Photo by Barnyz via Flickr (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
I moved to London on September 9th, 2021. As of today, I have been a Londoner for 614 days, and I have spent nearly 600 of them thinking at least once in my day, what is the source of the London loneliness that so many of us seem to feel? From the beginning of my tenure, I have thrown out hypotheses as to why I have felt this nagging loneliness that I believed to be unique to London.
At first, I chalked it up to being new in the city and knowing no one. Next, I blamed it on the holing up in my room that I participated in as the workload got heavy. I then followed it up by shifting the blame away from the city and onto myself, thinking maybe I was not putting myself out there enough, or socialising with others enough. The blame was shifted back to the city; ‘Maybe it is the sheer size of London that swallows me whole and makes me feel lonely,’ I thought. None of these arguments satisfied me. In truth, I was out and about plenty, and I have met and spent time with enough people to not normally feel lonely. I knew that if I were back in my hometown of Vancouver, with the same amount of friends and time spent bouncing around the city, I would not feel this same loneliness.
Toying with this idea, I put it on the back burner. I kind of forgot about it until I returned to Vancouver for the summer last week. From the minute I sat in my flight seat, 77D, I befriended the Vancouverite sitting in front of me. We talked for hours about his work as a photographer, his life in Vancouver, and our hope to make the transfer to our next flight out of Dallas in time. In my first week back in Vancouver, I have had more meaningful conversations with strangers than I have ever in my nearly two years in London.
Photo by Kyle Pearce via Flickr (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
For example, I have spoken to a lady by the Seawall who lived in Hungary and mistook my Romanian for Hungarian. Our conversation drifted into her life in Budapest and her nostalgia for her time there. I also met Cari at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, who had passed me up a hill on his packed-to-the-brim bike, travelling all the way from China to Vancouver. Not to mention the elderly gentleman who told me, “You go girl!” as I heaved up a steep hill with my bike, the gentleman at the A&W who asked me if I was Polish, and the elderly couple that told me, “Go get em,” as I jaywalked. It seems that everywhere I went, I felt my existence somehow acknowledged, even when spending some time alone. People stop and chat anytime and anywhere. I reflect on those I hold dear to me and realise that three were complete strangers that I randomly, in Vancouver fashion, connected with. One was on the ferry boat back from Victoria to Vancouver. Another I asked for directions, and a third at a thrift store, where I asked for advice on whether or not I should get a plaid mini dress that I had found.
In London, I find that at times I go a full day without hearing my voice out loud. This would be nearly impossible in Vancouver, where not saying “Hello!” or “How are you?” to the cashier is unheard of. Or, where going for an evening walk and not saying “Good evening!” as you pass by is abnormal. In an effort to not get completely existential and philosophical, I will say only that in London, you feel dispensable and like one of too many. And while that may be true, Vancouver, even as a stranger, makes you feel integral to its large community. I wonder if when I come back to London, I can treat it like Vancouver and make eye contact with strangers while walking down the street, and say “Hello!” or “Good evening!” as I pass by people. Then again, I worry that they would think I am weird, and I am scared of the near-certain silence I would be met with. Moral of the story: London, warm up! Be more like Vancouver.
Edited by Faye Elder, London and Beyond Editor