A month living in London. How it compares to Seattle.

Last week marked a month we are living in the UK. It’s the perfect time to look at the previous 30 days and point out some differences to the US. In reality, I’m just comparing Seattle to London, not USA to the UK. This post is most about living here. I’m saving thoughts about doing business and working in the UK for another post.

Transport

  • People in Seattle complain about traffic. They don’t know what bad traffic is. I knew that already from my youth in Sao Paulo. In London, taking a cab/Uber at 5:30 PM is slower than me walking briskly the same distance. And, it’s *August*, meaning most kids and adults are on vacation. September must be worse.
  • Tube, a.k.a. Underground is fantastic, and the Oyster card system, a pre-paid NFC-enabled card is super convenient. Seattle Orca card feels like a stone age relic. I can even use my Apple Watch or iPhone to pay for Tube and Bus — I tried, and it works.
  • CityMapper is *the* app. It’s so, so good. It goes into a great level of detail how to get you from point A to point B. Wait, doesn’t Google Maps does that? Not like CityMapper that even tells where to sit in the Tube to speed up your trip.
  • Uber is great in London, but not as good as in Seattle. Over the last five years using Uber, I probably gave a 4-star rating to a driver once. In less than a month in London, I gave two 4-star and one 3-star review already. Drivers here are less polite than Seattle, sometimes the car smell cigarettes, more than once they spoke on the phone throughout the ride (on speaker phone), but those are just annoyances. The worst part is the driving. Some are just not good drivers, and the ride feels quite hard.
  • Seattle has tried the Bike rental system, and it didn’t work. In London, it seems to be a bigger deal. There are dozens (hundreds?) of Santander’s Bike Rental spots spread throughout the city. London is pretty flat, so that helps.

Housing:

  • Everything is tiny in comparison to Seattle. What Seattle call tiny-house Londoners just call it house. :) It’s not as expensive as my initial expectations, but it’s expensive.
  • Floor-plans here are pretty awful. Yes, the places are old (sometimes a couple of centuries) and the idea of open floor plans or kitchen-living integrated is hard to find. Some condos (flats) have been remodeled, and they look great with modern kitchens and bathrooms, but still there is just so much you can do in an old place. East and South London have modern buildings, but they are less friendly to kids and families, and, honestly, don’t feel very London.
  • Property search, both for buying or renting, it’s not as sophisticated as in the US. There doesn’t seem to be an MLS service here providing the backend database for property sales, and there are a lot of small real estate agencies here making it very fragmented industry. Overall, the whole real estate industry here feels a lot less sophisticated than the US.

City:

  • Quite a few parts of London look like a huge construction site. Seattle crane-crazy is more prominent than here (it’s pretty much everywhere), but London also has a lot of construction happening (a.k.a. progress).
  • Some parts of the city are a huge contrast to others. Fitzrovia & Marylebone look like what you imagine when you think of London. Or, Notting Hill where many movies take place. Then there is the East London where a lot of new construction is taking place, and most startups are located. Then there is Canary Warth; when I left the Tube station at Canary Warth, I thought I was transported to a modern Asian city. Completely different from everything else here.
  • Seattle is mostly one giant strip of land South-to-North. London is big in all directions, but it seems the key parts for people living here are on the Hammersmith & City line. Including, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the East London startups.
  • Outside of Central London, most commerce and shops happen in short areas of just a few blocks then it’s mostly residences for 5–10 blocks. Seattle sometimes has little malls spread out, but it’s different (hard to explain).

People:

  • People are very direct here — there is no passive-aggressive mode. Seattle is famous for passive-aggressive-while-smiling attitude.
  • Smiles are rare in London. People don’t make eye contact in the streets or stores. Store clerks are polite, but not overly happy to help you. In Seattle, the happiness of wait-staff/clerks can be quite annoying at times.
  • Dress code is all over the place. At the haute couture side of the spectrum, you do see men and women dressed up like they just came out of a Karl Lagerfeld fashion show. Most people in tech dress just like the people in tech in Seattle, but most lawyers & bankers here dress a notch above the lawyers & bankers in Seattle.
  • Seattle is an outsiders city, meaning, most people that you work with, meet in bars or see in the streets probably came from another city or country. In London that’s even more prominent, particularly regarding foreigners. You see a lot of French, Italians, Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish, and a *ton* of Americans around here. Bottom line is that London is a lot more diverse than Seattle.

Health & Fitness

  • I’ve been running in Hyde Park. Despite the population density in London, there aren’t as many runners as in Seattle. One day I left for a run at 8 AM on a Saturday, and the city looked like a ghost town. Not morning people.
  • Way too many smokers. The sad part is the smokers look like young men and women. It would not be a stretch to say Smoking is as big a health problem in the UK as obesity is in the US.
  • They do drink a lot. Every day is a day to go to the pub or get a glass of wine. In Seattle, people mostly ask you for coffee. In London, you might be asked for coffee or a pint.
  • I had my first experience with the NHS (National Health System), just because I need to get a number from them and I can tell you it was just like the DMV experience in the US.

Food & Drink

  • Beer: Seattle is a beer paradise. Any restaurant/bar will carry a few dozen different beers on tap, and at supermarkets (even small ones), you can find 100–200 variations of beers. London is not as good — I thought it was going to be more like Belgium, but it’s not — There is a lot of Lager and Pilsner here. Not as many IPAs, Ambers, Porters, Stouts (except by Guinness), etc.
  • Wine: Everywhere! And cheap. They also have lots of high-quality half-size (and quarter-size) wine bottles here. It’s great!
  • Go Turkey! Turkish food is so good here. And it’s a great price too. I see a lot of Lebanese restaurants as well but haven’t tried them yet.
  • Pub food so far has been not great. We have been to three pubs, without any prior research, and they were a miss.
  • Price variations are ridiculous in London. In Seattle, if you go out for Sushi there is a small range of prices that you expect to pay. Maybe $10 in the lower end and $20 in the higher end for the same dish. Here it can go from £7 in the low-end to £40. As a family, we had great meals the bill was £40 and meh-meals spending £120.
  • There are 63 Michelin-starred restaurants in London! Seattle has… zero.
    (Note: I might start a new blog to journal my gastronomical adventures here).
  • People here are really into desserts. I’m not into sweets, but this city is. Patisseries are everywhere.
  • Overall, all the fruits, vegetables, and meats are more tasteful here than Seattle. Sometimes a lot more. I remember moving to Seattle and marveling at the beautiful fruits and vegetables at the supermarket just to be disappointed with their taste. Now I remember what I lost by moving to the US.

Brand mapping

  • QFC / Safeway => Tesco / Sainsbury’s / Waitrose
  • Staples / Office Depot => Rymes
  • AT&T / Verizon / T-Mobile => EE (T-Mobile + Orange) / O2 / Vodafone / Three
  • Comcast / FIOS / Turner / Dish => BT / Sky
  • Best Buy => Currys
  • Rite Aid / CVS / Walgreens => Boots
  • Petco => ?
  • Starbucks / Tully’s / Seattle’s Best => Starbucks / Pret-a-Manger / Costa / Nero
  • Target => John Lewis
Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.