Do as a Londoner does: how an American tourist can blend in


If you’re American, proud of being so (and why wouldn’t you be?) and looking to visit London, you may be aware of the reputation of the US tourist abroad. No need to get sore at the mention of it; Brits on holiday have a reputation too. But the likelihood is you’d probably want to avoid falling into that ‘American abroad’ stereotype. The best way is to come to the city prepared, armed with some knowledge of the cultural tics of London and the little things that might trip you up. To wit, here are a few them…

Speaking the same or a ‘different’ language?

While Britain and the States share a common language, they somehow also manage to speak a different one. This comes from the fact the two countries diverged nearly 350 years ago, even though, language-wise, TV and cinema has brought them somewhat back together in recent decades. A good idea is to try to catch some UK films or television shows before crossing the pond to pick up specific, if you will, British-isms or look up language differences on the Internet. Be aware too that London’s hugely multicultural – practically every language under the sun’s spoken here.

A tip on tipping

It may seem odd, but the UK doesn’t possess the same sort of tipping culture the US does. In fact, it can be a bit of a minefield. If you’re in a pub or bar, it’s best not to try to tip the staff at the bar for a drink (they won’t be allowed to accept it), unless they have some sort of collection in view. If you’ve enjoyed a sit-down meal in a restaurant in, say, one of the luxury hotels in London or elsewhere, it’s different; it’s totally acceptable to tip (usually 10-15% – yes, that little!), unless it’s clear a ‘surcharge’ is included in the bill. If it’s not clear or you’re in any doubt, it’s best to ask whoever’s waiting on you what the policy is.

Right not left!

Because the British are weird and drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road compared to almost everywhere else in the world (including the United States), remember that when you cross the road, traffic will come at you from the right not the left – always look right then not left. Like in NYC or LA, traffic in London tends to be pretty manic too. Moreover, you should stick to the right-hand side when you stand on an escalator (principally on the Tube, but it’s a custom that’s slowly spreading throughout the city); those in a hurry like to charge up/ down the escalator on the left.

And, finally, don’t get in the way!

Many people tend to expect Brits to be cordial – and, for the most part, they are – however, London does have a reputation throughout the UK for being an unfriendly, cold and overly busy place (the truth: it’s very busy but not the other things). That said, the masses don’t stand on ceremony for people holding them up and look on tourists examining maps, their smartphone or merely chatting in the middle of the pavement (read: sidewalk) or in the entrance/ exit of a Tube platform with eyes like daggers. You’ve been warned!