It's 2am and I'm an American living in London. Normally I wouldn't mention that I'm American, as it doesn't really make any difference. But I have to mention I'm an American now because as one, I can't handle nights here. Picture this common American event: It's late at night. You're with your friends. You're thinking, "What can we do?" Suddenly someone says, "Hey, let's go to a diner!"
So then you're off, trying to fit the whole lot of you into this undersized car and heading towards the nearest all night place of coffee, milkshakes and fries. You sit there and you eat and drink and talk until you want to leave.
Every town, no matter how small, has a diner. Either in town, or close by. In the worst case you can always go to the next best place, the 24 hour supermarket. But regardless, there is always someplace always open, with food nearby.
Now picture London...
You've moved to London and it's a wonderful place. Then 6pm happens
and it closes down. Imagine the above situation:
It's 2am and you decide to go out for food. You step out onto the high street and look about for a place to eat. What can you find? If you are really lucky you can find a kebab place still open, tho most have closed by now. You can get some mystery sliced off a rotating tower of meat and slapped into a pita with chips. Ideal food for when the pubs close and you're thrown on the street and are in search of a pub with a later license.
Most Kebab places do close, usually before 2am. What else is there? Well, there's the all night bakery, all night hour fruit stand, an all night petrol station. That's about it.
Let's start with the fruit stand. What can be more interesting at 4am than getting fresh fruit? Yum. "Hey, let's go out and get some carrots!" This just doesn't happen. No one wants to go out in the middle of the night to eat something good for them. It's just not right.
So what does that leave? The 24 hour petrol station? Good luck finding one of those. If you do, odds are you won't even be able to get in the building. You'll have to look thru the windows to see what you want and assume the price is reasonable. After you pay the clerk, he shoves your food thru the change return slot. Good luck if you want a drink or anything larger than a candy bar.
And of course, the all night bakery. You may be able to get a coffee. But you'll most likely just get bagels or sandwiches. Which brings us to the British sandwich. Considering they invented it, they have no idea whatsoever on how to make one. If you want a tuna sandwich, they give you tuna. That's it. It's not tuna salad with the "salad" bit implied. It's just tuna. Ask for mayonnaise, if you want it. Of course, don't ask for anything with mayonnaise without looking in the jar first, 'cos odds are it's been up longer than you and it's already turned translucent. Take the menu quite literally, you will get nothing that you don't ask for. And they will almost always try to trick you by putting some small note in the corner, like "Prices 20p extra after midnight". This even holds for items on the menu which cost less than 20p normally! Of course, when I say you get nothing you don't ask for, I mean besides butter You will get butter on every sandwich you ever ask for. Regardless of how poorly it goes with the contents. You can feel the grease in your stomach after eating one of these. They just get out the spatula and coat the bread. Nothing else are they so selfless with. They just smile and heave on that butter until they get tired. Then they're so tired they can only put on one slice or scoop of whatever you want, before they give up.
But this is all besides the point. There is no place to go to sit down and eat. It's all purchasing food and getting out as soon as possible. The closest you will ever find to a sit down diner will be before midnight. Of course there's always the American tourist diners, where they charge you horrible prices for small amounts of food, and they close at 4pm (but they don't put butter on the hamburgers like the Brits do). The closest you will get is a coffee house. You'll not get the fries, but you may get milkshakes if you are really lucky. For the most part they just have coffee and danishes. But they let you stay until you are done, no matter how many hours that is. And some of them are open until midnight (well, one, as far as I know, but there must be more).