How to London Like a Local and Melt Into the Crowd
London is one of the most visited cities in the world (if not the most visited city). At any given time, it seems there are hoards of tourists milling around the city.
Some of these tourists really stand out. Their loud, their obnoxious, they fill the pavements with their slow wandering and incite the ire of those who call the city home.
Londoners have a very specific way of behaving, often contrary to those who live a mere stone throw out of the city.
It’s pretty easy to look like a tourist in the UK capital, even if you’re trying your best not to stick out like a sore thumb.
I am not from London originally, but I did spend a few years living in the city. During this time I was able to observe how locals behaved and quickly adopt their ways, lest I stand out like a sore thumb.
So, here are some tips on how to London like a local, aimed to help you to blend in with the crowd – whether you’ve just moved to the city or are visiting.
Jaywalk at every available opportunity
Everyone in London is in a rush, whether it be to work, home, an event or simply to meet friends for drinks. I’ve seen grown men thrown tantrums because they’ve missed the Tube by three seconds (never mind that the next one is two minutes away).
Naturally, locals won’t let silly, harmless things like “oncoming traffic” hold them up for any length of time. So, you’ll often find people rushing across roads, or crossings, even when there are cars, motorbikes or even buses hurtling at breakneck speed towards them.
I’m not saying that this is a thing that you should do, particularly if you value your life. Just that everyone does it.
Swap your daily water intake for wine or beer
Social activities in London are geared heavily towards drinking. Alcohol is used to celebrate, or commiserate every occasion.
Come Friday every street corner is guaranteed to be packed out with people drinking at the pub after work on Friday. Or in the summer, any day of the week.
Unlike my home city of Sydney, public transport is somewhat reliable in London, clubs stay open late and corner stores are not forced to close at 10pm.
So, residents are free to hit the sauce as hard as they want, whenever they want. This is a freedom that most people seize upon, eagerly.
I have actual concerns about the state of my liver, after spending two years living here.
Adopt the “London pace” and get irrationally angry whenever those walking in front of you fail to keep to it
London is a busy, busy place. London is also full of people. The city is crammed full to the bursting, with residents and tourists alike. So, you may be in a hurry to get somewhere, but your path there is guaranteed to be filled with obstacles… in the form of the slow-moving people in front of you.
I don’t know why people like to spread out across the pavement and walk at the pace of a snail. Nor do I know why they insist on walking while staring at the screen of their phone, seeming surprised when they nearly plough straight into you.
Yet, it’s what people do and they’ll do it to you. You don’t need to get violent or angry, as a passive aggressive “excuse me” will do just fine.
However – if you fail to keep to the right when standing on an Underground escalator… God help you.
Make disparaging remarks about friends living south of the river
I lived south of the river for almost two years. I like it there. It’s quiet and rent is cheap(ish). Yet, most people mistakenly seem to think that north, or particularly east London is where it’s at.
As such, your friends who live north of the river will not understand why you’re reluctant to journey for an hour and a half (after your train gets cancelled) to meet them for a one hour lunch date.
And if you make plans in your neck of the woods, they’ll joke about having to find their passport, before they can travel across the river to meet you.
Just remember that they pay close to a grand (or more) a month for their tiny bedroom, while you have a flat with a garden. Peckham over Hackney any day, thank you very much!
Fail to have your finger on the pulse and end up queueing up for everything
There’s always something happening in London. As such, it’s really hard to stay abreast of everything. New restaurants, gigs, art exhibitions, plays… try as you may, you can’t go, do or see everything.
I find out about a lot of things via social media, which is good and bad. Good, because I’m aware. Bad, because it’s usually around the time that everyone else is, too. So, I will instantly want to go, see, do or eat said thing, along with most others within the city.
This has led to much time spent queueing, lest I suffer from the fear of missing out. Oh well. No regrets, yeah?
To be totally honest, the queues are only worth it if the thing you’re lining up for doesn’t cost you a penny. Here’s a list of free things you can do in London.
Pay an upsetting amount of money to live in a room the size of a cardboard box
London is notoriously expensive. If you’re not spending at least a third, or even half of your pay on rent, you’re a very lucky person indeed.
What’s most infuriating is that it’s near impossible to get bang for your buck in this city. You’ll find yourself paying hundreds of pounds a month (plus utilities) for a scabby house somewhere that may or may not have a shared living room.
Do not pronounce street and borough names phonetically
This a rookie error that most newcomers to the United Kingdom will make. The English have a barmy way of pronouncing various names of their towns, villages and boroughs. Yet, we are speaking their language after all (even you Americans, with your crazy spellings), so we must adhere to their rules.
Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Southwark – Suth-uck
Marylebone – Marl-e-bone
Leicester – Less-ster
Ruislip – Rice-lip
And for goodness sake, don’t ever talk about your pants, of any description, in public.
Avoid colour in the colder seasons
Winter in London can be quite bleak, aided greatly by the fact that Londoners tend to eschew all colour, of any description. They’ll embrace whacky patterning and fluro yellows in the summer months, swapping them out for black and grey coats WHEN THE COLOUR IS ACTUALLY NEEDED AND WOULD GO FAR IN HELPING TO LIFT EVERYONE’S SPIRITS.
It makes zero sense, but that’s just the way that things are done here. And I do like my black coat a lot. I guess.
Completely abuse your health
When you move to London, you are given two choices.
You can choose to make the most of your time here and embrace every consequence that comes with this decision.
The long working hours. The weekend trips to the continent. The wild Friday nights at the pub. The alcohol that gets served with every meal. The 3am curries on the way back to your flat. The coffee addiction and ten kilogram weight gain that comes part and parcel with life in this city.
Or, you can choose to take care of your health. You can shop at the exorbitantly priced farmer’s markets with their somewhat disappointing selection of produce (not much is grown in England).
You can go to the gym, rather than the pub every evening after work. You can get up at 7am on a Saturday morning to make your way to yoga. You can stick to herbal tea. You can sleep a full eight hours every night and even be in bed before midnight.
However and listen carefully here, because this is important. You can’t have both.
Either you accept that you’re here for a good time, not a long time and suffer the consequences when you move elsewhere. Or you actually choose to take care of your body, while acknowledging that you’re not fully capitalising on your time here.
Make you decision, make your peace with said decision and act accordingly.
Never make eye contact with anyone. Ever.
Not on the Tube, not on the street. It genuinely makes people uncomfortable.
It’s strange, because eight million people live in this city. Yet, it can be one of the loneliest places to be, if you are truly craving human interaction.
Find your crew and find them fast. They’ll guarantee your survival here.
At the first sign of sunshine, head straight to the local park or pub
It took a long time for me to see the sense in heading to the pub when the sun comes out. Wouldn’t you want to be outside (not including beer gardens), preferably near the closest body of water? Yet, I understand now. Not only because that body of water is generally the Thames.
This is England after all and there’s no guarantee that the sun is going to stay out forever. So to celebrate, head to your nearest pub, to stand armpit to armpit with your fellow Londoners and celebrate with… yep! More drinking!
In all seriousness, there’s no place in the world like London. And there’s nothing worse than looking like a tourist. Just kidding, but it is fun to blend in.
Hopefully these slightly tongue-in-cheek tips will aid you in your quest to London like a local.
Best of the British to you!
How to Spend a Weekend in London
A Jam-Packed 6 Day Itinerary for London
19 Awesome Things to do in South East London
13 Quirky and Unusual Tours to do in London
What Not to Do When Visiting the UK
Pin me baby, one more time.