Where in the world?

There are several YouTube videos, usually done by Americans (sorry, but that’s the truth) and usually with a title like “London place names everyone says wrong, even people who have lived in London for years”. Examples given include Holborn (Ho Born), Greenwich (Gren Itch) and Leicester Square (Less Ter Square).

So, let’s just discuss this for a second.

Just to point out, there are thousands upon thousands of place names that people don’t get wrong. I know sometimes people who do not speak English may have trouble with relatively simple things, like “Oxford”, but they get close enough to be understood.

It’s not true to say that no-one, even people who have lived here for years, gets them right. We are not stupid people. We learn.

It’s not a problem, not in London, England of the UK. And, of course, there are places in other countries, eg the USA, where the pronunciation is not obvious, so singling out London is unfair. La Jolla, Des Moines, Puyallup, Arkansas.

Also, we Londoners are reasonably helpful folk. Ask someone where a place is, and we will tell you if we can. Mispronounce a name and we won’t laugh at you, shame you or condemn you to hell. We may ask you to repeat it, simply because we are trying to understand exactly what you want. And we will correct you to be helpful.

I find videos like this to be unhelpful. They paint a picture of people that is unfair. We come over as stupid and intolerant, unhelpful and rude.

Bus stops

If you are a visitor to London, one of the very best ways to get around, if you are not in a hurry, is by bus. But apparently, London buses are a bit confusing, so here are a few bits of basic advice:

  • not all red London buses are red. Many carry advertising and can be different colours
  • all buses have a route code, usually an number (eg 91) sometimes with a letter (eg W7). Do not confuse the regular buses with coaches (eg to airports) or tour buses
  • many bus routes operate 24 hours a day, every day except Christmas Day. Not all routes operate 24 hours. Night buses are labelled with an N (eg N91). It is possible that a night bus does not go on the exact same route as the regular service – often they can have different or extended routes. Some night buses run only at weekends.
  • not all buses stop at all stops. Look at the bus sign – it should indicate exactly what buses stop where. Most shelters have maps listing destinations, suitable buses and a map showing where they can be caught.
  • bus maps are available for free at tube information desks. Do not pay for a map
  • bus stops are of two types

compulsory, meaning, the bus stops there regardless

request, meaning you have to indicate to the driver you want it to stop. You do this by flagging the driver with your arm (not last minute though) if you are at the stop, or by pressing the bell once if you are on the bus. Our experience is that compulsory stops are often not honoured, so we advise you to treat every stop as request. The indicator inside the bus will show if it is stopping.

  • expect traffic delays
  • cash is not accepted. Pay by Oyster (or etc) when you get on, not off
  • there are no transfers
  • expect buses to be packed at rush hour
  • many bus shelters have an indicator showing next bus times. These are usually accurate, but not always. There are many very good free travel apps that work in London and will help. We use CityMapper but there are many others.
  • do not attempt to enter or leave a bus except at a proper bus stop, and do not annoy drivers by banging on the door after the bus has left the stop

Christmas in London

It is Christmas in London. Yawn.

If you are coming to London for an Xmas holiday, here are a few facts to help you:

  • we rarely get snow, but it can be cold and windy, and rainy. Transport can be affected badly, so, if you are planning expeditions and have a timetable, allow extra time, just in case. There are plenty of apps and websites that keep you up-to-date with travel disruptions. Christmas is a time for major rail works too. Taxis and other alternatives can be more expensive on Christmas Day
  • most shops are open the day after Xmas Day, that is Boxing Day. Travel will be mostly working, but with an infrequent service
  • theatres tend to be quiet over the holiday period, so look for bargains, but make sure the main cast are appearing
  • sales start immediately after Christmas Day in many big stores
  • there will be places open for eating food on Christmas Day, if you need them, but make sure you book to avoid disappointment, and hunger
  • the begging fraternity seem to be out in force at this time
  • be extra careful of your possessions and beware of thieves, especially at tourist traps like Covent Garden
  • if you are staying in a hotel and staff are working on Christmas Day, give them a tip. If you visit someone’s house, a small gift is appropriate
  • avoid Trafalgar Square and the river at New Year’s Eve, unless you really like crowds
  • ’tis the season to be jolly, but Christmas tv is poor compared to the good old days…

 

Food

It’s not for us to tell you what to do if you are visiting London. What we enjoy doing may well not interest you. Just look on some web sites, get a decent travel book and ask your friends.

What we can do, what we feel we must do, is tell you things we think you should avoid. Ignore our advice if you like, of course.

This is about food.

You will recognise all the usual suspects in London, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Burger King and so on. They will probably be very different from your local outlets. They may sell different things, the items may taste different (different ingredients tuned to different tastes), probably more expensive. If you want something special, say, X but with Y not Z, the server will look at you as if you are stupid and will probably give you a sharp no! No flexibility here, they don’t bend over to accommodate your needs. And more expensive.

The UK has a number of chain restaurants. Some are OK, others may well be best avoided. Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Garfunkels, Prezzo, Aberdeen Angus Steak restaurants and others seem, in our experience, to offer poor quality at inflated/tourist prices. Never has the microwave worked so hard. Some have been involved in a tips scandal.

Lots of pubs serve lovely food, but beware of these terms. Some offer an extensive menu at cheap prices. Others offer ‘home cooked‘ food, which probably means bought in frozen and microwaved. Some offer ‘home made‘ food. This usually means there is one item, maybe a few, highlighted with the words home made and they should be. It does not mean necessarily that all items are home made. If you are in a pub where you order at the bar and food is brought to your table, then tips are not appropriate.

We know people who object to certain restaurants because of the companies that own them. Pret A Manger had associations with McDonald’s in the past, Giraffe and Harris + Hoole is or were owned by Tesco.

It’s really hard, near impossible, to get a really cold drink in a shop.

On a different matter, Brits eat pretty much everything with knife and fork. Well, not fast food burgers, but everything else, even pizza. We know how to use cutlery: knife in the right hand, fork in the left. We don’t use one hand, we don’t cut our food up like baby servings, then swap a fork to the other hand to eat.

Your forefinger should be along the top of the knife and fork…

and it is probably the worst bad manners ever to use your cutlery like a dagger:

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