In the third instalment of our new series of posts about blending in like a local, we journey to London.
London is one of the top destinations in Europe for both expatriates and tourists. Every year, the city receives millions of tourists and it has many landmarks, attractions and culture for them to see and experience. As an expat in London Town you probably want to feel like a Londoner and distinguish yourself from the thousands of tourists. Below you can find some tips and information on how you can blend in like a local in London.
Touristy places such as Leicester Square (make sure you pronounce it correctly, Lester Square), Covent Garden and Camden Town should preferably be avoided, but can be visited during the weekend and in evenings as Londoners would do. Very often these places are crowded and expensive and they probably don’t have much to offer to you in your daily life anyway.
We are sorry to say, but if you really want to be a Londoner you will have to use the word “sorry” at least a few times a day. Not only when you actually feel like apologising, but also when it takes you longer than one second to get cash for your takeaway coffee (yes, coffee!), or someone bumps into you and it’s not even your fault, for instance. The Brits in general say sorry in all kinds of situations, but considering the large amount of people with whom you share the city, you will be sorry a lot. Sorry!
Metro Tube rules
Considering the distances and the amount of road traffic in London, you will probably spend quite a bit of time on the underground, which Londoners call the Tube. In order to make your tube rides go as smoothly as possible, there are some rules you should stick to.
- First of all, always stand on the right and walk on the left side of the escalators.
- You won’t see many locals using the underground map to plan their journeys, as they know it by heart. You could of course cheat and install one of the TfL (Transport for London) apps on your phone, but don’t expect any mobile phone coverage inside the tube.
- Don’t try to open the doors of the train by pressing the button – everyone knows they will open automatically.
- Making eye contact is something you shouldn’t do either. You will find many Londoners staring at their e-readers, or reading the free Metro and London Evening Standard newspapers to avoid awkward situations with fellow passengers.
Food and pints
Even though London offers lots of exotic places to eat, traditional British cuisine and English pubs are still beloved by many. Typical meals are fish and chips on Fridays and a Sunday roast with gravy. Indian food is another favourite and Brick Lane in east London is known for its many Indian restaurants.
It is quite common for Londoners to have a pint after work, especially on Fridays. It is also quite common to have lots of pints during the weekend, starting and finishing relatively early compared to other cities in ‘Europe’. If you order a beer, this will usually be a pint (568 ml) and it won’t have a head – apart from beer, cider is popular. Many people go out in Soho during the weekends, and Clapham, Camden and Shoreditch have an established club scene as well.
London is a fashion capital. People tend to care about their appearance a lot and many different styles of fashion are represented. Go to the old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch for vintage clothes and walk around the area to see the latest trends. For a shopping centre experience, head to Westfield London in White City, or Westfield Stratford City. The one in Stratford is the largest urban shopping centre in the EU.
Where to go
Instead of focussing on Central London only, visit other parts of the city. Upcoming areas are Shoreditch and Brixton and if you’re looking for something more exclusive, Mayfair and Chelsea would be good options with lots of posh (expensive) places. Brits tend to find social class important and like to show this, so dress for the type of place you are going.
Have a look at our United Kingdom country guide for more useful information on living in London and the United Kingdom.
If you have any other tips for going local in London add them to the comments below.
The Expat Explorer Survey 2014 from HSBC Expat has compared 34 different countries, and ranked them across three categories – economics, experience, and raising children abroad. According to expats, when it comes to quality of life, Switzerland comes top of the league table, followed by Singapore and China.
The USA and the UK did not fare so well, ranking near the bottom of the table for expats in 30th and 33rd place respectively. According to the survey, Egypt has been voted as the worst place to live abroad.
Let’s take a look at the top five countries which are getting it right when it comes to being a host country for expats.
Coming in first place, Switzerland is an all round winner for expats, being a well-balanced country and offering a high quality lifestyle. In terms of economic satisfaction, 87% of expats living in Switzerland are happy with the economy, and 85% earn a greater salary since moving there.
