London, you’ve changed for the better

For the first time in a year I have spent the week in London, working and seeing friends. It has been an eye-opening experience; after all, it has been 11 years since I lived here.

I was expecting to complain about the weather. When I left New York the temperature was in the high nineties. But here it has not yet rained and the temperature has been pleasantly warm. Other things are refreshing too. Unlike their New York counterparts, my English friends’ every other sentence is not about the economy. “The recession is coming,” one person in finance told me, “but we relegate it to background talk.”

People prefer talking about their children and the Indiana Jones movie to what they’ve been doing at work. A girlfriend told me how an expat English banker friend recently bored everyone with a monologue about his job throughout dinner. No one will be rushing to ask him back.

I have been lunching well. I cannot say I enjoyed Maze, in Grosvenor Square: my idea of lunch is not four laborious courses, each served in a martini glass. The Wolseley was better: my lunch companion offered me a glass of champagne. I don’t think I have ever drunk alcohol at lunch in Manhattan. Here, I drank the champagne willingly; for once, it was fun.

To my surprise, I’ve been out dancing three times, finishing Thursday night at Mahiki with 300 Sloanes under 30, dancing to disco music written well before they were born. They dance with a furious frenzy, in groups, often of the same sex. That didn’t happen when I lived here.

Taxi drivers are, as ever, opinionated, but also thoughtful: one reminded me not to forget my phone as I got out. In fact, in general the service has unquestionably got better; to my surprise I found you can get a pedicure on a Sunday.

But other things don’t change. I went to a wedding where, during one speech, the groom’s genitalia were graphically mocked. I realised, with horror, that I was undergoing a uniquely “British” moment.

So, London, thank you. I’ve enjoyed my week here. Now I need to go go home, detox and sleep. The pang will come when I get the bill for this trip on my credit card – and it will be have to be paid in US dollars. V

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