As many of you know I am a Philadelphia boy, born and raised. Wait, that’s the opening of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But it is true none the less. I have been living here in the UK for five and a half years now and spend a great deal of my time in London. I thought I might share some of the things that I have learned that may make your trip to Eroticon a tiny bit easier.
Let your bank and credit card company know that you are traveling to the UK, if you don’t you might have to make an expensive overseas call to get them to switch it back on again. Your card will work in ATM machines (called Cashpoints here) look for ATMs that say “Free Cash” or best of all a Bank ATM. You will get your best exchange rate at these. You have chosen a good time to come to the UK since the US dollar is currently very strong to the £ (pound). As of the time of writing the rate is $1.21= £1. A note on using cards in the UK, when/if you use a card to pay for your meal they should never take it out of your sight, they will bring a machine to your table, more on this in the food section.
Tax; Almost everything in the UK is taxed at 20%, this is included in the marked price so you don’t have to do any mental gymnastics to work out what things really cost. Keep all of your receipts on things you plan to take back because you may be able to claim back this 20% when you are at the airport ready to fly back home.
The notes are £20, £10, £5, there is no £1 note. The coins are £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p
Getting Around London
London is an amazing city with something interesting to see almost anywhere you go, but is an old city that was not planned in any way, shape, or form. It is extremely easy to get lost, in no small part because the street signage sucks. Often the street sign is on the side of the building in the middle of a block (and calling them blocks is a real stretch because streets meander like the builders followed a drunk) but don’t panic, the people of London are used to lost tourists. You can buy a London A-Z, or use your GPS if you get a UK SIM or enable international roaming. There will be more on this in the technology section. A useful feature they have added is that if you cross the street there will be a handy guide( (painted on the floor) this was edited by a Brit and yes they will call the ground outside the floor) to tell you which way you look before you cross.
Oh, and be wary of just crossing when everyone one else does, Londoners jaywalk and it is perfectly legal, if not very safe until you know the rules. Be alert!
Never call it a Subway because that is something completely different and will only confuse Brits, it is excellent and you will get to hear the famous “Mind the Gap” warning. (There’s actually a very romantic story behind the oldest ‘Mind the Gap’ recording)
There are a variety of methods to pay for the Tube, but I suggest getting an Oyster card. It costs £5 to buy the card and you will need to put money on it to travel, but you can turn it back in and get your £5 back (as well as any money that is left over on the card) there are other methods of paying like buying a day ticket, but the Oyster card is the easiest. It is also needed if you plan to use the bus which depending on where you want to go you might need as the Tube doesn’t go everywhere.
The Tube journey is charged based on how far you are traveling within these vague areas known as Zones. Londoners pretend to know where these zones cover but after all my time here I still don’t know. You can top up (add more money) to your Oyster card at any tube station. One final note on the Tube, you place your Oyster card on the round yellow reader at the gate to get through, but you MUST remember to do the same when you exit the Tube. In most stations this is very obvious as the gate won’t let you out if you don’t but some stations don’t have a gate, just a reader hidden off to the side, if you forget to swipe out the next time you swipe in it will deduct a rather large sum of money for losing at this game.
The bus is a flat fee (£1.50) no matter how far you travel on that bus, but there is no such thing as a bus transfer. However, recently London introduced the ‘Hopper’ fare, which means that you can get two buses for the price of one – as long as you board your second bus within an hour of paying for the first one. So for example: you hop on the number 25 bus at 2:30pm, travel for 40 minutes, then hop off and onto another bus at 3:25 – you still tap your Oyster card when you get on the second bus, but because it’s within an hour of your first payment, you won’t be charged again.
On most buses you get on at the front and exit at the doors in the middle. If you try to get on at the middle doors, the driver might be a bit annoyed! The only exception to this is the Routemaster buses, of which there are a few, where you can get on at any door.
If you have seen any movie set in London you will recognize these instantly. If you hail a cab and something pulls over that isn’t a Black Cab, do NOT get in, only Black Cabs are licensed to be hailed from the street. A note, while they are called Black Cabs, they are not all black, but they are of the same style. Black cabs are expensive, and they have tiered fares – you’ll pay more if you’re getting a cab late at night or on a Sunday, or at rush hour.
