Aside from the usual “places to go” and “things to do” routine, there are some things about a trip to London (or England, really) that still catch American tourists off guard.
You may be someone who prefers to figure out the nuances of a culture on your own, and in that case, step away from this article now!
But in case you’re like me and feel as though you should be neurotically over-prepared for every single move you make, here is a list of some things you should know before your trip across the pond. Enjoy the American tourist guide to London!
1. Car traffic (and foot traffic) is reversed
Cars drive on the left, which you already knew because you are highly cultured, but this also means foot traffic tends to ‘pass’ on the left as well. It’s not necessarily an absolute rule, but you’ll usually find people keep to the left rather than the right on the sidewalk just out of habit.
2. At a pub, you order at the bar
Even if a pub has tables with menus already on them, you will seat yourself 99% of the time and then order your food and drinks at the bar. They’ll ask where you are sitting and then bring them to you, but no one is going to come ‘check in’ on you like at a restaurant. Their work is done!
3. Waiters will not bring you the check unless you ask
In America, we’re used to waiters bringing us the check practically before the food comes out so you feel slightly awkward about staying 1 second past your last bite of the hamburger. That’s not the case here. You won’t get it until you ask for it, as many people tend to linger for a long time after their meal.
Actually, that is a closely related phenomenon that took me some getting used to. I feel like Americans pretty much sit down, talk before the food is served, eat, and then go not too long once everyone is finished. In England, a meal is an EVENT, and you will often sit there and stare at each other for ages after you’re finished saying nothing in particular just because you can.
4. The rate of small talk incidents is…small
In “checkout line” type of situations, strangers don’t often make small talk with each other. This can vary based on the situation, but people typically keep to themselves and find it strange if someone attempts to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Does it happen? Of course. Is it seen as ‘normal’ as we would find it in America? No.
5. Tipping culture is non-existent
Here, those in the service industry LOVE Americans because we shower them with money. But unlike in America, waiters and waitresses make a living wage without relying on tips. Even if you found the service awesome, you’d really only look to tip around 10% in England. This makes me feel incredibly stingy everywhere I go, but eventually you get used to it and enjoy the savings.