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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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About prettyfeetpoptoe

I live in London and have both my own legs so I am fortunate enough to get out and about on occasion. I form many views on the things that I see and do and love nothing better than a session of linguistic gymnastics in order to share these views.

48 responses »

  1. I hate London! I used to pray that a rabied slug would eat me on the way to work. Much like most major cities the majority of its residents are rude, obnoxious, dismissive and wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire! That being said, I still prefer London to New York, and when I say prefer I actually mean despise. Another fine blog tho pop toe!!

    Reply
  2. I loved London when I was there, and I’m proud to say that I (mostly) abided by the rules you set out here. Having lived in touristy places before (Orlando, Florida being the most notorious), I know what you mean by both loving and hating visitors. Two halves of the same coin I suppose. Thanks for a hilarious read from a native! I enjoyed it!

    Reply
  3. I CAN NOT GET MY ASS OVER TO YOUR COUNTRY FAST ENOUGH! The only thing holding me back is money. And unfortunately for you and your countrymen you’ll be stuck with one wacky ass Yank amongst you. I ain’t leavin’ once I get there. I already have a job idea in the plan, the car I’m going to drive and where I want to live. I even know what baggage I’m hauling with me. I LURV Great Britain! And I don’t want to intervene in anyone’s daily life. I want to just blend in. The only thing that will give me away as being an outsider is my Yankee accent. So I’ll just smile alot and nod my head.

    Love the dude in the Daisy Dukes up there. Sexy.

    Reply
    • With that attitude, you will go very far. I’m assuming that since you have your Brit-loving heart set on a car, you’re not planning on living in Londinium. Why would you want a car when there’s hours of fun to be had on the tube?!

      The chap in those hot pants is my new fashion icon.

      Reply
      • I’m not a city grown girl. London might be a little overwhelming for me. I’ve ridden the tube in NYC. They can be fun, but I may be claustrophobic. I know I’ll adore the shopping and the views, the restaurants, the landmarks…etc…but I’m a country girl. I need to live amongst the lakes and wood! So I’ll need a car. I won’t mind the queue on the motorways. Hate to be one more to the load, but I’ll try not to be one of those doing 30 in the fast lane!

        Reply
        • Well, we have lots of lovely green and something I seem to remember being called “fresh air” in England, just outside the borders of London.

          Confession time: I actually grew up in the country too but if you cut me, I bleed concrete.

          Reply
  4. I think you have the gift of watching the world go by, seeing both the bad and the good, and being able to address both sides of the scenery. Your take on tourists is reminiscent of Orlando, from where I originate my own blog. Most of us locals shy away from the tourist areas, for the same reasons you cite in your post. As my surname is Lowell, through some research I found that my family is descended from Edward I, Longshanks. A couple of years ago I was paired up with a gentleman named Bill Wallace. I asked him if he was descended from William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and he said he was. My response was, “Boy, do I have a story for you!” I find your telling of life’s story to be quite refreshing, and I look forward to each post. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Sigh, as a fellow Londoner, all this is too uncomfortably close to the bone for me. I liken myself to a super-hero without the super powers: By workday, I’m James the workaday cheekie chappie who makes his way in the world today. As you may realise, it takes everything I’ve got. Taking a break from all my worries, sure would help a lot. So by holiday, I’m Mr. James, wide-eyed innocent drinking in the familiar and not-so familar landmarks and sites of London. Because all too often, we residents ignore what great treasures we have right in front of our noses so it helps to stop from time to time to smell the roses. Especially at Kew Gardens! Actually, my favourite tourist joke from the botanical garden was when a ‘bonafide’ visitor to the country wondered why the garden was built under the flight path to Heathrow airport! Tourists. Gotta love ’em. Many don’t!

    Reply
    • It really is a treat, isn’t it, to play tourist on your home turf? Especially when you know about all the secret doors and tunnels that avoid the crowds… whoops, I’ve said too much!

      Reply
  6. That man looks like me walking back from work tonight! For some reason my shorts rode right up my arse crack and i just kept on walking with my back pack on both shoulders!

    Reply
    • Cheeky!

      I’m both horrified and intrigued. Is this a new fashion trend we’re going to have to get used to the year? If so, can I start a fashion trend for wearing a blindfold?

      Reply
  7. The exact same advice works for New York.

    Reply
  8. The guy in the pic looks like Lt. Dangle. From Reno 911.

    Reply
  9. Haven’t been to London yet. But in my travels I have met rude people everywhere.

    I especially enjoyed your London vocab…

    luscious Londinium
    Londonites
    all things Londonesque
    Londony existence
    Londonista friends

    If I use these expressions will I sound like a local?

    Reply
    • It’s true, rude people and lovely people are all over the place. It would be much nicer to have all the nasty ones rounded up and kept in one place. Some would argue that this has happened already and that place is London!

      Feel free to use those word. Everyone here uses them – honest!

      Reply
  10. Want to set up a tourist police? When I was in Thailand they had tourist police but I think they were there to help tourists/pervy old men who had been ripped off by someone in a bar. My tourist police force would be very heavy handed and authoritarian.

