Monday, 25 July 2011

From Tourist to Resident - A Changing Perspective

It all started with a few Facebook photos a friend had posted from her recent trip to London. There were the usual double decker buses, the London Eye, and one from Trafalgar Square. Someone had written a comment: "You really captured the essence of the town!" Hmm, hang on I thought. Pigeons on Trafalgar Square are not the essence of London, surely? After all I'd lived in London for many years. So my perspective would by necessity be different from somenone who's spent a weekend there. Had gone to a pizza place, maybe a cocktail bar, stayed in a hotel, did a bit of shopping, and would have gone to "a show" (being American).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not making fun of that experience. And of course having been a tourist, i.e. visiting a town as often as you possibly can is vital when you plan to make your sojourn more permanent, and become a resident. I can safely say I know what I'm talking about. When I moved to Edinburgh I'd been there plenty of times. I'd even taken the trouble to visit in various seasons so as not to be surprised by the weather. I've always done careful research before I moved and finally settled somewhere. But it is impossible to anticipate what finally awaits you.

Just a few vital examples of things you neglect to find out at your peril:
  • Public transport. Sure, as a visitor you're bound to take the occasional bus ride. But you're not dependent on it. If the wait's too long, you'll jump into a cab.
When I'd moved to Edinburgh the transport system was just about to collapse. Whole areas of town were cordoned off and buses rerouted.
  • Rubbish collection. Staying in a hotel will not prepare you for the often (especially inItaly and the UK) totally chaotic and insufficient collection times in your new town.
I ended up doing daily trips to a totally overfull public rubbish collection point, due to mismangement and long-term strike action.

  • Shopping. During your visit you won't have found out where there's a good place to buy potatoes or washing powder, simply because you don't needed any.

  • Safety. Although tourists will probably be worried about their money belt and rucksack, when you live in a place, it's not pickpockets on open squares you will be worried about. Residential areas are mostly not the sort of places tourists visits.
In Edinburgh, I was very lucky to live in an area which was both quiet, safe and central - the Westend. An absolute godsend, as I hadn't known this beautiful quarter before I actually moved there.

These are just a few pointers that the impression you may get on holiday is not necessarily the "correct" one, and certainly one you will have to query many many times once you've moved to your new place.

Let me know of your own experience in that field!


  1. Oh, so very true. I have loved "living" in many places that I visited as a tourist but, as you say, never really had to wonder about the daily routines. It was all just fun and that, definitely, colored my impressions.

  2. So so true. I wonder if it's ever possible as a tourist to get a sense of what it's truly like to live in a town, warts-and-all. I suspect not.

    I also wonder how one should evaluate one's experience as a tourist of a town one doesn't particularly like. Because equally, it could mean that the residential experience is actually a lot better than the tourist one.

    Just a question. Great blog.

  3. Anonymous - Your comment has given me great idea there. It IS actually true, and I've had that experience myself, that a town can disappoint, until you've actually lived there. More soon....