10 Ways to Look Less Foolish in London
Even though the US and England have much in common, they also have many differences that take some getting used to while in London.
One of my pillars of traveling abroad as a college tourist has been to be not afraid of looking stupid. Mistakes are going to happen and they can lead to funny stories to tell once you get back home. However, there is an important distinction between not being afraid to look stupid and doing it on purpose. Also, a major point of studying abroad is to immerse yourself in another culture. So in the spirit of immersing yourself into the similar, yet oh so different, English culture of London, here are ten useful ways to look a little bit less like an american idiot while visiting America’s old colonial overlord’s capitol.
1. Pronounce Words Correctly
It is going to be fairly clear that you are not English and instead an American college student. However, this doesn’t mean you should not make an effort to use the slightly different British vernacular. Though we both speak the English language there are numerous differences in the lingo. There are way too many examples of words that Brits and Americans pronounce differently, but here are a few examples that will help you sound a little less ignorant of the British way of speaking:
• Controversy: (con-TRAH-ver-see) They stress the second syllable instead of the first.
• Tottenham: (Tot-num) It is that simple.
• Leicester: (Less-ter OR Less-tah)
• Jaguar: (Jag-yu-ahr) I have to concede on this one, the way Americans say it, like jagwire, is odd.
• Aluminum: (Al-yu-min-ee-um) I think we have this right, while they spell it differently, aluminium, and add an extra “e” sound in there.
• Fulham: (Full-um) Similar to Tottenham.
• Southwark: (Suth-ick) There is no explaining this one, just go with it.
• Quay: (key) I know, its weird.
More: British Vocabulary: Words and Terms to Know Before You Study Abroad in England
2. DO NOT try to speak with an accent
I know I just outlined a few words to help you sound more British, but do not take it too far. This is probably the easiest way to look like an idiot. I know it might seem like fun to go around saying things like “‘Ello guvnah”, but just don’t. Londoners most likely won’t find it as funny. It also won’t fool them into thinking you are British.
It may be entirely possible that you are like me and sometimes slip into an slight accent on certain words if you are around people that have an accent. This is completely alright, my point is that it you will sound ridiculous if you try to go over the top with the accent.
3. Be almost overly polite
This is something that should be common sense when traveling in a foreign country, but it cannot be overstated especially for London. The old English mantra of “Manners maketh man (and woman)” may be a bit outdated but they are still heavily valued.
4. Embrace the EPL
The English Premier League, EPL, is England’s top football league and arguably the best in the world. It is at least the most entertaining or as Executive Chief of the EPL put it, “unscripted drama of the highest order”. You are most likely aware that the game we call soccer in America is called football in the UK. They will think less of you if you call it soccer. This is ironic because the term “soccer” comes from the early origins of the sport in England. It was originally called Association Football, which was shortened to soccer and used commonly in England until around 1980. So anyways just avoid an argument by calling it football or maybe footie if you want to be hip.
Unlike America where even a large city like New York has two NFL teams, London has five teams in the English Premier League and there are many more in the lower leagues. Just about every borough of London you visit has their own team. Learning a few team names and maybe even a player or two can really impress the locals.
5. Drink Tea
Even if a cup of tea is not your cup of tea, sorry I had to, at least give it a try. The first time I travelled to England was three years ago and I had yet to find tea anywhere near worth ordering or drinking in America. But I decided to give it a go, and tried English Breakfast tea and Earl Grey. That was the moment my caffeinated beverage preference changed forever. Since then I have gained an affinity for black tea in the morning or afternoon.
By drinking tea in the morning, and in the afternoon because why not, you will be partaking in something that the English have enjoyed for centuries. If you do stick with coffee, then ask for filter coffee and not drip coffee. They will also most likely ask you if you want black or white coffee. White coffee simply means coffee with added milk.
6. Add milk
Many Americans like to add milk to their coffee, and similarly many Brits enjoy their tea with milk. If you have yet to accept tea as your caffeine fix, trying a pot of Early Grey with a heaping spoonful of milk, or even heavy cream, might change that. Everywhere I ordered tea in London during my past visit brought out milk with the tea without me asking.
7. Keep to the left, but stand on the right
You will see many signs telling you keep to the left. These signs are simply there to tell you to walk on the left side of the walkway so you avoid congestion and those awkward situations where you and someone walking towards you do that thing where you both try to go one way but at the same time and accomplish nothing but feeling incredibly awkward.
Meanwhile the “stand on the right” signs are essential to not looking like an idiot while in London. When traveling up or down an escalator you should stand on the right. If you wish to walk up the escalator, then you may do so, but only on the left side. DO NOT stand on the left. I cannot stress this enough.
8. Know your route before setting out
This will help you look like less of a fool and also save you a lot of time wandering around the streets and tube stations. There are quite a few apps that make this incredibly simple and easy. My favorite is Citymapper, it worked wonders for me in London as well as many other major cities. It will map out your desired trip with correct underground stations and lines.
9. Its called the Tube/Underground, NOT the subway
Similar to calling football soccer, you will sound very American if you constantly refer to the Underground as a subway. If you do not want to call it the Underground every time, just shorten it to the tube. This leads me into the last, and quite important tip…
10. Overall Tube etiquette
The Underground really is the best way to get around London. It is less expensive than a cab, incredibly clean, and is pretty efficient. Just buy an Oyster card at any station and refill it with funds as necessary. But beware, there are rules…
• To avoid congestion, keep your Oyster card ready to go entering the tube station as well as exiting.
• Londoners rarely ever talk on the tube, it seems to be an unwritten rule to be as reserved as possible. If you must talk, keep it to a whisper.
• Contributing to the being reserved as possible point, people also do not really make eye contact while on the tube either.
• If your stop is within one or two stops, just stand by the door and let someone who is traveling further have a seat.