Wandering around London, alone, amidst crowds of families, strangers, losers, businessmen and lepers, I learnt a bit about how to fit in. The irony of that last sentence is that I’ve never quite learnt how to fit in at home. But here, lost in the crowds bumping shoulders with thousands of strangers, I find a way to quietly assimilate to the expectations of local society. Let me ‘splain.
1. Don’t carry around a paper map. Instead, hunt and peck on the map on your phone. You’ll look just like the local texting his or her mate to meet up for drinks later. Only tourists use a paper map.
2. Purchase your souvenirs at the end of the day, not at the start. Nothing shouts tourist like carrying around a bag full of “I LOVE LONDON bracelets” and “My mom went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” (P.S. Family and friends, you’ll be receiving these shortly.)
3. If you find yourself unsure which way to go next, stop and ponder a menu outside a restaurant. This gives the illusion you’re considering a place to eat whilst giving you the opportunity to check the location of the sun and triangulate your next move.
4. Dress like you were going to your local coffee shop. I know you think you’re going to be walking a bunch and want to wear your white sneakers, but leave the stark white shoes at the hotel. You’re not actually walking a marathon. Be comfortable but sensible. Take breaks as needed. See #3.
5. Don’t try to speak like the locals. This can seem counter-intuitive but trust me; faking any accent will only get you in trouble. I consider myself pretty versed at English and pride myself at my “soft American Accent” but the truth is: I usually keep my mouth shut unless I have something useful to say. Also? This can be good advice at home as well. (Also: I’m lying. I often say random crap that sounds ridiculous but look, that isn’t good advice so we’ll work on this together.) (Also, I find myself randomly saying, “I’d like a nice cuppa tea” and finishing sentences with “init” so I’m speaking from experience.)
6. Walk with purpose. Go from one local to another with purpose. You can take your time and ponder the surroundings but walk like you know what you’re doing, even when you have zero idea of where you’re going. Peck at your phone-map and stop at a menu if needed but zig-zagging from intersection to intersection gives the illusion of someone unsure of what they’re doing. Even if you are.
7. LOOK RIGHT. In London (the UK in general) cross the street looking RIGHT first. Your natural instinct to look left is wrong. If you look right first, you appear to have grown up in a place, the only place, where cars hit people who look left.
8. Walk on the left, stand on the right. If you’re heading to the tube, follow the lead of locals and stand on the right of the escalator and walk on the left. Only a stupid American would stand on the left. Or middle.
9. Don’t stand on the escalators. See #8 and just walk up and down the stairs. Unless you’re on your phone-map trying to figure out what to do next. That’s legit. (You’re totally texting your mate to meet you for a pint later so everyone gets it.)
10. Use a knife and fork properly. Don’t shovel your food with your fork in your right hand. Use a knife and fork the way Europeans do. Knife in your right hand, fork in your left. It’s easier, you look dainty, and nobody will yell, “FAT AMERICAN” when you stab at the amazing piece of lamb you ordered because you can’t order that in the states and not get sued. (Editors note; Ohymygod baby animals taste so goooood.)
(More pics here: On Flickr)