Mind the Gap: What to Expect on Your First Trip to London, England

So, you’re headed to London, England for the first time. How different can it be? It’s an English speaking country, so you’re off the hook there. It’s completely Westernized, so you’ll find plenty of Burger Kings and the like (but expect a different menu!) and there’ll be plenty of folks with their eyes and ears glued to the all-familiar cell phone. So what do you need to know, really?

First off, move it or lose it! Londoners are busy people, and there’s a LOT of ‘em! Go with the flow, meaning speed, of pedestrian traffic or get the heck out of the way. Whether you’re on a crowded sidewalk, in a bustling Tube Station or (God forbid) you’re going to attempt renting a car, be prepared to at least PRETEND you know where you’re going and pick up the pace. Do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk to look at your map–move to the side. On the escalator, standing is to the right, walking is to the left. The Brits are inherently polite people, so you most likely won’t hear anyone grumbling, but trust me, they’ll be thinking it.

Familiarize yourself with the British Pound. The United Kingdom has fiercely held on to it by refusing the Euro, so you will do well to know the differences in their currency. This includes all the denominations of coins in all of their variable sizes-1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p and the one pound coin–you will use them all for just about everything (including the toilet). The paper money (called Notes) are beautiful and brightly colored, so those are easy to start with. And remember: the exchange rate changes DAILY, but you can expect the average exchange to be 1 Pound = $1.65.

Finally, be prepared to ‘queue up’ or, wait in line. Those of us who live in overpopulated, big cities may already be used to this but we must remember that The United Kingdom is actually a tiny island, and its inhabitants adapted to overcrowding hundreds of years before we ever came along so get used to it! Waiting in the queue is an excellent time to sort out your tube/street map, decide on the evenings’ entertainment or simply chat up a local.

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