So you’ve booked a trip to London. That’s fantastic, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an unforgettable time.
However, before you travel, there are some particular – some would say ‘peculiar’ – traits and cultural quirks you should know about, and we’re about to outline all the major ones right now.
Before we start though, it’s worth mentioning that most of these aren’t specific to London and apply to the rest of the UK in general.
Same word – different meaning
There are many words in the English language that mean different things in the UK, compared to how Americans would use them in the US.
In the UK, what Brits call chips are what Americans would know as french fries. Similarly, potato chips are called crisps in the UK.
If you want to use the bathroom, you should refer to it as the toilet, while the sidewalk is known as the pavement in England, a flat is what you may know as an apartment and a truck is called a lorry.
There are countless other examples but those are the standouts.
Try the traditional food
Some people visiting London and the UK may think English food is all about fish and chips, and while they are delicious, there’s so much more to it than that; the UK is home to some rather spectacular pub grub!
You could try a hearty pie (beef and ale, chicken and mushroom and vegetable and stilton are three recommended options). Many pubs will put on a tasty and very filling carvery too, where a server will slice off a chunk of your favourite cooked meat (beef, turkey, gammon and pork usually). You then choose vegetables to accompany it, buffet style.
Another tip when eating out is to put your knife and fork together when you’ve finished your meal. This lets the waiter or waitress know that they can take the plate away.
Drink the tap water
Unlike in many European countries, the tap water in the UK is perfectly clean and safe to drink. Depending where you drink it, it can be very tasty too. Any restaurants and pubs are legally obliged to serve you water from the tap at no cost, so gulp away.
Check the weather
The weather isn’t particularly extreme in the UK, but temperatures can be unpredictable at certain times of the year, so pack clothes to accommodate for rain or shine. The best course of action is to try and check the forecast for the days ahead.
Respect the queue
Despite what some may think, Brits don’t necessarily like to queue (who enjoys waiting?) but they do like order and things being fair. So don’t try to cut-in or jump the queue and wait your turn.
We drive on the left
All cars drive on the left in the UK and overtake on right; the opposite way round to how it works in the US and on mainland Europe.
It stems back to the 18th century when the British government introduced the General Highways Act in 1773, which encouraged horse riders, coachmen and people taking their vegetables to market to ride on the left, so that if they were attacked, they could quickly whip out their sword to protect themselves (most people were right-handed). And that was that; it has stuck ever since.
Look down at crossings
Want to read a joke?
Q: Why did the chicken look down when it was crossing the road?
A: Because it didn’t want to get run over.
It’s partly down to the previous point with the British driving on what many consider to be the ‘wrong side of the road’. It means tourists and other people unfamiliar with British roads may look the wrong way when they come to crossings.
So as a friendly reminder, the road is painted with notices telling you which way to look so you don’t get caught out i.e. ‘look right’ or ‘look left’.
Stand on the right
If you plan on using the Underground – London’s equivalent of New York City’s subway, also known as ‘the Tube’ – then you should know that you need to stand on the right when riding the escalator.
That’s because commuters – and people in a hurry – will walk very fast up the left-hand side and if anyone stands in their way, it disrupts the flow of the network and slows everyone else down further back. Those that fail to obey this simple rule can expect to be on the receiving end of some very passive aggressive behaviour.
Avoid the rush hours
Try to avoid using the roads and public transport during rush hour, which is between 7 and 9 in the morning then 4 and 7 in the evening. The Tube and buses get cramped with commuters, the roads get more congested and trying to get anywhere takes much longer than usual.
It’s usually best just to wait it out, take a little longer having breakfast, then head out when things have quietened down.