An American in London: Ten Tips for First-Timers

Planning a trip to London? Looking for a cheap alternative to an expensive guide book–or just want a quick lesson to help you avoid a faux pas? What better source to turn to than an American lady who has read a lot about England, considers herself an anglophile, and has been to London a whole two times?

Photo on 2-16-14 at 4.41 PM #2
You can trust me. I MAKE MY OWN HOBNOBS.

1. Do not ask for the “bathroom” unless you literally intend to take a bath. Ask for the “toilets” or, if you just can’t say the word, the “ladies'” or “gents'” room.

2. Do carry around spare change (pence and pounds, not euro) for using the public toilets.

3. Do not sit down at a pub and expect waitstaff to serve. In a pub, you order at the bar.

4. Do ask for the “bill” and not the “check” at a restaurant. Tipping is not expected.

5. Do try to dress up as much as possible while remaining comfortable–assuming you will be doing a lot of walking. Black-tie is not necessary to enter the Tower of London, but try to look smart. I saw a man and his daughter get off the bus near St. Paul’s and they were in hoodies, shorts, and flip-flops, and I guessed they were Americans. This was confirmed when we walked by them and I heard their accents. If you don’t want your clothes to scream “TOURIST!!!!” on your behalf, put a little more effort into them.

A good rule of thumb is, “Dignity, always dignity.”

6. Do not expect to experience “real” or “everyday” London in the most touristy areas (basically all of the West End). You’re unlikely even to hear the English language there, with so many overseas visitors. Clapham and Greenwich are two areas I saw on my last visit, and I would recommend them as nice detours off the beaten path.

7. Do get Indian food somewhere.

Be sure to read the signs carefully before you step into any establishment.

8. Do not wear a fanny pack. But if you must (no, you mustn’t), don’t call it that. “Fanny” is common slang for “vagina” in Britain.

9. Do feel free to order coffee. The British don’t just drink tea–coffee and Starbucks locations are widely available. Just don’t order iced tea.

10. Do not bother to follow stopwalk signals–jaywalk at any opportunity. Just make sure you do look both ways (and mind the flow of traffic) because Londoners are not civilized drivers, and will run your ass over as quick as any New Yorker.

They’re more like ‘guidelines’ anyway…


Have fun! And feel free to add your own tips in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “An American in London: Ten Tips for First-Timers

  1. I’m spending my last semester in college studying abroad in England, and this is really helpful. Thanks!

  2. This is very helpful! I’ll keep this in mind for when I eventually make my way to London.

  3. If I ever get to London, as is my goal, I’ll keep these tips in mind! Have to admit that I caught myself mentally reading this post in a British accent, though. The mind is a funny place.

    1. I’d like to think that if you read it in a British accent, I did something right. ;-)

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