends himself from meat hooks for kicks? London gets a couple hundred of you every year. Blonde model bombshell who’s been on top fashion magazine covers? Go form a queue.
Each year many unique and special people discover that what made them hot property in their hometown is little more than a five minute conversation piece when they arrive in London. Over here, everyone is a small fish and the pond treats them with an equal amount of indifference. I’ve see more than a few people unable to cope with their loss of their unique standout feature and leave broken. Others seem to welcome the fact that regardless of how bizarre, decadent or beautiful they may be, they have complete anonymity. Either way, be prepared for people to be less impressed with whatever it is you do, are, or claim to be. Embrace that and be humbled.