    Reply
    • Brilliant idea! My first task would be to alert tourists to the fact that those “Scottish” Steak Houses don’t actually sell real food and my second that they should never, ever wear the socks, sandals, shorts, bumbag combo.

      Reply
      • I’ll contact the Tower of London and see if they have any stocks/dungeons which can be utilised. The benefit of that is most tourists will already be there sightseeing anyway.

        Reply
  11. (0.o) . You must be kidding me ,I mean it’s one thing to be ignorant of things you aren’t involved in but you guys totally colonised India and as such mist have some Idea that London ( as you’ve described it ) is nothing short of a walk in the park .
    Let’s take you for example as an average moron from London .If you were to walk 500 meters in ANY decently crowded Indian city ( them being all around ) you wouldn’t make it a couple of hundred meters without feeling completely violated and maybe even looted and run over by your average driver.

    Reply
    • I’ve been to India. I came out of it just fine, thank you.

      My piece wasn’t trying to paint London as the most chaotic and hostile place and I didn’t realise there was a competition for that. I think London is wonderful and I hope people who visit here leave with the same sentiment.

      Oh, and “average moron” – Really?

      Reply
      • Oh, those are harsh words! “average moron. Look who’s talking!?

        London is a classy city! Unlike India. All cities have their issues, but compare it to India? Pleeeease……

        And get out of the past! Geez…just like the southerners in the states still living the Civil War.

        Reply
      • shucks woman….. if there’s one thing I hate it’s people taking me seriously when I’m trying to be anything but .
        ….and that’s to you too ryoko .
        also ,I use moron more or less like how I’d use a hello. *sigh*

        Reply
        • I guess sometimes something intended as humour gets lost in written form. Something you might say to someone you know intimately face to face doesn’t always translate to blog comments.

          I know you always intend to be taken with a pinch of salt but today was a little harsh. Just tell me you love me and we’ll say no more about it. 🙂

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          • I read it again and I realize that I might’ve been in a bit of a hurry and didn’t give it as much thought as I should have ,I wasn’t calling Londoners bad at navigating crowds or comparing in any way ,the point I was trying to make is that for all your jokes about people not having time for touristy bs ,there are places where people have even less patience for that sort of thing.As for the joke about the colonization it came from this pic http://tinyurl.com/7mgn44c . my bad.

            *bearhug* and much lou! 😀

            Reply
  12. As a photographic artist I would like to borrow you for a streak of blonde hair and a dash of red lippy. When are you free?

    Reply
    • Rush hour and when I’m late for social engagements seem to be the best times. For samples of my “modelling”, just check any Japanese tourist’s film from the day they visited the Tower of London

      Reply
  13. Missy Amber

    http://improveverywhere.com/2010/06/08/the-tourist-lane/

    I think you will appreciate the sentiment here. Perhaps something to suggest to Boris next time you take tea together?

    Reply
    • Missy Amber

      p.s. Especially loving the little bit of dialogue:

      “excuse me, are you a tourist?”
      “uh, yeah” *looks sheepish*
      “no, don’t worry about it. I don’t have a gun today.”

      Reply
    • This is absolute genius!

      You may joke but I have a lovely photo of myself with Boris at a masked ball at the Natural History Museum. *coughnamedropcough*

      Reply
  14. Haven’t been to London yet, but do want to go. I found Paris to be much the way you described your town, and loved every minute of it. Part of the great thing about visiting another place in the world is that you get the local flavor, so it’s best not to try to screw it up by being a doofus. Having lived and/or worked in some of America’s most magnetic cities as well, I wholeheartedly support your list of suggestions! I’ll keep them in mind when I visit.

    Reply
    • It’s true, Parisians get the same bad rap as Londoners but I love visiting that city.

      I think I could have cut my post short if I had just gone with your line “try not to screw it up by being a doofus”. Nail hit firmly on the head! 🙂

      Reply
  15. Diego Serrano

    Prior to my first trip, I researched how not to appear so ‘touristy’.
    Leaving my white sneakers, cargo shorts and fanny pack safely in Phoenix, I set out for London.
    It didn’t work.
    Londoners have a sixth sense for tourists, it’s as though you can pick up our scent from a mile away.
    My next trip will be much better thanks to your post.
    I plan on behaving similarly to how Otto did in “A fish called Wanda.”
    Maybe even change my name from Serrano to Manfredjensen.

    Reply
    • It’s true, we can smell you from 500 meters away just like a dog can smell heroin in an airport baggage hall.

      Otto is a shining example to all tourists. Example of what, I’m not quite sure.

      Reply
  16. I don’t care where you are from or where you are visiting. No one should look like that man in the photo. Those shorts on a guy…………yuck.
    I’ve never been to London, but would love to go one day.

    Reply
    • Those shorts really are something else, aren’t they? I like to think that he lost his luggage and had to wear his wife’s clothes on the way to the shop but I’m afraid to say that my own father used to wear shorts just as revealing… and roll them up.

      Reply
  17. I don’t live in London but I do like it. It’s so old that there are meandering alleys and wonky roads going all over the place. You can walk round a corner and come upon a mini village.

    That man in the photo is creepy though. I reckon his rucksack has all kinds of kinky implements in it.

    Reply

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