1. You’re not from here.
According to the 2011 census, more than a third of Londoners (37%) were born overseas. I don’t have the stats for how many of the rest were born outside London, but I have a hunch it would be enough to tip the incomers over the 50% line. And even if you’re from here, you don’t feel like you’re from here, because there are so many people here who aren’t from here it doesn’t feel like here any more.
2. You don’t drive.
This might seem a bit unlikely, given that the default mode of London roads is stationary traffic. But that’s precisely why you don’t drive. Anyone with any sense realises that you will get wherever you are going much faster by Tube, bus, bike, or even walking. Even if your car eventually gets you somewhere, there will be nowhere to park when you get there.
3. You read a lot.
‘Reading’ is understood in a broad sense to include texts, emails, apps etc. The crucial thing is that you must on no account make eye contact with, still less actually talk to, any other person on public transport. This means you must have a book / newspaper / phone / tablet about your person at all times. Before the invention of e-books, a Tube carriage served as a rough and ready best seller chart. Now, of course, you can be reading Fifty Shades of Grey with no one knowing it, and can click swiftly into Middlemarch if your old English teacher sits down next to you.
4. You look like you’re going to miss your stop.
Not only must you pay no attention to other people; you must also be oblivious to your route. It’s the hallmark of tourists / recent arrivals that they glance constantly up at the Tube map, and begin twitching and fiddling with their coats and bags as soon as their stop is announced, standing up and moving nervously to the doors, wondering if anyone else is going to get off. True Londoners remain immersed in their book or paper, and stand only as the doors are opening, sometimes continuing to read as they make their way to their next connection.
5. The Thames is never the Thames.
The Thames is always and only ‘the river’. This is because there is only one city, indeed only one place, in the world. As there is only one river running through it, the river does not need a name.
6. You call your Mayor by his first name.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will never be Dave to anyone but family and close friends. But whoever succeeds Ken and Boris at City Hall will have to sacrifice not only their time, energy and privacy to their office but also their surname.
- You view homophobia and racism as the bizarre customs of a long extinct barbaric tribe.
Residents of some areas (Hampstead, Clerkenwell) try a bit too hard at this, competitively totting up their quota of non-white friends, trying unsuccessfully to conceal their disappointment when their children come out as heterosexual or insist on dating someone of their own ethnicity, but on the whole social liberalism is simply the air we breathe; as see the sublime indifference of voters to the decidedly rackety personal lives of Ken and Boris.
- You worry about schools.
Apparently there are civilised countries where all the children go the school nearest their house and no one gives it a second thought. It’s not like that here. Even if you are gay / infertile / have voluntarily undergone a surgical procedure to ensure you never reproduce, it’s hard to escape the constant chatter about schools. Parents fret over the educational battleground like generals fighting a losing war, consulting league tables and OFSTED reports like casualty statistics, inching their house under financial fire a few hundred yards nearer a desirable school, disguising themselves as believers to infiltrate churches with schools attached, taking a heavy hit from tutors’ charges and school fees. Dare to suggest that it doesn’t much matter where kids go to school as long as they’re loved and cherished and you will be looked at as if you have just denied the Virgin Birth at a papal conclave.
- You worry about housing.
There are several permutations to this worry. Super-rich: how many times do I have to double the price before they say yes? Retired baby-boomers: how many hints do we have to drop before the kids leave home and let us have our four-bedroomed house to ourselves? Couples with children: how many more hours do we have to work before we can afford to pay the mortgage / rent? Anyone under 30 born in London: how much longer do I have to share a room with the soft toys my parents refuse to let me throw out? Anyone under 30 not born in London: how much longer do I have to share a room with someone I’m not having sex with?
- You think that life stops at the M25.
There are, in fact, five countries in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Conveniently, they all use the same currency and speak the same language, and border controls between them are very relaxed. Trips abroad are excellent for broadening the mind.