Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Same Language, Still Foreign: How to be a good traveler in the UK

Over the years, I’ve made three (soon to be four) trips to the UK. There is a great degree of comfort in going there, because even though it’s a foreign country, there is no language barrier.  Going to the UK is easier than going to say, Germany, or China.

However.

It is not wise to get lulled into a false sense of security. Just because we speak the same language does not mean that we use the same names for everything. Nor does it mean that there won’t be cultural differences. Through doing some preparatory research before I traveled and making some mistakes, I learned that there are a few things one shouldn’t do in the UK if one wants to stay in the good graces of the natives.

  1. If you choose to wear one, do not refer to your waist pack as a “fanny pack.” On this side of the Atlantic, fanny is a rather adorable word for butt. On that side of the Atlantic, it’s a crude name for female genitalia.
    guide to uk travel fanny pack
  2. Likewise, do not gasp when you hear someone in the UK mention “fags” or “faggots.” They could be talking about a cigarette, a bundle of sticks, or even a meal.
  3. A zebra crossing in the UK would be called a crosswalk here. Hopefully you won’t actually see a herd of zebras crossing the street in London.
  4. If someone is spelling a word for you and they say zed, it’s a Z.
  5. Do not ask someone where the rest room or bathroom is. Instead, use the British term toilet or lavatory.
  6. When making a V or peace sign with your index finger and middle finger, take care to ensure that your palm is facing out, not toward yourself. If you make this gesture with the back of your hand facing out, it is the American equivalent of giving someone the finger. Particularly when combined with a flicking motion. Hubs made a motion for someone to pass us on the road in this fashion and the other driver was quite insulted. Former President George HW Bush made a similar error when visiting Australia in 1992.
    guide to uk travel peace sign
  7. Don’t tell a Brit that you love their accent if you are both standing on British soil. If you’re both on British soil, you are the one with the accent. Come to think of it, it’s probably not the greatest thing to say on American soil, either.
  8. Be aware of the geography. The UK consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. The latter three, sharing the same land mass, can also be referred to as Great Britain. Do not refer to someone who is from Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales as English. Only people from England are English.
    guide to uk travel united kingdom great britain england
  9. While I hate to make generalizations, I think most people would agree that Brits are much more reserved than Americans. In British culture, you are likely to raise eyebrows if you do any of the following: shouting, kissing, laughing loudly, shaking hands outside of a business setting, talking loudly on a cell phone, and talking about the value of your possessions.
    guide to uk travel cell phone use
  10. Because Brits drive on the left side of the road, you should look right-left-right before crossing a two-way street. This is the exact opposite of what we typically do here, and it’s hard to break that habit. Bigger cities such as London actually have instructions/reminders about which way to look painted on the ground, so that helps. But it less densely populated areas, you’ll need to concentrate on which way to look before stepping off the curb.

By observing these subtle but important differences between our country and the Brits’, you won’t have to worry about committing a faux pas when you are traveling in the UK.

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