Rules of Etiquette While in London
Londoners are generally polite and respectful of others. To avoid ruffling feathers, it’s advisable (and innately pleasant, in an English sort of way) to follow suit.
Here are a few tips on fitting in with the local mentality during your visit.
A firm handshake with a small nod, smile, and a simple hello will do when greeting a Londoner for the first time. Big, booming greetings, hand pumping and arm slapping will signify you immediately as an out-of-towner. Cheek kissing and hugging should be reserved for people you know very well.
Riding the Tube
As a visitor, particularly with an American accent, you can get away with engaging a stranger in conversation on Tube platforms and train cars. However, locals tend to avoid this practice with each other; it’s normal to see a Tube car’s worth of silent Londoners studiously avoiding physical and eye contact. Unless you’re lost and need help, try to follow suit by being quiet and taking up as little physical space as possible.
When using the escalators to get to the trains, if you don’t feel like walking, stand to the right side and let people pass you on the left. Standing side by side and talking to your travel companion(s) on a crowded escalator is a no-no.
Standing in Line (aka “Queueing”)
In a country with such a high population density, queueing has become essential for order. If you’re waiting for a bus, looking to pay for something in a store or waiting to get in somewhere there will most likely be a queue, and you’ll need to find the end of it and take your place. Pushing in at the front is locally viewed as foreign behavior.
If someone bumps into you on the street or treads on your toe, the normal British response is for you to say “sorry” or “excuse me.” It doesn’t mean you were at fault, it’s merely a means of acknowledging that it was unintentional and there’s no need to get aggressive or embarrass the person who is at fault.
“Lovely Weather We’re Having”
The ideal, neutral British subject of conversation with strangers (or people you know only vaguely) is the weather. Locals often talk about the weather as a means of avoiding awkward silences or discussions of religion and politics.