Living in New York vs London is a completely contrasting experience in so many ways. There are far, far more than 10 differences between these exceptional cities, but here are the 10 that struck me first:
One of the best things about living in NYC is that people love and appreciate living here as much as I do. The city itself is everyone’s favorite topic of conversation: When did you move here? What neighborhood do you live in? Where did you eat last night? I regularly have gushing conversations with cab drivers about how much we adore New York, and rarely hear a rumble of complaint about the city. Even for those who’ve lived here forever, the enthusiasm and positivity doesn’t wane. The prevalent ethos is to make the most of living here at all times, seizing opportunities to do anything different, fun and fabulous.
In my experience, people in London have less of a desire to explore and try new things: the familiar wins out. I also recall that Londoners love to complain, and I was definitely one of them! There is always something to bitch about, be it the weather, commuting, or just a long, shitty day. In a cliched, ‘glass half empty’ English fashion, sharing a moan over a cup of tea brings us Brits together.
NEW YORK = 1; LONDON = 0
2. APARTMENT SIZES
New York apartments are smaller and more expensive. Manhattan rentals are on par with London Zones 1 and 2. Brooklyn prices (the parts you’d want to live in) are similar, but you get more space. Most places have temp walls resurrected to create a second bedroom. En Suite’s are few and far between. Having laundry in your building is a luxury. It’s also rare to find a furnished room; you have to fork out for your own stuff.
I found my first NY sublet through a friend of a friend on Facebook. It was a 5 floor ‘walk up’, i.e. 5th floor with no elevator. The building was old, classic New York tenement style, complete with external fire escape. The stairwell was ugly, with a slight stench of urine. My apartment, luckily, smelt fine. It was cute, old school and crumbly round the edges: high ceilings, wooden floor, black and white classic tiled bathroom, large windows and noisy, freestanding radiators.
Unusually for a New York studio, the kitchen was separated from the bedroom by a short, doorless hallway. The kitchen had no counter top: one unit was a sink and the other an oven, so I chopped on the minuscule kitchen table. If I swung around too fast, I knocked pans off the stove. I killed 1-2 small cockroaches per week. The studio was in Kips Bay: central but neither cool nor vibey. For this, I paid a stonking $2,250 a month.
All 5 flats I occupied in London were cheaper, bigger, and better quality than the New York apartments I’ve seen. Because London is larger and more dispersed, there’s a greater range of options at varying price points.
NEW YORK = 1; LONDON = 1
3. PUBLIC BATHROOMS
I’ve grown fond of the paper toilet covers provided in most New York bathrooms, but that’s where the love stops. Peeing in New York is practically a social event. There are 2 foot gaps under and 2 inch wide cracks either side of cubicle doors. If you stand still and focus, you can watch people pee, but at the very least you can hear every detail.
In hipster New York bars and restaurants, there’s a trend for dark, almost pitch black bathrooms. This unnerves me greatly, and is super inconvenient when you wanted to touch up your makeup.
I prefer the privacy of English bathrooms, when I didn’t worry about colleagues hearing me pass wind or change a tampon. I especially miss my favorite bathroom in London, at Sketch bar, where you do your business in a private, egg shaped, bright white, futuristic capsule. I’d choose peeing in peace any day.
NEW YORK = 1; LONDON = 2
4. THE UNDERGROUND
The New York subway has 3 major downsides: travel cards are flimsy pieces of cardboard, some stations aren’t connected so you’re forced to fully exit the station to change lines, and large rats on the tracks are a regular occurrence.
However, there are plenty of positives. The New York subway is not as deep underground as the London tube. Its carriages are bigger, air conditioned, and never, ever as crammed as the tube at rush hour. All round it’s a much less claustrophobic experience. I prefer the subway’s hard, shiny, plastic seats, which feel more hygienic than the tube’s faded, dusty upholstery. There are also bins in subway stations (unlike the tube), which is handy, despite being a potential terrorism risk!
Another plus for the subway is that estimated waiting times are less than the boards project; a simple thing which makes everyone happy. In London it’s the opposite: 2 minutes until the tube arrives often means 5, causing much frustration and grumpiness.
NEW YORK = 2; LONDON = 2
‘Blow outs’, otherwise known as blow dries, are huge in New York. For $30-$40, a blow out bar will provide a hair wash and head massage, a blow out of your choice, a glass of champagne, and maybe a cookie if you’re lucky. Within 30 minutes you emerge a hair flicking, badass superwoman, ready to take on the world. As someone who’s never been able to master their curly Jewish hair, this has been life changing.
