For first time visitors to London getting to grips with the slight differences in culture can take some getting used to; from where to stand when riding an escalator to the tipping process right through to the different terminology we use when talking, there are lots of small ways in which tourists can quickly become confused when visiting London. However, London is also an incredibly diverse city which has welcomed people from different cultures for centuries so you will also find that it is a very accepting place, despite the general stereotype that Londoners are a cold and unfriendly type (more on that later…). If you are worrying over whether you will make a mistake on your next visit to the city then read on for our quick guide to London culture:-
Stand to the Right
This is something which many Londoners are precious about and getting it wrong will immediately mark you out as a tourist. As with any large city, there is a particular etiquette when it comes to using public transport and this include standing to the right when using escalators to let others pass you and minding the gap on the platform edge when boarding the tube. It’s also important to appreciate that between the hours of 7am-9am and 5pm-7pm the tube system particularly will be very busy with commuters who all have somewhere to be and won’t appreciate having to bustle past you on the stairs or walk around you if you suddenly stop in the corridor to consult your map. Try to be aware of people around you and move to one side if you need to look at something. It’s also worth keeping your ticket to hand as there are ticket barriers in place at all London tube stops and you will need the ticket to enter and exit; don’t hold the queue up by only reaching into your bag for your ticket when you reach the barrier.
There is a long standing stereotype that Londoners are unfriendly when the truth of the matter is simply that British people like and respect personal space and boundaries. They are not give to overt displays of affection in public and to some cultures this may seem rather stand-offish. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you can’t approach someone and ask for advice or directions however, the majority of people will only be too happy to help you reach your hotel or attraction, such as The Montcalm London City At The Brewery Hotel. Provided you don’t stand too close to them of course!
This is a tricky one for visitors to master as tipping can vary so widely from country to country. In the UK it is customary to leave a tip of 10-15% for your waiter but in some restaurants this is automatically added to your bill and known as a ‘service charge’. It is worth checking your receipt before you leave the tip just to be sure. Tipping is also not expected in bars and pubs, only in restaurants where you have received table service and sometimes cabs and taxis as well. In London it is not a requirement that you tip but largely appreciated as serving staff are often on minimum wage and make up their earnings with the tips they receive.
Another grey area in London is the idea of donations made when visiting an attraction. A large number of the museums and art galleries in London offer free entry to the public but ask for a small donation to be made to help keep the attraction functioning. Whilst nobody will force you to donate, it is considered polite to do so. It doesn’t need to be a vast amount, just whatever change you happen to have in your pocket but it’s always worth leaving something. Remember that these museums and art galleries are often only able to keep going because of donations from the public so if you have enjoyed yourself, consider placing a coin or two in the box. This also goes for a number of the city farms which are dotted around the city; something to consider if you are planning a family break, perhaps taking advantage of one of the luxury hotels for families and have small children. City farms are great places to spend a few hours and offer free entry but many can only keep going thanks to the donations of the public.
Go Further Afield
Whilst a lot of London’s popular attractions can be found in the heart of the city, don’t be afraid to travel further afield and explore landmarks and attractions which can be found on the edge of Central London instead. Not only will you find less tourists here but there are many hidden gems just waiting to be explored and discovered. There are also a number of great day trips which can be taken from London to place such as Brighton, Bath and Oxford which you might want to also consider.
One of the best pieces of advice we can offer is to try to blend in and not mark yourself out as someone who might be unfamiliar with the city. London is a safe place to visit but like all big cities it does have its fair share of pickpockets and thieves who will target tourists. Taking small steps such as not consulting a map in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, keeping your bags sealed and close to you, and any cameras or smart phones you may have tucked out of sight are all important ways you can prevent yourself potentially being the victim of theft. If you are travelling with bags or items of luggage you should also never leave them unattended, especially when travelling on public transport. They are likely to be removed by the British Transport Police and may even be destroyed.