8 Things That Confuse Visitors To London



1. The more elegant a London restaurant looks, the worse it is.

All the best restaurants are funky and scruffy, and may look like you’re sitting in a carpentry shop or a foundry. If it’s got white tablecloths and candlelight, avoid! The Angus Steak House may look inviting but don’t be fooled. No Londoner has ever eaten in one. The places with seriously awesome food have bare wood, mismatched plates and no dress code. I’d never heard of dress code in a restaurant until I went to America. Some suit-monkey told me I had the wrong shoes. The only place you’ll be made to wear a jacket is in a traditional London gentleman’s club, and the food in those is pure 1950s school dinners.

2. Cafes and pubs serve better breakfasts than fancy places.

Why? Because upmarket restaurants precook their poached eggs and never heat them up properly, whereas cafes cook from scratch, and many (especially the New Zealand ones) are legendary. Pubs don’t look like they serve breakfast but a lot do, and portions are huge. Even transport cafes have funny-shaped plates now. The one nearest me serves Eggs Benedict with asparagus, tomatoes and basil for a fiver. Truckers have clearly been watching ‘Masterchef’.

3. The tube doesn’t go where you think it does.

You want to go from King’s Cross to Embankment, which is due south, so you need to change at Euston, which is actually west, but to do that you need to take the Northern line up, which is north. Go figure.

4. Nor does the city.

The West End is in the city centre, but West London is going toward the airport. Hoxton and Shoreditch in the East End aren’t in East London. Because of the way the Thames meanders, north of the river is sometimes actually in the south and vice versa. And wherever you stand within sight of the London Eye, it’s the wrong way around. This is because if you face the river on its north side looking south, you may be facing east or west. Got it?

5. That place you’re going to isn’t what it looks like.

Local office workers near me eat in a lunch place that’s a fetish club at night. Food halls may also hide cinemas, nightclubs or cabaret. Restaurants may have entertainment. Theatres are in pubs. Dance classes are in churches. My top bookshops are hidden in a medical institute, a library and a barge. Since the death of Time Out there’s no single stop to discover this kind of stuff. You just have to figure it out for yourself.

6. The things that look old often aren’t, and the old-looking stuff is new.

Tower Bridge isn’t old by our standards. It was finished after my grandad was born. But some of the nice modern-looking, plain houses you’ll find in backstreets may predate Tower Bridge by seventy years, which was the early Victorian style. Oscar Wilde used to go to work on the tube. Now that’s just weird.

7. The things you should pay for are free and vice versa.

You expect to pay to enter the world’s major museums – but you don’t in London. Ceremonies and shows seem to appear from nowhere and are free (a few weeks back Elton John performed in my local station for free, unprompted). But you pay to use a public toilet.

8. Londoners are so unfriendly you can’t shut them up.

Everyone says Londoners are unfriendly. Yes they are, until you make the first move and talk to them, especially in a pub. After that you won’t get a word in edgeways. And if you become so friendly they say, ‘We must get together again some time’, it means ‘We’ll never see each other again.’

12 comments on “8 Things That Confuse Visitors To London”

  1. Vivienne says:

    It was struck only the other day by the strange anomaly of the location of Bank and Mansion House stations. Having, earlier in the day, descended into the Bank Station entrance in sight of Mansion House, on my return journey by DLR to Bank and then changing for the District Line, I had to travel via Cannon Street station before reaching Mansion House station, so a within-sight scenario had been stretched to two stations away. I must check this above ground. I know you walk forever around Bank/Monument, but possibly not as far as the underground walk at Green Park, where I’m sure you go via Scotland. Always easier there to use the escalators up then down again.

  2. Brooke says:

    *8.a. Londoners do not naturally speak English that visitors can comprehend, especially visitors from the US. Be prepared to say, “I beg your pardon…would you mind repeating that last bit,” quite a lot.

  3. admin says:

    Barcelona has Passeig de Gracia underground station, and in 4 years of living there I swear I’ve never come out of the same entrance twice. They have a connecting tunnel around 1/4 mile long with a ceiling low enough to scrape the head of any non-Spaniard.

  4. Ian Mason says:

    @ Brooke

    As the most populous city in the whole of England, I think one might argue that is there is *an* English then it must be that spoken by Londoners. So, it is not that us Londoners are speaking English that is incomprehensible, it it that others do not comprehend true English.

  5. Roger says:

    ” Be prepared to say, “I beg your pardon…would you mind repeating that last bit,” quite a lot.”

    Just say “Eh?”
    It’s quicker and you’ll pass as a native.

    As London is the city in England with the lowest percentage of English-born inhabitants, according to the 2011 census, it is least likely to be the place where you’ll find “true English”. It’s the source of neologisms and linguistic transformations.

  6. Stephen Winer says:

    I’ve been visiting London from New York for more than forty years. I look in the windows of Angus Steak Houses and I have NEVER seen anyone inside eating. So, seriously, how do they stay in business?

  7. Helen Martin says:

    #7. The free museums just took my breath away and likewise trying to find change for the toilet. At least there are public toilets. Our SkyTrain system which carries massive numbers of people has no toilets anywhere, not even the main downtown station which is housed in the CPR station. Railway stations all had washrooms, but they’ve taken them out of this grand old building. We used to have to pay in the bus station and my Mother told me to always use a pay stall because the one mandatory free one could have been used by, well, you never know.

  8. Kate Rich says:

    Didn’t know where else to post this but – on the first pager of chapter 39 you say that Bryant “Stood on this stretch of the embankment opposite Lincolns Inn Fields” Did you mean The Inns of Court? Because if you expect to look at Lincolns Inn Fields from the embankment you would need X-Ray specs to look through Australia House, The BBC building, the LSE, the Royal courts of Justice,

  9. Kate Rich says:

    Addition to above……And the Royal College of Surgeons….At that point in the book i.e. Strange Tide, Arthur B wasn’t having another one if his flashbacks, So it didn’t make sense. the embankment us a good 10 minutes walk to I was trying to be a clever clogs and catch you out….

  10. Kate Rich says:

    Addition to above……And the Royal College of Surgeons….At that point in the book i.e. Strange Tide, Arthur B wasn’t having another one if his flashbacks, So it didn’t make sense. the embankment is a good 10 minutes walk to Lincolns Inn Fields…

  11. Jan says:

    This Kate is just what you need Mr. Fowls another Londonista. You’ll love the back catalogue Katie non existent tube stations, swimming baths recreated in different eras…You’ll love it hours worth of entertainment. Some of the,stories are half decent also….

  12. admin says:

    Kate, I just checked the MS and that’s not what it says. It says the Embankment is ‘in front of’ the fields, which it is. Nobody mentions he looking at the Fields from the Embankment (unless I’m going mad).

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