On the down side, opting for full service in a New York hairdresser is extortionately expensive in comparison to London. I pay in excess of $200 for a color and cut most places, and the result often isn’t as good. I have friends that wait for trips back to the UK to hit the salon. On top of this, a 20% tip is expected each time (even for blow outs), which seriously injures the bank balance.
NEW YORK = 2; LONDON = 3
I can’t get over how convenient New York living is. Wherever you are, all one could possibly need is in a 2 block radius. I can see why New Yorkers get so impatient when they leave the city: it spoils you rotten. From the lightning speed of my office elevators, to the 24 hour pharmacies selling everything under the sun, to the laundry / shoe repair / nail salon / bank on every street, to the fruit stalls on every corner; this city leaves you wanting for nothing.
London is a whole different story. Everything is far more spread out. Although this makes for more relaxed living, it can be a real pain in the ass. A night out in London’s hipster Shoreditch is a massive trek for most. Traveling to your local doctor or wax appointment is a mission. Late night anything is a novelty, especially on a Sunday. London life is certainly less convenient, and requires a lot more planning.
NEW YORK = 3; LONDON = 3
These are fast becoming my biggest weakness in New York. The city is inundated with cabs; from yellow taxis to the latest, cheapest Uber imitation app. They all take card payments, and are cheap because journeys are short (especially in Manhattan). It’s far too easily justifiable.
In London, I avoid black cabs like the plague. The meter clocks £10 before you’ve hit the end of the street, and most journeys are lengthy. For an economical ride in London you order a mini cab by phone, or use Uber, and cross your fingers that there’s a car nearby.
NEW YORK = 4; LONDON = 3
8. CARD SECURITY
It’s appalling in New York. Waiters whisk your card away post meal to prepare your bill for signature: so stone age. I’m tired of doing drunk math to calculate the tip, and scribbling it onto a scrap of paper that you leave on the table behind you, hoping it will be found. I have no idea why chip and pin hasn’t made it here yet.
My friend and I accidentally switched bank cards after a delightful brunch at Timna in the East Village. For an entire week we continued to purchase everything from clothes to waxes to food before I tried to draw cash from an ATM and realized it wasn’t my card.
I miss the ease of purchasing in London. I would half heartedly wave my debit card near the wireless pay-as-you-go in Pret and be out the door faster than I could say chicken noodle soup.
NEW YORK = 4; LONDON = 4
It’s rare to ask someone in New York what they did last night and for them to reply: ‘I cooked’. The girl who sublets me her apartment couldn’t tell me how to turn her oven on. I used it mainly for pots and pan storage.
Cooking is not the norm because groceries are expensive, apartments are tiny and there’s a proliferation of restaurant / deli / takeout choices. I adore cooking, but in New York I only prep a couple of meals at home weekly. In London, the weekly supermarket shop and nightly cook is ingrained in the routine, especially for those living with their other half.
The restaurant scene in New York is more competitive, so bad places don’t last a season. There aren’t mediocre chains like in London (cough cough Strada). It’s a city where eating out is more than a hobby, it’s a religion, and the standard of food reflects this. Sorry London; New York definitely scores on this one.
NEW YORK = 5; LONDON = 4
10. ALCOHOL PORTIONS
At a fantastic cocktail making class at Sanctuary T in Soho I learnt that the legal minimum drink measure in New York (2Oz) is bigger than anywhere else in the states (1.5Oz), and double the English measure (1Oz). This is mostly irrelevant though, as bars tend to lavishly free-pour alcohol here. A mixed drink in New York is essentially a glass of spirits with a dash of mixer. One cocktail is equivalent to 3 in London. I’ve never got so drunk and so quickly as I have here.
Back in London for a wedding this year, I was amazed at how many double vodka sodas I consumed without feeling a thing. Without knowing it, New York has significantly increased my alcohol tolerance. I’m unsure if this is a good or a bad thing, but on value for money alone, I’m awarding the point to New York.
NEW YORK = 6; LONDON = 4
London is an incredible place to live and my 7 years there were full of brilliant experiences. But I’ve always been a sucker for the thrill of the new and exciting, and New York is exactly that. Will the novelty wear off? Will I tire of the honking cabs, lethal cocktails and lack of space? It’s entirely possible. For now though, New York edges it for me. Living here wouldn’t be every Londoner’s cup of tea, but I couldn’t be more certain that I made the right move.
What are some of the New York / London differences you’ve noticed? Share your comments below or email me at email@example.com.