Insiders’ guide for international students in London

The British are famous for their satire, history, monarchy, and obsession with manners and tea. While understanding these things is useful, the ability to blend in with a crowd takes a little more effort. London, in particular, has its own rules and cultural norms.

London Eye
[Image by Alexis Soon.]

Getting around

Londoners are a busy lot, rushing about from place to place and seemingly impatient with life in general. If you want to fit in with the masses, try not to dawdle on commuter highways and busy streets. Work out where you are going in advance and march stolidly toward it.

Avoid making eye contact with other people on public transport and leave as much room as possible for fellow travellers, whether you are sitting down or standing up. Londoners do not tend to walk anywhere if it is possible to use the tube instead. Get an Oyster card as soon as humanly possible – it will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run and establish you as a true London local.

How to act

Unless you are in a pub or a bar, on the whole Londoners do not tend to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Appearing overly friendly will arouse suspicion, as will constant smiling. Act cool and keep your voice at a reasonable volume (again, unless you are in a pub). Also try to avoid complaining or making unreasonable demands when in public.

Londoners, like the rest of the UK’s residents, form orderly lines when waiting for buses and other services. Never cut in front of others in the queue.

London Underground
[Image by _dchris.]

Meeting people

Most Londoners meet people through work or through friends of friends. With this in mind, accept all the social invitations that you can. It is fine to be friendly once you have been introduced to someone – just do not delve too deeply into your personal life straight away. Londoners like and expect a little bit of banter to start with.

As those studying English courses in UK language schools will admit, London is sometimes too much of an exciting place to live. There is so much going on that it is easy to find yourself going out every night of the week and spending vast amounts of money. Do not be afraid to cite lack of funds if too many social invitations roll in – Londoners understand only too well the high cost of inhabiting their city.

Westminster London
[Image by TJ Morris.]

Where to go out

Going to the pub is a standard procedure. Londoners may visit one straight after work, or arrange to meet in one later in the evening. If you go to the pub and the people you are with offer to buy you a drink, it is expected that you will return the favour. The rules for queuing do not really apply to pubs – especially the ones that get very busy. Prepare to jostle for position to reach the bar. Once there, it is polite to allow others who have reached the bar before you to order first.

More sedate and culturally rewarding activities include attending the many opening nights for art exhibitions around the city. While some of these are invitation only, many are open to all and can be a good way to meet other people.
Those students who are enrolled with language schools such as www.esl.co.uk can join in on the many social outings to museums and attractions around the city such as the London Eye. These meetings are good for making friends with other language students and for learning more about the city.

London by air

It’s possible to feel like an ant in London sometimes. With its underground networks and the constant crowds, there are people everywhere and the buildings around you seem to shoot skywards, making you feel tiny by comparison.

But many people do not realise that it is possible to see the city from a new perspective: looking down on it from above. Become a bird for a day with these aerial options for seeing the metropolis.

Canary Wharf
[Image by phault.]

You can play a life-size version of Monopoly, collecting Mayfair and Piccadilly, taking in the green spaces of Hyde Park and Regent’s Park on the way. Or become an action hero, leaping from a plane to save the day, or a billionaire in their private helicopter – the choice is only limited to your imagination. 

Helicopter tours

Leave traffic behind and forget sightseeing bus tours: you can check out London’s major landmarks from the lofty vantage point of a helicopter. While it lacks the hop on, hop off capability of a bus tour, you probably won’t mind too much. If you’ve ever wanted to look into the backyard of Buckingham Palace, helicopter rides might be your only opportunity. With the helicopter’s unique ability to hover, it can linger at the most interesting locations, and zip between them with ease.

Helicopter flying lessons

For anyone who has ever imagined playing James Bond, then piloting a chopper across urban sprawl with helicopter flying lessons might be a dream come true. Taking a step further, you can actually take control of the thrilling vehicle. Harnessing the extraordinary energy of this metallic bird, it will be a truly unique experience.

Aeroplane tours

Here’s a plane journey you don’t need a visa stamp for. Nor will you have to worry about luggage allowances and guidebooks, as you’ll end up where you started – the journey is also the destination. Getting at eye-level with the Gherkin and looking down on the Thames snaking through the city, it’s possible to appreciate London town from a distance impossible from any other place.

Skydiving

Skydiving
[Image by Ianz.]

It takes a lot of nerve to go skydiving, but for many it is a transformative experience that can’t be adequately put into words. Many options are available, including tandem skydiving, which allows you to bypass the training course, or a solo option is available with a training day. Tandem skydiving has the bonus reassurance of having a thoroughly trained instructor, for anyone who is uncertain about jumping out of a plane and hurtling towards earth at 120 miles an hour.

Hang gliding

For those who have always wanted to be able to fly, a birds-eye view will be achieved with a graceful set of human-made wings. Paragliding and powered paragliding are similar options, both utilising the broad wing structure and aluminium frame. This is a more peaceful option than other more motorised options, as you can actually approximate the sensation of unassisted flight.

Bungee jumping

Bouncing away on an elasticated rope may not be everyone’s bag, but the adrenalin rush is hard to pass up for many a thrill-seeker. You can even take a friend or special someone along. You’ll get a raised view of your surroundings before it all becomes a blur as you rush toward.

With the options ranging from mild to thrill-seeker, there’s something for all ages and all levels of dare-devilry. You will get an opportunity to take in the enormity, history and life that the city offers. Checking out Big Ben, the London Eye, The Tower of London and other great landmarks from this angle will be a memory for a lifetime.

After experiencing London from this elevated angle, you can return to earth with a new sense of context, and a sense of the scale of this diverse and vibrant city. Thorough research of the options available will ensure you get the experience that’s right for you, suited to your tastes and budget.