So you’re all excited; you’re heading across the pond to take in the sites of London, one of the world’s most amazing cities. World-class museums, incredible shows at a myriad of theaters, historical castles, the hustle and bustle of Mayfair and Oxford Cirucs. You’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime — don’t ruin by being an ass. Here are 5 tips for enjoying your time without annoying everyone around you (both residents of London and your travel companions). Having lived in London for two years I can honestly tell you there are many mistakes that American tourists make, but if you can avoid these five you’re already on the right path.
1. Proper pub etiquette
London is littered with great little pubs, each with it’s own character, history and regulars. This is an ideal way to grab a bite to eat, have a pint and immerse yourself a bit in the London experience. When you walk into a pub don’t head for a table, sit down and stare at the bar tender waiting for service. restaurants have table service, but pubs do not. Head over to the bar and put in your food and/or drink orders. Otherwise you’re either going to end up in a staring contest across the room at the bar tender or they are just going to ignore you and you’re going to get all upset and frazzled. Chill out, belly up to the bar and get a pint.
2. People watching
Don’t be a wallflower or stuck in museums and the like from open till close. Get out and enjoy the city. Unlike many American cities, London is not a homogenous metropolis. Particularly in certain areas like Soho and Camden the attire is drastic and creative. Check it out and enjoy the diversity (NYC may have an all-black-clothes-all-the-time vibe in some areas of the city but London is much more individualistic). If the weather is decent (and often when it is not) head into the pub, grab your drink and then head back outside to the sidewalk. This is common in London, as the pubs become crowded and it’s perfectly fine to have a drink on the sidewalk (stay out of the street!). Most pubs have shelves on the outside of the windows to put your drink down while you’re people watching on the corner. Do check out the eclectic crowd. Do not be creepy.
3. The tube
Again, we’re into etiquette here; try to figure out where you’re going before heading into the tube so that you’re not standing in front of the maps, blocking pedestrian traffic in the underground hallways. Don’t whip out a giant map and make it impossible for commuters to pass by. When you’re not too busy blocking traffic and staring at maps, when on the escalators stand on the right and walk ont the left — do not stand still on the left, as you’re going to be blocking those who are less lazy and want to walk up or down.
In fact, try to stay off the tube between 5 and 7, when it is at it’s busiest — you’re much more likely to get either trampled or pick-pocketed during this time of day. With the crowds also comes the heat, particularly in the summer, as the tube is not air conditioned. If you must travel during these hours try to figure out your route before heading into the tube to make it easier on you and those around you.
4. Don’t compare. Enjoy.
The worst travelers are those who get to a new city or country and instantly begin comparing everything to home. You’re not in the US. Things are different. Get over it or go home. Instead of griping ‘I would never be treated this way in the States’ or ‘this would be handled much more efficiently in the US’ or ‘hotel rooms are so much bigger at home’, embrace the differences. With these differences come many benefits, such as a more polite society with diversity that’s often accepted more readily than in the US.
5. The car
This should be obvious, but if you can’t handle driving on the left don’t get behind the wheel. This is surely the fastest way to ruin the trip for you and whoever you happen to kill.
You should be traveling to enjoy another culture. Because of the mutual language many people find it tough not to compare when traveling to the UK, but remember that it is a very different culture. The sooner you embrace it the more you’ll enjoy the humor, variety and relaxed nature of the Englishmen around you.