Moving to a new city can be a stressful event, and it is only natural that it will take some time to fully get the hang of what it is like to be a local. London, with its vibrant and diverse cultural scene, is no exception to having rules of its own. Here are my six tips and tricks that will help you blend in with the city and avoid some understandable social mistakes.
A bizarre way to say hello
You will notice that your British acquaintances will often pass you asking “You OK?” or “You alright?”
Stay calm – there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, it is just their way of saying “hello”! You’re not expected to respond with details of how your day is coming along so far, even if it is tempting to do so 😉
Always have your ticket/contactless card/Oyster card ready before you reach the entry barriers with the tapping machines. By doing this you will avoid frantically looking for it and stopping the natural flow of commuters during busy hours. Londoners hate to wait while in transit!
The city’s most sacrosanct code is: don’t stand on the left side of the escalators! The right side is reserved for standing and the left for those who want to overtake by walking. Follow this simple rule and you will save yourself from passive-aggressive stares from your fellow commuters.
Unlike in the rom-coms you might have seen growing up, sadly there is a not much room for serendipity on the tube. Londoners are very polite, however they love to keep to themselves, and travel on the tube is everyone’s “me” time. So don’t be surprised if your attempt at a smile or conversation with a stranger comes across as awkward at best, or is looked down upon at worst!
Don’t ignore a queue if you see one
Whether it’s a pub, a grocery store, or a line to enter a club, Londoners like and respect the queue! Make sure you patiently wait your turn and if you respect people’s personal space no one will be able to tell you are not from here.
Three seasons in one
The most memed fact about London is the weather! Unfortunately, what you’ve heard is largely true – it is highly unpredictable most times of the year, so consider it a safe bet to pack both your sunglasses and umbrella when you leave the house in the morning.
If you don’t own an umbrella, do invest in a small, lightweight model to keep with you. You will find it most useful as, while the rain never stays long in London, it can creep up on you very unexpectedly!
In fact, my advice is to make it a habit to put your weather app on notifications/alert mode so you are warned in advance of any weather surprises during the day.
Sunny days are fun days
Make the most out of the sunny days – there is nothing better than making your way to a local park for a picnic with friends.
The parks in London are by far some of the best in Europe and can serve as beautiful settings for a fun, affordable and inspiring activity on the weekends. Some of the top ones for me are Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park and Greenwich Park.
The power of postcodes
When using navigation apps, cab apps or delivery apps, make sure to follow the location’s postcode rather than the street address. London has very precise postcode recognition; however once you arrive you will need to be sure you have the right house. Postcodes are assigned to streets that will have many houses and flats.
I hope these six insights will help you to avoid some awkward social interactions in your first weeks and make the most of your whole time in London, picking up a few – peculiar to the foreign eye but charming in their own way – London customs and unspoken rules.
Written by Keerti Kataria, MSc in Marketing & Creativity, Class of 2023