It’s the subtle differences that can assure an American that they are in London. Becoming accustomed to the culture will come naturally, but knowing a few “street” tips from an American’s perspective might be the heads-up you need before your travels!
Anywhere there is food, drinks, or a plethora of people, there are pigeons. At first, they may seem cute. But trust me; they are only interested in the crumbs dropping from your pastry. DO NOT feed the pigeons unless you want to invite a massive swarm of their fellow friends over to your personal space. The more they eat, the more they secrete, right? Watch your step and mind your head! Admire from a distance, I suggest. They can be magnificent to watch.
2. The Tube –> or walk!
You will soon discover that London has mastered underground transportation. Riding the tube is as easy as they say, just purchase an “oyster card” and it will scan after you put a few pounds on it. However, I’ve discovered one of the best ways to discover your surroundings in London is to get lost on its historic streets. The tube/buses are a simple way to reach a further destination, but you may find that your route is just as quick (or quicker) if you travel on foot. Walking is free and the scenery is beautiful. You will come across unique coffee shops and pubs to indulge in, no matter which street you decide turn down.
3. The toilet
Coming from the states, asking where the toilets are may seem a little derogatory or too straightforward at first. Don’t be shy, because this is really what they say in London. You won’t see signs for “Restrooms” or “Bathrooms” they will all say “Toilets”, which makes perfect sense for a public setting, if you think about it. You aren’t going there to rest or to bathe. If you’re anything like me, and still feel kind of uncomfortable, feel free to call it the “Loo” when asking for directions. I suppose it’s a little classier than saying the word “toilet”.
If you are an avid Google Maps person, I suggest changing to Citymapper before coming to London. Google Maps is relatively reliable in the states, but if you have the same luck I do, it will more than likely get you very confused and send you in all different directions. Citymapper conveniently provides the quickest route on the tube, bus, driving, and by foot. It also shows the estimated price for the tube or bus rides. Nothing screams “tourist” like walking in circles trying to listen to Google Maps. Also, Citymapper is a free app!
5. The bikers
You will quickly learn that traffic in general is incredibly fast-paced in London. Due to the intense amount of people walking the streets, drivers seem to be solely concerned about where they’re going and how fast they can get there. They aren’t going to stop for you if they have a green light, so jaywalk at your own risk. Crosswalks do have large white paint on the ground which states to “LOOK RIGHT” or “LOOK LEFT” (remember, they do drive on the opposite side of the road!) More specifically, watch out for the bikers. Motorized or not, they fly by faster than cars do and they are more inclined to verbally express their frustration with pedestrians.
6. Standing on the right
If you want to blend in with the Londoners, try to learn some of their unwritten rules before visiting. When riding on the escalator, always stand on your right side unless you plan to walk up/down the aisle in a hurry. I observed the right side is for standing traffic and the left side is for moving traffic. Messing up the flow of traffic is not a mistake you want to make, especially during peak hours! This tip is easy enough and may save you a few scowls from the businessmen and women on their way to work.
7. “Brown” Sauce is not BBQ Sauce
In the U.K., they love their “brown sauce”. Brown sauce is a condiment that can be found alongside sandwiches, fish and chips, fries, etc. It can be kept in portable packages or bottled next to the salt and pepper much like ketchup is in the U.S. It is NOT barbecue sauce, ketchup, or soy sauce- although it may have similar resemblance. Brown sauce has a vinegar base and is made with a combination of blended tomato, molasses, dates, pepper and other spices. It’s incredibly common in the U.K., so forget about Ranch dressing for a bit (because you won’t find it in London) and give brown sauce a try.
8. Dressing for the occasion vs. dressing for the weather
London weather can be cold and rainy, but that doesn’t stop the fashionista’s from strutting their stuff. I can’t count how many times I’ve been on my way out, bundled up like a 20-year-old baby, and passed dozens of women in their sheer tights and black heels gliding by like the chilling air is just a subtle fan in a photo shoot. There doesn’t seem to be such thing as “too dressed-up” so don’t be afraid to get a little fancy!