Navigating Urban Life

by | Oct 8, 2015 | 31 Letters from London

This is day nine in a new series: 31 Letters from London. In October, I’m doing something a little different and writing to you about the realities of life as an expat; finding the nearness of God through random experiences with new culture. It’s important to begin here and find the collection of letters here. We’re breaking for Sabbath every Sunday.


Hello Friends,

I’m not sure if I told you but we don’t have a car here in London. We walk or use public transportation and my feet are acquiring callouses in new places, making me think twice now when I wear sandals.

I do love walking everywhere but when we need to go out of the city, we rent a Zip Car that happens to be parked about five minutes from our house. As US citizens, we can’t get car insurance unless we own a car, which is too costly for us. And we can’t drive someone’s car because no insurance without a UK drivers license, which we can’t get until we’ve lived here for one year. Basically, we’re limited.

But surprisingly, the only thing I miss about a car is listening to the latest pop songs on the radio. However, I didn’t plan on needing a shoe budget. This sounds like an extravagant justification because I’m a woman and shoes. But truthfully, practicality and comfort are a high value when navigating an urban life.


Last week, when I attended the consecration of a new bishop at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I rode the underground in flats and carried pumps in my purse. Clergy wives congregated on the steps, changing out of practical into pretty before entering that grand place.

I’m in continual awe over the way women walk on cobblestones and ride bikes through traffic wearing spike heels around the city. This should be an official sport with awards for bravery.

Living in London is so different than living in the South. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you but maybe not for the reasons you think.

In the places where we lived in the South, conformity was a higher value than being uniquely individual, especially when it comes to the way a woman dresses. Perhaps pressure to conform is more nuanced in London because of the shear amount of people.


Black is the obvious color of choice for coats and boots, no matter your socio-economic status.  And the scarves – I thought they were a British fashion statement but mostly they are about warmth.  It is highly likely that you’ll find a scarf and umbrella (brolly) in every woman’s purse throughout London.

I find women are more comfortable in their own skin because of the diversity of people living in London. Comparison isn’t as prevalent as it is in the US regarding body image. I would love some input from my expat friends about this to see if I’m just a newbie being a bit Pollyanna.

My closet holds about one fourth of the wardrobe I had before moving here and I am content.  Small space living magnifies the ugly culture of excess we’ve bought into in the past.

Today instead of walking, I’m riding in a car with friends to the Cotswolds for a week long writing getaway to finish more of my book. Next week, I hope to post my first Periscope live video and show you around a bit. Follow me @SMillerRB.

What would you like to know next? Ask me some questions and I’ll try to respond to them next week.


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  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Ah . . . walking, and briskly in England. I loved it. Walking is no stranger to us (meaning our family) here in St. Louis around the neighborhood or in a park, but not to get anywhere. Unfortunately the St. Louis public transit system is the pits, and the county, where I live, is all sprawled out. It would be impossible to navigate without a car. However, we may be down to just one next year. My husband must relinquish his when he retires, and our daughter uses mine several days a week on a photograph internship. So it shall be interesting to see what we do. But I like the idea of downsizing as you are doing, Shelly. Must tell you that when we were in London, we actually rode in a rickshaw in the middle of burgeoning London traffic, and I am amazed to have lived to tell the tale. What a joy ride that was! As for conformity? You do see much diversity in European capitols, but until recently, I always felt self-conscious in England…not dressed well enough, an American country bumpkin. The Brits were prim and proper and dressed elegantly. But I’ve noticed more of a relaxed ambience now. Not sure I like it as much, actually. Some look too American! 🙂 But I do love that we can just be who we are, and not have it matter so much, in that sense. And I agree: St. Paul’s is breathtaking. Imagine how I felt, Shelly, to sit in the qwire stalls with the boys choir, singing. I can’t be sure, but I think I was in heaven. So enjoying your installments.

    • Shelly Miller

      When I was at St. Paul’s listening to the beautiful voices of those little boys in the choir, I thought of you, and how much you would have loved being there. xx

  2. Elizabeth Day

    Walking from one destination to another is an unheard of exercise where I live in Northwest Louisiana, unless of course one is doing it for the purpose of exercise. We take our lives into our hands just driving on the local streets much less trying to venture out on foot. Therefore, I found your post on walking in London a real fascination and a mouth-open “Are you kidding?” Seriously, I look forward to reading more of your 31 Letters from London.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know what you mean Elizabeth, walking the way we do is unheard of in most busy cities in the US. I do love walking here because it’s a part of the culture and it feels normal, not so different. I’m so glad you stopped by! Welcome!

  3. Leah

    Years ago I read a fantastic book: French Women Don’t Get Fat. Written by a duel citizened woman, born in France but married an American and now lives in both countries. She made a big point about walking. It is more European and Urban for sure. I try to follow the “just walk it” rule myself. The biggest obstacle is you have to give yourself more time! I get strange looks for choosing to walk some times. I think it is considered a “work out” activity in rural areas, and must be accompanied with matching nylon tops and bottoms and $100 sneakers!

    • Shelly Miller

      So true Leah. Walking in the US was something I did for exercise, not to get to a destination. I do love the way walking is just part of the day here in London. I’m finding people eat healthier here as well. It’s all a good change indeed.

  4. SunSteepedDays

    I can’t think of another question because I’ve simply been enjoying the mix of topics in these letters lately — but you did remind me of the bricked walk in my college city’s downtown area where my husband and I went for one of our first dates, long before we were married. He spent every third step or so helping me pull my kitten heels out from between bricks (which, come to think of it, wasn’t really so bad at all), so I’m also in awe of the women who walk on cobblestones and run in heels (Jurassic World, I hear?)!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’ve pushed a few spike heels into grassy lawns! The things we do for fashion, eh?

  5. Devi Duerrmeier

    I think there is more of an image thing happening in the US than the UK. I was always amazed at the amount of make up American women have on their faces, and the hair products.. wow. Stockholm was a very fashion conscious city, but less so than the rest of Sweden. I do love walking everywhere and not having to drive all the time, it’s a wonderful thing about living in places with more public transport. Have a great weekend writing!

    • Shelly Miller

      I do find women here don’t wear as much makeup. And they don’t accessorize as much as women in the US. It’s actually rather refreshing. Thanks Devi! Appreciate your encouragement.

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