“An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”
— George Mikes

In London it’s not who you know it’s what you know. I have created an essential list for you here of the things that we Brits take for granted, things that are woven into the fabric of our DNA. So grab my ‘tongue-in-cheek’ guide and you too can hold your head up high in this land of bowler hats, and embarrassment, and stiff upper lips. Become a Brit for a day - you might enjoy it…

Photo courtesy of Banalities

Photo courtesy of Banalities

1. Try not to talk to anyone you don’t know. And for goodness sake don’t look at them.

You’ll notice we don’t really talk to strangers, especially on buses, in the Underground, in queues (and we love queueing by the way), in fact anywhere.

You’ll notice we also avoid eye contact with strangers too.

How we ever came to have the largest Empire in history without talking to strangers or looking at them remains one of life’s great mysteries!

2. If you have to talk to a stranger, talk about the weather.

We get a lot of weather in London, you might have noticed some of it blowing your maps to shreds (ah, the smug joy of doing my London audio guides).

So we moan about it - if it’s warm we say the rain must be on its way.

If it’s cold we say it’s going to get colder.

If it’s brightening up we laugh knowingly and say “ah, the calm before the storm.” Get the picture?


3. Walk fast - everywhere

It’s probably something to do with the weather being a bit wet, but we all do it, we all walk fast.

Americans have commented on it (along with our teeth which they say are terrible - what’s wrong with wooden teeth for goodness sake?) and they think we walk too fast and rather aggressively.

So to blend in with us locals, head down, grit your teeth, put your shoulder to the wheel and your nose to the grindstone, and head off on to the streets - quickly!


4. Apologise - when it’s not your fault

 In London you might have noticed that if you accidentally bump into someone they will apologise.

Odd I know.

What are they apologising for? For being in your way when you veered into them? For breathing? No one has ever found out… they were probably too busy apologising.

So, a subtle but useful title tip here - always apologise, for everything, even if it’s someone else’s fault.  Especially if it’s someone else’s fault.

 


5. Stand on the right on the Underground Escalators.

To us Brits it’s instinctive - we drive on the left, so we stand on the right.

But hug that right side on the escalator and you’ll be safe, out the path of the rushing hoards who need to be at the top (or the bottom) 11 precious seconds before you.

Look at the poor unknowing visitors that stand on the left, blissfully ignorant of the purple faced, apoplectic commuters that they’re holding back. But not you. You've read my tips. You’re a local now.

 


6. Let people off first when boarding buses and tubes.

Always let the passengers off first. Then, allow your fellow passengers to board the bus or tube before you with a deferential gesture and a mumbled “After You.”

If however you try this with another Brit, they will gesture and mumble the offer back at you. Hold your nerve. Offer it back.

At this point the train or bus will have moved off and you’ll both be left waiting for the next one...

 


7. Talk Fast  

A common observation is that Brits, and Londoners in particular, talk very quickly. Do we? D’wee?

If someone talks very fast at you just shrug your shoulders, smile and nod.

If you try and start talking quickly back at them, without years of practice, you’ll go down in flames.

So just shrug, smile and nod - you’ll be fine.


8. Don’t be surprised by eccentrics - don’t stare.  

I once had to pose for a magazine. I had to strip to the waist and chocolate sauce was poured over me. Chocolates were fixed into my hair and dark eye make up was liberally applied to my face. I looked like a Raccoon in a chocolate vat.

At the end of the shoot I had to walk to a salon down a busy London street to get all this stuff removed. No one so much as glanced my way. Not even a sneaky peek. Nothing.

If you notice anything odd while you’re here just ignore it. We will.


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9. Ingratiate yourself…  

...to anyone who serves you in a café or restaurant. It’s a very British thing to do.

Use lots of Pleases and Thank You’s, even if they spill the soup in your lap.

Actually an accident like that demands an apology - from you! (See point 4 above).

We think that if we grovel it will make them like us and give us better service - they won't, on both counts.


10. The Weekend starts now!

If it’s Friday afternoon head for a pub at about 3pm. For working Londoners the weekend starts now!

You’ll find pubs heaving, people standing on the street chatting. Laughing. And of course, drinking responsibly which is what I very politely advise any readers of this blog to do.

In fact Londoners will be doing everything we said they don’t because really, if you’re a real Brit, a real Londoner, you’re just a lovely person like anyone else!


Now this will sound very un-Brit like, but please do let me know how you get on with my tried and tested tips – just leave a comment below. And if you fancy exploring more of London, have a look at my very British London audio tours: interesting London walks with captivating commentary.

 

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