When tourists come to London, it is usually very easy to point them out from a group of Locals. A Londoner has a very unique way to behave, to dress and to eat. So at a time when travelling and looking like a local is far cooler than the typically tourist "look", here are a few tips, from a fellow American on how to blend in as an American tourist in London...
Mix and Mash up your style
When it comes to fashion, Londoners are not afraid to experiment or to wear a mish-mash of colours and styles (and sometimes they actually pull it off). So when in London, have fun with what you wear. Leave those plain-Jane Hollister tees in the suitcase; be a hipster for a day in Shoreditch, or Punk it up a little in Camden. A Londoners fashion sense can change as quickly as the British weather, so just go with it. But please, do not take it too far. Remember fellow Americans, there is never an appropriate place for you to tuck your jeans into your socks!
Stand on the Right Side of the Escalator
If there is one golden rule in London it’s that you should always stand on the right-hand side of the escalator if you are not otherwise moving briskly up it! The left side is reserved for people walking briskly upwards. If you really want to meet the wrath of a Londoner, which you’ll learn to recognize as a silent, but palpably intense look of judgment, then blocking the left side of the escalator is the surest way to do it. This is the way the Brits determine if you are a worthy and respectable human being, prove to them that you are and stand on the right (just don’t drive on the right).
Say Yes to Tea
If you’re visiting an English person, a London office or in any other way near a tea kettle and a British person asks you if you’d like a cup of tea the best way to proceed is to say “yes, please”. Having a cup of tea with an English person is a great way to make friends and to fit in. You can chat, overcome British reserve, and find a solution to global war over a cup of tea. Sometimes the cups of tea will continuously be offered for an hour or even three—this is a good sign that the chat is going well and that you’re on good footing. If you’re not actually a fan of tea you can always request coffee instead, the key is to keep sipping on a hot drink.
Ordering the Full-English
Breakfast: the best meal of the day! Londoners certainly think so, especially on weekends when it can be notoriously difficult to get a table at the many trendy brunch spots in the city. And no trip to London is complete without experiencing the standard rite-of-passage: the full-English breakfast. This glorious and masterful breakfast includes two rashers (thick-cut bacon that’s more meat and less fat than the American “streaky” bacon) two eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes and beans with toast (I promise it’s better than it sounds!). If you’re lucky there might even be a sampling of the lip-smacking black pudding (trust me on this one).
And the Sunday Roast
Speaking of food, another must have is a Sunday roast, which every true Londoner has been familiar with since taking their first steps. The way to do it properly is to find a cozy and quality pub, perhaps with a big fireplace and some deep-seated chairs. Many pubs have board games or newspapers lying around, which are great to utilize while you wait for your sumptuous Sunday roast, and the probability is you will have to wait—a while, so you might as well settle in and make the most of it or as the Brits like to say “Keep calm and carry on”. Eventually your roast will arrive and it will be glorious! This will consist of roast lamb, pork, beef or chicken, with roasted potatoes, vegetables, and gravy topped with a delectable Yorkshire pudding. Sit back and relax as you sip on a cold draught of lager and enjoy the quintessentially English atmosphere.
The Art of Politeness
Not just in London but in the UK in general you’ll notice that people are exceptionally polite. And though it may seem over the top sometimes, Britons take being polite very seriously, so the quickest way to get into a British person’s good books is to be very polite back. For example, if you need to ask directions, preface your question with a self-depreciating joke and apologize for bothering them. Or if someone bumps into you on the escalator because maybe you weren’t standing on the right side, assume a look of abashment and utter a “sorry” quietly but earnestly under your breath. This will incline the individual to want to talk to you more and maybe you’ll even make a new friend.
When in Doubt Talk About the Weather
You’re alone with a British person for a few minutes; the conversation becomes strained even bordering on awkwardness, which is, of course, every Londoners worst nightmare. To break the ice, talk about the weather. Examples: “I hope this rain lets up soon” or “I can’t believe our luck with such good weather”, soon the conversation will be flowing again and everything will be smoothed over.
Branch out from Fish and Chips
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with endless choice for some truly delicious international cuisines. Instead of just sticking with the tourist favorite: fish and chips, or nightly pub meals, expand your horizons with a lovely Indian curry, Jamaican jerk chicken, a Mediterranean Mezze, or Spanish Tapas. London has a vast and unbeatable restaurant scene that will not disappoint, whether you’re wandering down Charlotte Street, Brick Lane, or Brixton Market you’re sure to find something delicious.
Get Down with the Lingo
Everyone knows that British and American English are virtually two separate languages, and we know that it’s impossible to know everything right away but here are some top essential words and phrases for your stay. “Quid”—Similar to the American “Bucks”. “Trolley”—Shopping carts. “On Holiday”—On vacation. “Twat”—a dumb person or an affectionate term for your best friend. “Getting a cheeky Nandos”—eating at the chicken chain Nandos and feeling happily guilty about it. The list goes on.
Be Prepared to Walk
London is a gorgeous city that is designed to be explored on foot and most Londoners walk at least 15 minutes every day, even if they take the train, bus or drive as well. There are endless places that are best explored on foot, including London’s Southbank, Portobello Road Market, The London Canal, Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Hyde Park. No trip to London is complete without a long wander through its historic streets, so don those leopard kitten heels and walk like a local.
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