There are many people who post tourist guides on YouTube. They may be on other sites, too, but I don’t look. These vary in quality considerably.

I know when I travel that there are basic things that I like to know. What public transport there is, for example, and how to use it. How to get to and from the airport. Places to avoid. Even how to cross the road.

If you see a video entitled “10 things that will shock you about London”, then you know you are going to find out something of major importance.

In the first video I am thinking of (no, I won’t lower myself to giving a link), the presenter says that the first shocking thing is that London is big. That is shocking? The presenter is plainly some small town American who has no concept of the world (despite his travel videos, well, actually, mostly of his children playing) and no understanding that one of the major cities of the world is going to be relatively large.

Elsewhere, someone else is shocked that we do dates ‘wrongly’. In America it is MM/DD/YY. Here and for almost all the rest of the world it is DD/MM/YY. Even the USA immigration department acknowledge that the American way of doing dates is confusing, as the immigration forms ask for the more standard format. You, lady presenter, cannot cope with the dates, but that doesn’t mean they are ‘wrong’. Of course, neither is the best. YYYY/MM/DD would be advantageous for many reasons.

Someone else was ‘shocked’ that roads in the UK are not straight and that the cars drive on the wrong side! And that we use the metric system, obviously ‘wrong’. And we don’t accept dollars in our shops.

And so on. Shocking.

You would hope that people who create websites, do blogs or vlogs about any topic will bring some knowledge or informed commentary to a subject. I talk about London because I have lived here for nearly 40 years. There are things I don’t write about, because I don’t know.


I don’t go into central London very often, certainly much less than I used to. So, I notice changes when you do.

There are many places where you will see people sleeping rough. Lots of shop entrances, especially in the evenings. The Strand is always a bad place, theatre district, but there are many others. Under dark bridges, down back alleys, in railway stations for example.

It has always been pretty bad in London, possibly more than in many other cities as very little is actually done to deal with it. There are charities and institutions who provide hot food, and some beds are available, but it is still a bad problem. Bad, and seems to be getting worse.

Rough sleepers seem to be getting more persistent and are, in some cases, rather aggressive. Some seem to have rather ferocious dogs too.

Buskers, too, seem to be more prevalent.

If you are a visitor to London, then there are places where street performers are welcomed, Covent Garden for example. If you stop to watch them, it’s right to give them some money. But if you are walking down the street and someone comes up to you just begging, then don’t give them anything, however loud and aggressive they may be. Not even a coffee.

I was waiting in line for a concert a few weeks ago, and a very smart lady in an evening dress approached me. She asked if I could help. She wanted money, and I refused. The swearing was most un-ladylike. Maybe she had a genuine need, I don’t know, but I was not interested to find out. Giving money just makes it worse.


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
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