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ten things to know as an american living in london

Gianna and London are celebrating their one month anniversary today. To celebrate, here are some helpful tips for anyone thinking of visiting this vibrant city, provided by the ever so lovely Sydney- yay for guest writers! Especially those who are seasoned travelers and kind of a big deal and create content for We met on multiple occasions for dinner, drinks, wandering, and dreaming during her time here in London. Our conversations have been a crucial part of my transition. So friends, please enjoy these tips from Sydney (followed by the reflections and ramblings of yours truly, spotted with mostly iPhone photos). Don't forget to follow her travels by clicking here :) 


1. Be prepared to carry your weight in British pounds

Coins are more frequently used in England. Be prepared for your pockets and purses to weigh half your body weight. Side note: they call their paper bills, notes here. 

GNS: And do take the time to learn which one is which, something I just got around to (1 month in...). Don't underestimate the power of one of these little coins. You might be able to trade one for a used book at Spitalfields Market about Audrey Hepburn (it happens to be in Italian as well- score). 

2. Yoga pants are not cool in public

The lazy American style will not fly on the posh streets of London. You rarely see people in their sloppy t-shirts and black yoga pants. Be prepared to wake up and get dressed every morning. Save the yoga pants for your flat.

GNS: Speaking of flats (which this time translate to "shoes", not "apartment"), here is a snap of my Tate Modern outfit of choice. I am a huge fan of dressing up and taking myself on a museum date. However, the crowded streets and amount of twists, turns, and escalators can add up, so here is my two pence...function trumps fashion (and yes, it is possible to do both). I highly suggest you follow Sydney's lead in the photos below. You also never know who you'll run Toni Tran (Fashitects) or Ali Gordon. These two asked me to snap a photo of them at the Rosewood Hotel- dream! 

3. The tube will be your best friend.

If it’s any consolation, the London tube is significantly easier to understand than New York’s metro. As a native New Yorker, I have always stayed clear of the subway. I’m happy to report that the tube is clean, straight forward, and relatively inexpensive. The tube stop names are as posh as the native Londoners (Picadilly Circus, South Kensington & Oxford Circus, just to name a few). You will undoubtedly find yourself taking the tube everywhere, so put that Oyster Card in a handy place & get on with it!

GNS: You do not want to be the person fiddling through your incredibly unorganized purse for your Oyster Card and hold up the entire queue. You also do not want to be the person who has it handy four stops in advance. However, when in doubt, choose the latter. Last Summer a cashier in Italy (while watching me dig throughout my bag for my wallet) simply smiled at me and said, "Women's bags are the same all over the world". I initially agreed, but these Londoners have it all figured out. Also, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to navigate the underground with a piping hot americano in hand. Especially in heels. Please trust me. Save the to-go cup for an easy stroll through St. Dustan-in-the-East...

4. Look both ways….at least six times

Pedestrians do not come first in the streets of London. Not only do they drive on the opposite side of the road, but cars will most definitely run you down if you’re in their way while the light is green. Sometimes the bikers are even worse. There’s absolutely no point in giving the taxi driver a soft smirk in hopes that they will let you pass. Wait for your turn and hope for the best. 

GNS: After navigating the streets of New York and Rome, I was a bit over-confident when it came to walking in London. There have been a couple of close calls...

5. Take Away, not “To Go”

Eating out in London is expensive, so don’t get in a habit of eating out for every meal. However, if you’ve decided to treat yourself, you will have the option of “take away” or “eat in.” If you decide to eat your meal (or even drink a cup of coffee) in the restaurant, be prepared to pay more. Londoners pride themselves in the pretty little tea cups and plates they serve their delicious food on. You’ll pay for it!

GNS: When ordering coffee (specifically americanos), they will ask you if you want it "black or white". Sounds obvious (white means with milk), but i'm still getting used to it. I highly suggest having your coffee or tea in as opposed to on the go. Not only may you need two open hands for your umbrella, but finding patches to sit and recollect yourself in such a busy city can be few and far between.

You might even find the time to flip through the Mayfair Times and stumble across this spread about AWITA London (a women in the arts initiative that I have had the pleasure of faint web development for). Photo by Katrina Aleksa. 

