Always sing Wonderwall, and other tips for visiting London

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The Horse Guards Parade

In many ways, London is the ideal city: full of vibrant cultural diversity, historical landmarks, unique neighbourhoods and open parks, all connected with winding streets and a convenient public transit system. In order to get the most out of your time here, it’s best to be aware of some of the differences in culture and lifestyle. Here are 13 things to expect so you don’t look like a total tourist:

  1. Any sidewalk/staircase/walkway will be utter chaos. On the roads, you drive on the left. On the elevators you stay to the right. Everywhere else, there are no rules; also sometimes large groups of people just stop walking altogether. Be prepared to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge.
  2. London is very walkable. If something is one or two stops away on the subway, you’ll be there faster if you walk. A tube stop may look like just a small dot on the map, but don’t be deceived. Some stations are enormous and riding the escalators sometimes feels like you’re on a journey to the centre of the universe. The streets are more interesting anyway.
  3. People may curse at you if you say “Excuse me,” which apparently translates into “You’re in my way” in British. If you need to get past somebody, just say sorry. In pretty much any situation, just say sorry. Constantly apologizing is the best way to fit in here.
  4. Don’t talk to anyone on the tube. Don’t make eye contact with anyone on the tube. If you really want to make friends on the tube, bring a book and use your imagination.
  5. Street signs are attached to the buildings at every intersection. Also, you can use
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    Neal’s Yard near Covent Garden Market

    the GPS function on your phone when you don’t have signal or wifi. Turn your wifi on, and even without a network, your maps app will be able to find you.

  6. If you go out to a club, someone outside will probably ask you if you want to buy drugs. If someone tries selling you balloons, he isn’t going to fill it with helium and tie it to your wrist so you can skip through a field of flowers. It’s drugs. Politely say no thank you – unless you’re in the mood to break the law and/or sacrifice your morals and money, etc.
    1. Side note: Don’t say “No I don’t effing want your effing cocaine. What do I look like? Get away from me!” unless you’re trying to test your self-defence skills against someone with a knife. Ask my roommate.
  7. After being told there isn’t peanut butter, you’ll be very excited to find a jar of it in the “ethnic foods” section at the grocery store. Then you’ll buy it, and it will be dry and disappointing and impossible to spread on anything. Give up hope now and buy Nutella instead.
  8. In general, don’t tip. After spending any amount of time here, you’ll be broke enough as it is.
  9. People will tell you that South London is up and coming. However, if you visit neighbourhoods like Peckham or Brixton for a night out, the only thing up and coming will be your heart rate as you run for your life back to the tube station. If you must take the trek south, go at, like, noon. And bring your whole wolf pack.

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    Leadenhall Market
  10. People you don’t know will touch you, especially on crowded subways. It will be an accident, but it will bother you more than it bothers the other person. Unless they’re touching the inside of your pocket, brush it off.
  11. You will hear “Wonderwall” by Oasiseverywhere you go and people will go insane every time it plays. Same with “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. The Brits just can’t get enough, so learn the words and learn to love them.
  12. Jaywalking is totally legal, but make sure you look the right way before crossing so you don’t end up as a windshield splatter on a double-decker bus.
  13. For interesting events that most tourists won’t be aware of, check out Time Out (a magazine given out on the tube every Tuesday morning, but also online), and the Londonist. These websites are a great way to find out about concerts, new restaurants, and festivals off the beaten path.
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The Elizabeth Tower, aka Big Ben

 

For more, check out my earlier post on must-see attractions in London.

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