Crossing the pond: a few tips for Americans visiting London


As it has been for years, when it comes to visitors from overseas London remains most popular with those from the United States. The common language, the cultural ties, the centuries-old buildings and monuments and more; it’s easy to appreciate why the UK capital appeals to folks from Albany to Albuquerque and Colorado Springs to Jackson Heights. However, when they do cross the pond, such people should bear in mind they’re coming to another country on another continent, so here’s a few things they might want to consider…

Everyone doesn’t know everyone else

Something that amuses Brits is that, maybe more times than you’d think, when they meet an American visiting their shores, they’ll be asked whether they know another entirely specific British person. It’s rather a nice thought, of course. Yet the UK, while considerably smaller in land area and people numbers compared to the US, does have a population that’s bordering on 70 million nowadays. It’s very much needle in a haystack stuff, folks.

The American Revolution’s ancient history

Just like the United States, the United Kingdom is a thoroughly democratic nation and proud of it (as both nation’s names fittingly suggest), so although many people from the UK are aware that some centuries ago much of modern day USA was under British control and there was a war fought over it, which Britain lost thereby establishing the USA, it’s not something we still think about a lot – and certainly no longer smart about. Indeed, many Brits rather like the fact we came together with our American cousins to fight – and win – two world wars. We tend to focus more on the likes of that nowadays.


Separated by the same language

Well, sort of. I mean, only if we allow ourselves to be. Sure, there are many instances of different British and US words being used for the same things, like ‘pavement’ and ‘sidewalk’, ‘autumn’ and ‘fall’ and, of course, ‘holiday’ and ‘vacation’, but in all fairness they’re pretty commonly known of on both sides of the Atlantic nowadays. Where confusion – and a level of hilarity for UK hosts, admittedly – readily occurs, though, is in (sensibly literal) American pronunciation of British place-names; to wit in London, ‘Lie-sester Square’ for ‘Lesster Square’ (Leicester Square), ‘Mary-lee-bone’ for ‘Marr-lee-bone’ (Marylebone) and ‘Green-witch’ for ‘Gren-itch’ (Greenwich).

That said, it’s not true of everything; for instance, if you’re looking to stay in one of the luxury hotels London that’s the Montcalm Brewery hotel on Chiswell Street London, don’t worry – it sounds exactly as it’s written. All the same, how to avoid any confusion? Go online and seek out potential pronunciation spoilers – indeed, London place-names are certainly a good place to start!

Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road

Granted, the fact drivers in the UK drive on the left-hand side and people practically everywhere else (apart from places here and there in the Commonwealth) drive on the right-hand side is an odd thing. And definitely something that, should you fancy getting behind the wheel over here, you’ll need to remember! But why is it so? Well, the thinking goes that because in pre-revolutionary France aristocrats used to travel on the road’s left-hand side and peasants on the right-hand side, once the French Revolutions occurred in the 18th and 19th Centuries and the aristocrats were toppled (and then the French general-cum-tyrant Napoleon powered through mainland Europe), the right-hand side became the preferred option. Apart from in Britain, where no such toppling of the aristocracy has ever occurred, for right or wrong.

Not everything is centuries-old

Buckingham Palace. Westminster Abbey. Trafalgar Square. Greenwich (‘Gren-itch’) Palace. They’re all buildings more than 100 years old, for sure. Heck, the Tower of London’s almost 1,000 years old. And yet, for all that, far from every structure, statue, painting or street in London is as old as time. Much of it’s pretty new, in fact. Take the East End; while bits and pieces of it date back a century more, much of it is only a few decades – or even less – old owing to so much of the area being flattened during The Blitz, the aerial assault of the city during the Second World War. Indeed, practically everything you’ll discover along the glorious tourist-trap of waterside that’s the South Bank is only 60 years-old at most. And confusingly, that includes Shakespeare’s Globe – it’s a 1990s-built recreation of a Tudor-era theatre.

We value the ‘special relationship’

Finally, don’t doubt it, we Brits like you Americans. We do look on you as ‘cousins’ and, as noted above, value the connections between us – and, by and large, like to focus on what unites rather than divides us. Thousands and thousands of us like to visit the States every year, just as thousands and thousands of Americans like to visit the UK every year. Moreover, millions and millions of us have lapped up American pop culture for years and years. Indeed, there’s a reason why in recent years some have liked to joke the UK is the 51st US state!