The following is based on the general experience, not confirmed, of the average young Italian, aged between 20 and 25 (sometimes older) who wakes up one day and tells his/her mum: I’m moving to London.
Between month-one and three. You have just landed in Stansted with a Ryan-get-the-hell-on-Air flight and a luggage the size of a Fiat Duna for which you had to pay €50 for extra weight and where you stuffed even your espresso maker. You booked a shared room with an on-floor shared bathroom in a hostel in the Bayswater / Marble Arch / Paddington area. You don’t have a job yet but you trust that in a weeks’ time you will have found one. Everything still has such a holiday atmosphere to it: you stop every now and then to take photographs of the red double-decker buses and you feel cool just because you have an Oyster card of your own, even if the way it charges your journeys is still a mystery to you. You haven’t learnt yet that stopping like a dumb as soon as you you’ve crossed the barriers at the Tube station is equal to jam on the breaks on the fast lane of the Rome’s Ring Road, and you keep doing it all the times. You have a National Insurance Number but you realise soon that you are not going to use it the way you use your Italian equivalent – yet, it as well makes you feel cool. You take pictures of every squirrel that you spot in Hyde Park and, covertly, of every girl in a sleeveless, crotch-skirt that you see on a freezing January’s Saturday night in Soho.
Between month-three and five. You found a job and a room in a flat to share with another three or four people, of whom at least one is Italian or Spanish. You use the London public transport every day but the zone 3 still sounds like the furthest outskirts of Beirut and you keep calling the Piccadilly and District lines Blue and Green lines. You still gag on every espresso that you take at Cafè Nero or Starbucks and believe with presumption that you can forecast the rain just by glancing at the sky in the morning, like you used to do back home. You cannot figure out yet how Brits can live without a bidet and with carpeted floors all over the place. You now have your own bank account, despite the fact to open one you needed a bill as a proof of address and in order to have a bill you had to sign up with a utility provider which required you to have a bank account. It is at this point you learn the meaning of the English expression “Catch 22”. Your Facebook page overflows with pictures of you at Camden Town or Portobello Road and the simple fact of owning a Tesco loyalty card makes you feel an active member of the English community. You’ve learnt at your expenses the first rule of surviving in England: after 11pm they stop selling alcohol in the supermarkets.
Between month-5 and 7. London’s buses have only a few secrets left for you. You learnt that the message “This bus is on diversion, please listen for further announcements” happens more often than a £80-monthly travel card might lead you to think. Now the Piccadilly, District and Central lines get called with the name they deserve but the Hammersmith & City and the Bakerloo line are still unknown territories and you prefer to refer to them by their designated colour and still get surprised when spotting them on your Tube Map (do we really have a Pink line in London?), which you keep folded in your pocket, already veteran of 500 downpours. You are not very aware yet of what the Overground is and if you can use your Oyster card on it but you are perfectly aware that the world doesn’t end at Vauxhall or Earl’s Court: just your life as a Londoner does not offer you enough reasons to venture too far beyond the zone-2 border. Oyster’s tariffs are now clearer but that doesn’t mean they are logical to you and you keep resuming old memories of when you used to pay only €30 for a monthly travel card valid on the whole of Rome. You stopped screeching to a halt as soon as you have crossed the ticket barriers but you still happen to stand on the left side of the escalator. The way people (un)dress doesn’t surprise you anymore and you even don’t stare at them any longer. For what concerns the squirrels, you can’t help it: they must be photographed.
Between month-7 and 9. You gave up smoking your Marlboro Gold in place of Pall Mall or you directly learnt to roll your cigarettes to save money. You find yourself going to Tesco’s to get milk with a hoody and a pair of shorts on or even just your pyjama and it’s February outside. No one will notice anyway. You changed job at least once since you arrived. Taking a bus and sitting on the lower deck still equals to ordering a rum-free Mojito (some people do) and you run for the upper-deck front seat as soon as you spot one available. Such a disappointment when the bus happens to be a one-decker (damn 170!). You have your own circle of friends, most are Italian expats like you and then Spanish and Eastern-Europeans with whom you hang out and go to your favourite clubs (now you’ve got your own list of favourite clubs). Sometimes, on a late Saturday night, when you’re sitting on a night bus at 3.30am forcing your eyes to stay open to avoid missing your stop and your friend Jose next to you still has the stomach to drink from a Fosters can, you look outside the window: the London Eye is lit-up on the other bank of the river, South Bank is still a swarm of people and the bridges’ lights cast eerie reflections on the water. You smile, produce your phone from your pocket, take a picture that will never make justice to what you see or feel and you still cannot believe that you really are there.
Between month-9 and 11. You probably found a better place where to live, which you don’t have to share with more than two people. You came to the conclusion that London is much bigger than it looks like and that south the river can be a livable place too. You definitely and officially stopped being a tourist (apart for the squirrels). You feel you now have the given right to swear against those Italian tourists who stand on the wrong side of the escalator or stop as soon as after the barriers and you roll your eyes each time you spot a sweet couple taking a selfy trying to get the whole Big Ben in the background. By then, you have probably found out already that Big Ben is not the name of the tower but the name of the bell. You travel on the Tube, your music plugged in your ears and you’ve got your colourful Converses on while you are going to Camden Town simply because you need some shopping done and not because the Lonely Planet guide suggests so. You don’t care even of the oddest dude who passes by because you know that you’ll bump into another at the next corner. You confidently march through London’s narrow alleys, keeping the right side of the pavement and you greet the driver each time you get on a bus. If the Internet line doesn’t work, you call the Customer Care and now you are the one leading the call, sometimes even getting away with a promotion. You talk to your local friends and you name this or that other place on this or that other street of the town just like you’d do with the city where you were born and grew up. You stopped complaining for each and every espresso that you get served with and, with all probabilities, you even stopped ordering espresso. You got over the fact that clouds do exist but that doesn’t mean that you stopped complaining and reminding everyone that in Italy we guys have 25 degrees even in March. Your brain started using the wrong lobes when speaking your mother tongue: more than often now you just use English words without bothering to figure out what the equivalent in Italian is, even if you are deeply involved in a conversation in the vernacular with a fellow citizen of yours. Rarely, but it does happen, you come up with italianization of English words, of which you yourself are ashamed just after. That is just how it works: one unlearns a language through the same very process one learns it.
Month-12: congrats, you’ve been living in London for a year! Perhaps you even live in zone 3 now and count one or two authentic British friends in your circle. In the last twelve months you cursed this city much more than you have ever done with you home country: at times you felt frustrated, used and, above all, not understood and at least a couple of times you wondered “What the hell am I doing here?”. Get used to it, it will happen again and again. The answer arrives each time you lose your way in Soho and pray that tourists never find out that there is plenty to see beyond Piccadilly Circus. Or each time you find a pub never seen before in an alleyway in Clapham, with few people inside and they’re playing that song that seems to be written just for the moment. Each time the sky is blue beyond the clouds when you’re crossing Battersea Bridge on your way to work, the Shard stands out on the horizon and the Union Jack flaps on the Parliament.
Oh yes, you’ll keep complaining for 15 degrees in August, for the ubiquitous carpets and for the funny British customs, which you will learn to love soon. There is nothing you can do about it, this city makes us all a bit masochistic: the more it treats us badly, the more we love it.
Nonetheless, even after five years in London you will still be asserting with certainty that the algorithm as a function of which all the Oyster cards across the town work needs fixing.