You might even find the time to flip through the Mayfair Times and stumble across this spread about AWITA London (a women in the arts initiative that I have had the pleasure of faint web development for). Photo by Katrina Aleksa. 

6. Museums, Museums & more Museums

You can’t come to London without exhausting its wide array of museums, most of which are free! There’s a museum for just about everything. The top ones on my list are the Victoria & Albert Museum (the building’s exterior is absolutely exquisite), the British Museum (wait until you see the main hall…your jaw will drop), the Science Museum (even if you’re an English nerd like me, you’ll be amazed by the variety), and the Museum of Docklands (it’s next to the water & has tons of great eateries!). Don’t leave London without popping into a few of these gems. The Brits do their history justice! 

GNS: Here are some photos from the Tate Modern. Don't be too intimidated to pop into the charming little galleries that you walk past on Sunday afternoons, like the Columbia Road Gallery where I found some prints by Hannah Ludnow to adorn my wall. And don't get me started about the amount of street art. There is something to see in just about every corner. 

7. Embrace the fact you’re an American

Even before you open your mouth, the locals will know you’re American. We’ve just got that “American look.” It’s inescapable. They’ll probably ask where you’re from, why you’re in London, and who you’re voting for in the upcoming election. I highly recommend just smiling to the last question. You don’t want to get into a heated political argument. You’re from the good ‘ol US of A and there’s nothing you can do about it! 

GNS: Couldn't agree more. When faced with that question, mimic Sydney's face below. This was taken in an installation meant to provide a little "green retreat" in the midst of city life. It was perfect.

8. Rain or Shine

The stereotype of London that it rains almost every day at random times is entirely true. Spend the few pounds on a compact umbrella or buy a Sherlock Holmes-esque rain jacket and get ready for the sky to open up. It’s a way of life in London and the locals won’t complain about it. On another note, be prepared for everyone to mention the weather in nearly every conversation. If you go a day without rain, everyone will talk about it. It’s a huge feat to have consistently nice weather. 

GNS: If you're an over-planner like me, you may become deeply frustrated by your inability to dress accordingly for the day ahead. But I have found the silver lining to the unexpected rain (as some of you may have followed in my unfolding Instagram series shown below...)


Spotted umbrella patterns. 

Pretty little hideaways. 

Maddox Gallery to see 'disseverance' by Chris Moon and Robi Walters. 

Maddox Gallery to see 'disseverance' by Chris Moon and Robi Walters. 

9. Cheers!

The pub scene is extremely strong in London. Nearly every street corner has a pub and by 5 or 6 p.m. people line the outsides of the pubs dressed poshly in their work attire for a few pints with their mates. It’s entirely normal. It’s still unclear how they manage to get up for work everyday after drinking all night. Take advantage of pubs’ happy hours or your drink bill will begin to rack up. (Of course, this is speaking from a university student’s budget.)

GNS: Occasionally you might be on the list for a gallery opening in which drinks are free and flowing all night long...make sure to keep track. They are usually as photogenic as they are delicious. 

10. The London Language

There is most definitely a different language in England that you’ll need to pick up quickly if you want to understand what the heck is going on. That in no way means to start using every phrase you know in one sentence. You’ll probably just get death stares and confused faces if you do that. Here’s a few phrases translated..they might come in handy!

  • Cheers! This word applies in several situations…If you’re saying goodbye, if you’re thanking someone, but it’s very rarely used when you’re clinking your pints at the pub.
  • Brilliant! In reference to something that was exceptional or just really great.
  • Knackered Absolutely exhausted or worn out
  • Rubbish Garbage…don’t even bother using the word garbage, it’s like another language entirely
  • Toilet Don’t ask where the bathroom’ll just get a blank stare

GNS: Aubergine means "eggplant"...I not only googled it while browsing the menu, but looked up a youtube video of a woman repeating it so that I could pronounce it correctly. 

Don’t forget to wander aimlessly, pop into quaint cafes and take shameless tourist pictures in front of the London Eye. It might take some time to adjust, but it’s all part of the experience.

“A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.” 


Until next time,

Gi & Syd

Gianna ScavoComment