Updated: Oct 3
There are a multitude of reasons for deciding to move the UK: personal, professional or both. Experiences will vary depending on personal circumstances and which city you live in. In this post, I share some of the cultural reasons that have kept me in the UK for over 23 years from a Swiss expat perspective. I will share in future posts some of the professional and more practical sides of life here.
It is safe to say, after so many years in the UK, I love living here and have learned so much about the country over the years. My experience is biased towards London, where I live, however I have worked and stayed in other parts of the country over the years to know it very well.
To provide you with some insight into myself, I am a Swiss national who grew up in Monte-Carlo and France, and moved to London to study. I never considered living here after completing my studies. However, whilst the transition from a small town didn’t come without its challenges, it was not long before I fell in love with London. I also learned over the years some of the UK’s unwritten rules, which you may not necessarily find in expat guides.
Cultural diversity: The UK’s cultural diversity is one of its key charms. You will encounter people from all around the world, particularly in the larger cities. Over the years, I have made friends of all nationalities, learned so much about their cultures and truly broadened my horizons.
People are generally welcoming, open-minded and non-judgemental. Brits value individuality, new ideas and freedom, which is very evident in the way of living here in the day-to-day, but also in education and working life generally (subject to your industry, of course). There is a strong acceptance of the individual, innovation and a breadth of opportunities generally, so if you thrive on these things, the UK is a brilliant place to be.
Food: Whilst many would have heard jokes about Britain’s traditionally poor reputation about cuisine, modern Britain is a world away from these stereotypes. British cuisine is very open to cultural influences and has evolved and diversified over the years. You will find traditional dishes like fish and chips, as well as an exceptionally wide range of international cuisines. For home cooking, you will also be able to source some of the best authentic ingredients from most countries.
As a total foodie at heart, I thoroughly enjoy being able to feel as if I can journey through continents all from the comfort of my living room or within my own city. There are extensive delivery options available in the big cities, such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo. For eating out, you will find some of the best restaurants in the world in the UK. For fully immersive experiences into a particular cuisine, for example Chinese or Indian, you can also eat out in places like Chinatown, or Brick Lane in London.
Cultural Experiences and Entertainment: The UK is so rich in history and culture, with so many museums, galleries, theaters, historic sites, sports and various festivals. I feel it really is impossible to complain of boredom here. Come rain or shine, there is always something you can do.
I could try to list the extensive options available, but as they feel infinite, I will do this no justice whatsoever here. Instead, I will highlight some of my favorites.
As I love museums, I was pleasantly surprised when I moved here that a lot of them are totally free such as the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Museums, the V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, to name just a few. I would struggle to say what my favorites are as I really do love the breadth of choice available. However, I particularly enjoy the V&A Museum for its exhibitions focused on creativity, and the Tate Modern with kids as they can still run relatively freely (as long as they don’t misbehave too much!) whilst you can enjoy the very quirky displays. Both make a really fun day out with family, friends or just escaping alone.
The options for shows, concerts and days out are also endless, whether your tastes are mainstream or more niche. You will find that you can get some amazing ticket prices for shows and events if you are willing to be flexible and do your research. When I have visitors, I sometimes take them to see a show, whether a play or one of the famous musicals (Tina Turner was fantastic!), a ballet at the Royal Opera House or a concert or opera at the Royal Albert Hall. The most famous world artists will always be touring in cities throughout the UK at some of the best concert venues, so your options are endless. I personally enjoy events at the London O2 Arena, mainly as it is close to me and offers a wide choice of concerts, restaurants and shopping options for before or after. For festivals and sports, whilst I have not been able to get tickets to either yet, Glastonbury and Wimbledon remain firm favorites for the Brits. If you are a football, cricket or rugby fan, you will also be spoilt for choice.
For more of an escape, I like to leave the city and take the family to visit various historic sites such as Warwick Castle or Edinburgh Castle. Within the cities themselves, you might be surprised to find a lot of green areas and parks, often with cultural venues within, such as the Royal Museums in Greenwich or Kensington Gardens. I also really love a visit to London Zoo, which is really quite impressive, or the Aquarium with my family. Both are very relaxing if you avoid the school holidays, that is!
Finally, for going out with friends or as a couple, Soho is great for a buzzing and bohemian vibe, Shoreditch for its edginess, Brick Lane for great curries, and Covent Garden for its theater, opera and dining options. You can also really enjoy amazing views of the city for free in places like Sky Gardens.
Weather: Whilst I could leave this point to the more practical future posts, I will mention it here. Talking about the weather is one of our favourite topics in the UK and an ice-breaker! Whilst the weather is generally mild with frequent rain, it can get cold a few weeks in winter, and increasingly warm in summer. We will complain that it rains too much, but then in summer we will complain that it is too hot! The best way to sum it up is that the weather is really unpredictable. My recommendation is to be prepared with clothing layers, sunglasses and a small umbrella in your bag as you might experience all seasons in one day!
Another ‘fun’ observation is that a little bit of snow can cause the country to come to a total standstill. Trains will be canceled, office workers will be told to stay home and schools will shut. This might surprise you considering that snow is a possibility every winter here, though it remains fairly light and limited to a few days typically. People love a snow, even a slush, day, here!
Despite the weather, which really isn't as bad as we say it is, there really is something for everyone, which I find is one of the most appealing aspects of life in the UK.
If you have any comments, questions or there are topics you would like to hear more about, please add your comments below,
See you next time for what drew me here for work, social and other practicalities!