London is one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse cities in the world, with a variety of languages and accents to be heard in every bar, restaurant and shop, but that doesn’t mean you can seamlessly fit in. American accents tend to stand out simply because English ears have heard them so many times on movies and popular TV shows, but that doesn’t necessarily mean instant comprehension. One of the quickest ways to fit in and be understood is to leave off that “r” that tends to linger at the end of each word; “water”, for example, is pronounced a little more like “wahtah” and learning that simple little quirk will take minutes off your order in a restaurant and potentially years off your life and that of your waiter! You don’t need to affect an English accent – that just sounds silly and patronising, but some effort to be understood will be both appreciated and make your life a little smoother.
The power of the word
On the other side of the coin, English people can get a surprisingly amount of entertainment from hearing you pronounce very simple words over and over again. The tomatoes, tomahtoes thing just seems to tickle their peculiar sense of humour time and again, while the US pronunciation of aluminium leaves them breathless with laughter. Obviously, it’s not considered pragmatic to charge per laugh, but it can make the difference between friends and free drinks and the uniquely English cold shoulder.
There are a few things that differ significantly from the other side of the pond, particularly in terms of service. Not only will you need to pack your own groceries at the supermarket, but even the fanciest of British pubs are unlikely to wait on you hand and foot. Take a table at one of London’s historical pubs and you could die of thirst waiting for someone to take your order. Rather, head to the bar, put your order in and wait for your drink – but at least self-service means you don’t have to worry too much about tipping!
If you’re exploring London for the first time, it’s a good idea to find accommodation in the centre of the city, making access to the top tourist attractions that much easier. Hotels near Finsbury Square are perfectly situated for those wanting to take in those must-see sights, like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Hop on the London Underground at Moorgate Underground Station and you’ll reach Bank station in the blink of an eye from where you can stroll along the River Thames and explore some of the tourist hot-spots of the area, before heading to the London Eye for a bird’s eye view over the city.
Among the hotels in the Finsbury Square area, the Montcalm Royal London House offers deliciously comfortable rooms, state-of-the-art facilities as well as a fabulous spa and a rooftop bar from where you can gaze across London’s famous skyline while sipping on a tasty cocktail. You’ll also be just a stone’s throw from some of the city’s top markets, such as Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields. Historically, Brick Lane has offered bargain prices at its typical flea market but, in recent years, it’s experienced something of a facelift with the introduction of stalls selling hand-sewn clothes, arts and crafts, not to mention an array of delicious street foods. If that doesn’t really rock your boat, then the Old Spitalfields Market will. Built in 1876, this exquisite building is one of the city’s remaining Victorian Market Halls where you can enjoy gastronomic delights from all over the world, as well as quirkily designed clothing, artisan breads and handmade wooden toys.
Pounding the streets
While the Brexit vote might have been bad news for some, it’s had a favourable effect for Americans with the British pound slumping to an all-time low in 2016. The pound may have gained some ground since then, but the exchange rate is still leaning in favour of Americans travelling to the UK which means your money will go a lot further than you might expect. Keep an eye on conversion rates and make sure you use a credit card that refrains from charging exorbitant international fees to make the most of your dollar.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the traffic coming in the wrong direction and on the wrong side of the road, especially if you’re brave enough to take the wheel yourself. You might wonder why on earth the British insist on travelling on the wrong side of the road and, to be honest, so do many English people. Apparently, it dates back to the 18th century when aristocrats in France journeyed on the left-hand side of the road, while peasants were forced to use the right. The French may have evolved to using the right of the highway, but the British have stuck to their guns and its unlikely to change anytime in the future.
The Queen’s English
Some visitors to Old Blighty are under the rather mysterious notion that, being as we live in such a small country, we not only all know each other but are also on nodding terms with the Queen. While it’s a lovely idea, it’s far from the truth. After all, with a population of around 65 million, the royal family would have to have a lot of tea cups for us all to enjoy a cuppa with the Queen.
You may find London is a little more foreign than you expected but, don’t forget, the British actually do like Americans, even if they are a little sceptical about your latest choice in leaders. Stray off the beaten tourist path and head into some of the London niches that the locals love, and you’ll receive a warm welcome and discover things about the city and its inhabitants that you may never have expected.