London 101: How to Be a Londoner

Hey there, this is Ziqi again! If you do not remember me and my blogs, I studied abroad in Los Angeles last semester (which technically was not “abroad”). This year, I’m doing another internship program in London, focusing on the Marketing track. Hopefully, I gain more professional experience and global perspectives, and stay away from Boston’s snowstorms! 

The semester in London started earlier, in mid-January, and my time in London has been busy, exciting, and joyful. The first month here has given me a taste of British life, and I can’t wait to experience more!

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An overlook of London from the top of The Shard, the highest building in the U.K.

Left or Right

To be an eligible Londoner, the first thing you need to learn is how to cross the street. As you may all know, the U.K. practices left-hand traffic, which means vehicles keep left and the driver sits on the offside, which is the right side of the car. My friends and I all find it very confusing when we cross the road, since habitually, we only checked the left for approaching cars, but then found cars horning from the right side. Even more terrifying, in London, pedestrians don’t really have the right of way. When you stand by a crosswalk with no traffic light, never expect cars to slow down and wait for you to pass. If they do stop and let you go, it’s either at the crosswalk where the flashing yellow lights signal them to do so, or you luckily met a very polite driver.

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As Britain is one of a few European countries that apply left-hand traffic, reminders printed at some crosswalks are really helpful.

Black or White

When ordering a cup of tea, baristas might ask you: “Black or white?” Don’t mix them up. You are not being asked which type of tea you want. Here, “black” means to serve the tea or the drink as it is, while “white” means it is served with a little bit of milk. I’m not very sure if this is a special usage in Britain. I have never been asked this question anywhere else, yet I always get it here, even when I order a cup of Americano.

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The closest underground station to our school building is Gloucester Road. Antique, isn’t it?

Drizzly or Rainy

London is known for its unfavorable weather. Most of the time, it’s rainy and windy, or at least drizzling. You will get the sun at some point in the week, but at least for the first week I arrived in London, I doubted if people in London ever knew what the sun looks like. After experiencing the terrible weather in Boston and the lovely sunshine in Los Angeles, I underestimated the weather in London and left my down jacket at home. London is much colder than I expected, for which I mistakenly packed several T-shirts. The day after I got here, I ran to the stores and got myself a cashmere and wool sweater.

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It might seem like a storm is coming, but it’s just another typical cloudy day in London.

Hand or Fork

This is a very interesting thing about table manners that I learned from my marketing professor. She told us that the older generation in the U.K. is worried that young people are not receiving proper education on table etiquette, and they gradually pay less attention to it. What amazed everyone in the class is that you should always use your fork and knife in restaurants, even for hamburgers and fries! Of course, there are exceptions: when having afternoon tea, you should use your hand, and in fast-food restaurants, such as McDonalds or Subway, where tableware is not provided, it’s OK to eat with your hands.

Tips or Not 

Here in the U.K., there is no convention for tipping. The income level is generally higher in European countries, so waiters usually receive a proper salary and don’t rely on income from tips. Our professor even joked about Americans’ tendency to tip, saying that British people are frustrated by Americans who tip everywhere because it will indulge servers. However, some restaurants do add discretionary service fees to the check. Some of the fees are really high, which could be up to 20%. Thus, feel free to tell your waiter to remove it from the check, as many locals do.  

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Me, happily walking on the street with my milk.

So, this is what I have seen and learned in London so far. If you are also interested in British culture, turn to my posts, follow my steps and explore England with me!

Ziqi Yang, Study Abroad Correspondent

Ziqi Yang is a junior in the College of Communication at Boston University who is majoring in Film and TV, and Advertising. She is currently studying abroad in London. As a foodie, she loves exploring great foods as well as trying new recipes in her kitchen. Her favorite quote is “Photography is the beauty of life captured”, and through her photos and blogs, she would like to share those beautiful moments with you.

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