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Daily Archives: 04/01/2012

The Tourist’s Guide To Surviving London

European tourist in Washington, D.C.

"How did you guess I wasn't local?"

London is, in my modestly humble yet awesome opinion, one of the most fabulous cities in the world. It is therefore no surprise that millions of tourists visit my luscious Londinium each year and it saddens me to hear that Londoners have a reputation for being unfriendly and hostile. I don’t find this to be true but then I’m biased because I’m smitten with the city and perhaps I am one of the reasons the reputation exists. I would like to impart some valuable advice to anyone visiting London in order for you to survive enjoy your stay and that advice doesn’t involve one single swear word or end in “back to your own country”. How incredibly friendly and welcoming of me?!

Firstly, I think tourists could benefit from appreciating where we Londonites are coming from. I’m not alone in my passionate love of London and all things Londonesque; almost everyone else who resides here, in spite of all our moaning and griping, would rather have a limb slowly chewed off by a rabid slug than live anywhere else, regardless of where we originated from. We may well whine about our wonderful capital but we’re allowed to and if you dare utter so much as one syllable of agreement to our negative musings or add your own suggestions to the mix, well, you will find yourself in for some fine examples of London’s fantastically unsavoury language. It’s like when you tell people how awful your parents are but woe betide any other being who dares critique your saintly mother’s signature trout and chocolate trifle! If you love London, we will love you. If you tell us London is too grey and chaotic (regardless of how true that may be), we will find new and inventive ways of hiding your “I heart London” hat about your person, where even airport security won’t be able to find it.

London has so much to see and do and we totally understand that you want to come and sample these delights at your leisure. The trouble is, we live here and we have places to be and people to do. Like the River Thames, we have our own grimy fast paced ebb and flow and we will savagely maul anyone who foolishly gets in the way of our fabulously fast-paced Londony existence – it’s nothing personal, it’s just how we survive. Think of us as well dressed salmon who will die unless we are continually throwing ourselves upstream and bashing tourists on rocks, er, I mean, bashing ourselves on rocks. We accept that without the tourists, London would be a very different (less affluent) city, but if you accidentally get in the way of our beautiful high-speed tidal dance, we will hurt you. Kidding! (I’m not kidding).

We don’t blame tourists for wanting to flock to the city’s major attractions, far from it, we sometimes break ranks and stop by to have a poke around them ourselves because they are truly worth a poke, just remember that these attractions are sometimes carelessly placed directly in the path of where we need to be in exactly 5 minutes time. I for one am rather glad that the major landmarks of London act as tourist magnets, it means that for the most part I can avoid them like the plague and don’t have to face scraping a Japanese snapper from the sole of my shoe when I’ve made it to my meeting by the skin of my teeth.

I am proud to welcome people to the place that I choose to call home and I ask that the eager tourist forgive the London resident their steely gaze and rushed manner. We don’t mean to be as grim as the weather, it’s just that we aren’t on holiday, we’ve seen all this before and we know how things should be run (there’s a secret rule book that you get issued with upon moving to the city. I would share the rules with you but there’s a rule about that).

If you find us miserable and grumpy in the street or on the tube, spare a minute and think back to how communicative you are on your way to work, pre-coffee and then add to that the fact a troupe of 30 giddy Spanish school children have unwittingly made you late for your doctor’s appointment and a bus load of Scottish grannies are stood directly between you and the door to your office while they try to remember who has the tickets to the museum that’s actually half way across town and you may be slightly more forgiving and appreciative of why tourists may not be our favourite species.

You may still think it really mean of us to harbour ill feeling towards tourists, after all, most of us are greatly travelled and have therefore also been a tourist at some point. It is my long held belief that being a tourist is much like being a learner driver; we were all one once but that doesn’t mean we don’t still get reeeeeally annoyed when there’s one in front of us.

If you’re contemplating a visit to The Big Smoke, there is really very little you can do to avoid being a tourist but you can avoid looking like one and this should cut down on the amount of hostility you generate. Here’s a few simple tips from me, to you. How friendly of me?!

1. Don’t carry a map
The first massive tell that you’re a tourist and not a local is the huge map and accompanying guide book you’re unfolding across the path of on-coming speeding pedestrians, who are praying for a strong gust of wind to take you and dump you in the elephant dung pile at London Zoo (nothing personal). Get yourself a handy little mappy thingy on a smart phone. This way, when you’re horribly lost you can whip out your iPhone and while working out where the chuff you are, pretend you’ve just received a text inviting you to a terribly cool secret gig in Camden. This can be achieved by looking at your phone and saying “oh look, an invite to a terribly cool secret gig in Camden!”
N.B. Related to this, only ask for directions if you have a sense of humour. I mean, most people see the funny side of asking the way to Covent Garden and ending up in Wales but some get so touchy about it. You can’t argue that Londoners don’t have a sense of humour!

2. Don’t stop moving
Only a suicide case or a tourist would dare alter the flow of human traffic in central London. Plan your route way in advance so you know exactly what direction you need to aim in and for the love of god, don’t stop for anything. If you get separated from your partner, if you drop your wallet, if you drop your toddler KEEP MOVING! They are lost to you now, forget you ever knew them. I’ve seen what happens to people who stall in the middle of the pavement and, well, let’s just say that the stampeding bulls of Pamplona WISH they were that brutal.

3. Dress to impress
If you’re in a large group or if your child is being sent to London as part of some school trip, please, I beg of you, invest in a disguise. Large groups are among the most despised of all tourist varieties as there is the potential for maximum getting-in-the-wayness so I suggest the entire group dresses up in gym shorts, trainers and pin numbers to their chests. Perhaps a few could dress as huge cuddly animals too. Instead of getting elbowed in the ribs, you will find Londoners standing aside to let you pass freely while cheering and offering you bottles of water.

4. Carry a spare shopping bag
This isn’t for picking up after people’s dogs, this is to disguise your shopping. Anyone carrying numerous yellow Selfridge’s bags or plastic bags with Hamley’s logos on them is so obviously a tourist and has clearly come from the over-crowded Oxford Street area. Londoners will instantly resent you because you have added to the vast congestion that stops us from congesting Oxford Street. Decant your shopping into your spare plain bag, adopt a mildly homicidal facial expression and you’ll pass for a local.

5. Become a photographic artist
Waving a camera around will let everyone know you’re a tourist and worse, that you’re about to stage a photo shoot across a major pathway so you can fit your uncle, 12 cousins, 7 children, wife, mistress and lawyer into the frame along with Big Ben. That’s fine, you can try, but I warn you now, you WILL end up with blurry shots of people’s heads. I used to be the sort of person to stand and wait for people to finish taking their snaps but it ended up taking me a whole month to walk across Tower Bridge so now there are hundreds of people all over the globe with a streak of blonde and a dash of red lippy in their pictures (if you’re one of them, you’re welcome!).  You may as well embrace it, pretend to be a photographic artist and approach an independent gallery about opening a “blurry heads of London” exhibition when you get home, or alternatively, take lots of random shots in the style of a hyperactive fashion photographer and later superimpose your loved ones’ heads onto the passing bodies you managed to snap. How terribly avant-garde!

If this hasn’t put you off visiting London (and I do hope you take this piece in the humorous tone with which it was intended – seriously, we are all actually very friendly), I hope you will come and visit and I know that you will make new Londonista friends who will be more than happy to help you make the most of your trip. Oh, except when the Olympics arrive. You’re toast then!

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