I’ve been a new arrival in Manchester for more than a decade now. I’ve gotten really good at it. ('Ha ha, no, not from around here. Vermont. New England, on the Canadian border? Eleven years ago. No, think I’m stuck with this accent…' rinse, repeat, etc.) In my time as a professional transplant I’ve learned a few things about Manchester and what makes it different from other places in the UK. Chiefly, Mancunians never shut up about how great their city is. This piece was originally 10,000 words long, and believe me, I could go on. If you’re a more recent new arrival, here’s an edited primer on what to expect from your new home.
1. Yeah, it rains here. Like unsuspecting rain god Rob McKenna in Douglas Adams’ 'So Long and Thanks for All the Fish', you will become a connoisseur of precipitation. The pinprick pattering you ignore because you don’t want to leave the beer garden, the rain that springs up from the ground directly into your face, the sudden downpour that traps you in a doorway, the dogged winter rain that settles in for a week and makes everyone feel like death. You will know them all intimately. You’ll never buy white suede shoes again. But on the upside, a mere sunny day can fill you with foolish delirium.
2. Everyone thanks bus drivers. I’m not sure why. The bus drivers are all mad, and working out the city’s weird system of competing franchises, byzantine route map and bizarre location of bus stops will make you just as crazy.
3. Mancunians are considered friendly as British people go. By American standards this means they are cussedly standoffish. But it has been known to happen here, striking up a conversation with a stranger. No one actually avoids eye contact with you on public transport. Unless you have a pocketful of baby ferrets and a T-shirt that says Kiss Me, I’m a Klingon.
4. Like every city, Manchester has its own late night guilty pleasures. Most involve chips. I remember my first ever post-chucking-out chip barm: Leo’s Fish Bar, Oldham Street, approximately 2003 ('French fries in a sandwich? No way am I eating that.' Five seconds later: 'This is the best thing EVER.') Some prefer chips in a naan with mango sauce, some like chips and curry, or chips and gravy…
5. …but we’ve all got chips on our shoulders. As an adopted Manc, yours will appear the first time someone denigrates the city in your presence, especially if they’re from (ahem) 'Down South'. Lately, I’ve noticed that younger Mancs seem less offended by the very idea of London. Almost as if it’s no threat to us, fine for what it is but nothing to get het up about. Perhaps there’s hope for a new generation that is not buffeted between crippling, bitter inadequacy and that annoying swagger that makes everyone else in the country hate us.
6. You will come to loathe Madchester as much as you love Manchester. The most casual allusion to bucket hats, baggies, hazard stripes, day-glo or Shaun n’ Bez and those goddamned pigeons on the roof of the Palace Hotel will soon turn you purple with rage. Yeah, you did have to be there, so please for the love of God stop going on about it.
7. You can walk across central Manchester in half an hour, and you learn your way around quickly. There is great pleasure in the realisation that you know every shortcut back alley between two points in the Northern Quarter. It’s a wonderful place for meandering – filled with architectural interest and atmospheric cityscapes like Castlefield’s bridges and tunnels and the interesting edgy bits around Ancoats and Salford. All reasonably safe, if you’re sensible.
8. It’s easy to get to know people here, to find co-conspirators and kindred spirits. Manchester is big enough to be culturally significant, but not so huge that you feel like a minnow swimming against the tide of anonymity. This turns out to be the ideal growing conditions for artists, creatives and innovators. Which is probably why the city feels as if it’s constantly on the verge of something exciting. And it usually is.
9. Did you read that last one and think, oh go on, it’s not that great? Then you’re probably a Manc. We have a baseline suspicion of earnestness and enthusiasm. Also: confidence. No matter how successful you are, try to comport yourself as though you’re still living at home, whiling away your days watching 'Blackadder' repeats and picking up litter for fun.
10. Parkwise, it’s a disappointment. Practically every inch of available land in the city centre has been flogged off to the highest bidder for a car park, hotel or flats. When nature calls, you’ve got to get right out of town. Fortunately, the glorious Peak District, Pennine Moors and Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire countryside are within easy reach.
11. Football. It’s not going away. If you’re footy agnostic, cultivate an interest in it as cultural phenomenon (done this, feel smug about it). If you can’t do that, perfect a facial expression that says 'oh please, tell me again about that FA cup semi-final in 2001. Really! I never tire of it.'
12. You’ll never escape. The place gets into your bones. You can move somewhere else and like an ex you’ve never quite got over, Manchester will always pull you back. But honestly - why would you ever want to leave the Greatest City in the History of Human Civilisation?