You can save money on cabs by using Uber (there are plenty of Uber drivers in London) or if you’d like to get a licensed minicab, you can go to a cab office and book one from there. But as above, do not ever hail these from the street. They should NOT stop for you on the street, they should only be booked from a licensed office or over the phone. If you do this, always make sure you ask beforehand how much the fare will be. They’ll give you an estimate, so you know roughly how much it should cost.
Food and Drink
Hey, you’ve come all the way to the UK, it would be silly not to visit a Pub. And you should, but you should also know something about how Pubs work. Most Pubs serve food, but the wait staff don’t come to the table and take your order, no matter how long you wait. You have to order and pay at the bar, note your table number before you order or you might get a passive-aggressive sigh. Since the bar staff have to take your food and drink order as well as keeping Nigel and all of his mates glasses full you should have also decided on what you want to have well before approaching. Pub food isn’t really the best of dining, but it should be experienced. I wouldn’t suggest the burgers, you will find them very expensive and always overcooked.
There are many excellent restaurants in London catering to every food and diet. An important difference from the US would be that they will never bring you the bill until you ask for it. It is very common for people to linger and talk after dinner and it is considered very rude to imply that you should leave by bringing you the bill. A word about tips and service charges, many (but not all) establishments have started adding a service charge for the bill so check that before you leave a tip, because otherwise you are tipping twice.
Tipping is not the same as in the US in general all the staff are paid a far higher wage than in the US and everyone in the UK has free healthcare. So a gratuity is just that, to show that you a grateful for the level of service you have received and if you tip the US standard of 20% they would think you were wealthy, but no one will bat an eye if you leave no tip at all. However most people will leave something – usually 10-15%. It is not expected to tip bar staff in a pub though, unless they’ve gone way above and beyond, in which case you’d say “have one yourself” and they’ll add a few quid (pounds) to your bill, then buy themselves a drink at the end of their shift.
You do know you will need adaptors for your electronic devices right? You do also know that those adaptors only match the pins and don’t change the voltage, right? You can plug things into these adaptors like computers, cell phones, your Doxy. Do not plug in your hair dryer, hair curler/straightener. They will get very hot very quickly and then catch on fire. Seriously, the voltage here is double that of the US and things without a transformer (wall wart) will die in a spectacular fashion. Leave those types of things at home. I do suggest you save some money and buy one or two adaptors and an outlet strip so you can plug in multiple devices with only one adaptor. Remember to bring you adaptor to the event if you are planning on using your PC during the conference.
If you wish to use your phone without racking up giant roaming fees with your provider I suggest you pick up a Pay as you go SIM. Your phone will have a different number while you are in the UK, but what really matters is that you will get a much better deal on data than you would using your carrier. You can buy theses at any mobile carrier store or something called Car Phone Warehouse. Many places have free Wi-Fi so you might just want to put your phone in flight mode and just turn on the Wi-Fi. Yes, Eroticon will have you connected at the venue.
Light switches in the UK work opposite of the US, down is on. Power outlets (call Power Points) often have on/off switches built in, so if you plug something in and it doesn’t work check that first.
Older hotels and bathrooms will still often have separate hot and cold faucets (taps) for the sink, so no mixing the water to get the right temperature unless you plug the sink.
Some older bathrooms (the loo, yes they really do say that) will have a pull string for the lights and not a wall switch. There will never be a power outlet to plug anything in the bathroom.
Brits are weird, the masters of not saying what they mean or using slang from last week or two hundred years ago. If you bump into a Brit on the street they are likely to be the ones to say sorry. To find out more about what they say and what it means you might want to glance at VeryBritishProblems
I will give you a short list of some words that have different meanings, this is by no means a full list but it should get you started
Cigarette = Fag
Pants = trousers
Hi, how are you? = Y’alright?
There are too many others to mention and frankly all the dirty ones are the best, you will just have to ask one of us to explain “bellend” at Eroticon and really you should find Molly or GotN because no one swears like a Brit and once you hear they way they say the word cock, well, let’s just say you will hear it in your head that way for the rest of your life.
Got any more questions for Brits – or Londoners specifically – about coming to the UK? Ask below in the comments! If I get enough interest I might even do a second post.