Last summer I studied abroad in London. While I thought the transition to this English speaking country would be as easy as moving from one American state to another, it is so not so. Here is what every visitor should know before they head to London.
Stand on the right side of the escalator, and walk on the left
In London, there are unspoken rules about escalator etiquette. Londoners have always been polite people, but before I knew the rules people would yell at me to get out of the way. This would leave me worried for hours afterwards that people in England didn’t like me. Save yourself a moment of panic and remember that if you’re simply standing on the escalator, stay on the right side, and if you are walking up the escalator, do so on the left.
Take public transportation as often as possible
Cabbing around London is extremely expensive, and picking cabs off the street can be a hassle. When traveling, try to stick to the tube (London’s underground subway system) or the bus as often as you can and whenever it is safe. After trying out public transportation in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Barcelona, London’s public transportation system is by far the easiest to figure out and manage.
But if you must take a cab, don’t just take any cab
London has many cabs that are referred to as “gypsy” cabs, which are deemed unsafe and illegal. Illegal cabs may approach you offering a ride or wait outside pubs and restaurants. The best way to ensure that you are riding in a safe and legal taxi is by booking beforehand and only entering black cabs.
London’s weather is notoriously rainy and unpredictable. One moment you may be basking in the sun, and the next you may be drenched from an unexpected storm. Carry an umbrella with you and wear layers. It will never cease to amaze you how different the weather can be from one minute to the next.
Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish of England
As an Indian, I had to include this in the list. I absolutely love Indian food, but rarely get the chance to eat it now that I’m in college. In London, however, you can find great Indian food almost anywhere. Even the pubs offer Chicken Tikka as bar food! Fun fact: this Indian cuisine is actually not so Indian, and was first created in England.
They speak English, but a different English
One of my best friends that I met in Chicago is from England, and I still have a hard time understanding some of the things she says. Alongside the different accent, when you go across the pond you’ll find that they have a completely different style of speaking and vocabulary. Crisp means potato chip, flat means apartment, and the word “wanker” is actually used in real conversation. If there’s one thing anyone should know before they go to London, it is that the word “quid” is equivalent to the American word “bucks.” Embarrassingly, when shopkeepers would ask me for 20 quid my first few weeks in London, I thought it was something I was supposed to trade. England may be a little different than America, but they do take money for purchases.
When I first moved to London, I had absolutely no idea that the pubs closed at 11 p.m. Being used to the college bar scene, my friends and I would show up to pubs between 10 and 10:30, thinking that we were early. After we finally realized that the only way to go grab a pint and also have the time to finish it would be to arrive way earlier, we also started to understand the London nightlife scene better. Don’t fret party people; there are many clubs and bars that stay open well into the early hours of the morning. But if you just want to enjoy a cider at the stereotypical English style pub, go for dinner.
Keep these tips in mind on your trip to London and adapting to the surprisingly different culture will be a lot easier. Remember that although the UK speaks English, its culture, customs, and language is still very different. If you go to London with an open mind and willingness to learn, you will have an amazing time in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Cheers, mate!