Nevertheless, this prosperity is somewhat counteracted by the high cost of living, be it food, accommodation or health care – things in Switzerland don’t come cheap. It’s not hard to see the attractions however, from its natural beauty creating great resources from outdoor activities to its oh-so-delicious chocolate.
However, the main downside to this high flying country would be the slightly “boring” reputation – being a reserved and conservative nation, Switzerland didn’t score so well for integrating expats into their new society. Nevertheless, despite the not so friendly attitude, Switzerland clearly had enough charm to win its title as 2014’s number one expat destination.
A popular expat hub, Singapore was the runner-up destination for expats. Similar to Switzerland, it was another top country with regards to economy and in addition it is a country which has embraced cultural diversity.
For those business minded expats, Singapore offers fantastic opportunities, with huge freedom in the market and low taxes. If that isn’t enough to convince you, Singapore is great for the entire expat family, being considered a safe destination with a great education system.
However, no country is perfect, Singapore has recently changed its foreign policy laws in favour of local Singaporeans. In addition, there are some laws in Singapore that some expats won’t be accustomed too – such as the ban on importing chewing gum (chewing gum is only allowed for therapeutic purposes).
China snatched third place on the leader board with regards to expat life, and came in first place in the expat economy category. Foreigners certainly seem to do well in terms of monetary issues with 23% of expats earning over $300,000. China has some interesting cultural customs which may add to its expat appeal, such as doing business over karaoke. Expats in China have the highest disposable income and also manage to have a very active social life, therefore its not big surprise that China ranked so highly in the survey.
Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany is a well rounded country for expats, with 87% feeling satisfied with the local economy. It was also ranked as the third best country for raising children abroad. Overall Germany is seen as a good expat destination for work, family life and overall quality of life, however, almost a third (31%) of respondents said they found it hard to make local friends.
The highest ranking Arab country, Bahrain comes in fifth place this year. Almost two-thirds (62%) of expats living in Bahrain were satisfied with their work-life balance, as well as an enjoyable commute to work, in comparison to their home countries.
Expats in Bahrain also enjoy the culture (84%) and local food (74%) but tend to stick to expat communities, with three-quarters saying they tend to make friends with other expats rather than locals.
What’s important to you?
When researching your next expat destination, you may want to refer to this list to check out which countries can offer you the best quality expat life before you set off on your adventure. Nevertheless, take into account what is most important for you, many of the countries which made it into the top five of the league table did so for economic reasons, for example if it is for an excellent family life you seek New Zealand may be the destination for you.
You’ve just moved to Paris and don’t want to look like a tourist? Here are a few tips on how to blend in among the oh-so-chic Parisians.
It’s not as bad as you think. First, kissing people you just met only happens if you’re going out and meeting the friend of a friend. This is only for women, and women meeting men. However, men will only kiss other men if they are among family – if not, they will shake hands. The number of kisses can be tricky. In Paris, it is often a kiss on each cheek, but you should know that in Lyon it is often three kisses, and in the south of France, it can be four.
All in all, the French will only kiss in informal situations, so don’t expect anyone to kiss you if you go to a job interview.
Navigo Card and Velib’
Driving around Paris can be very time-consuming, especially during rush hour – and that’s without the struggle to find a parking space. Most Parisians take the metro, which covers a very wide area (14 lines), the bus, the tram and the RER – the express train network connecting Paris to the surrounding suburbs. Just so you know, some of the old metros and RER trains have doors that can open a few seconds before the train stops, so don’t be alarmed if people jump out while the train is still in motion.
If you take public transport everyday, registering for a Pass Navigo will make your life easier. This card allows you to swipe your way through every barrier, regardless of the type of transportation you are taking. You can buy a Pass Navigo for a week, a month or even a year for unlimited access, which is a lot cheaper than buying individual tickets.
If you want to go green, you can also rent a Velib’ bike. The Velib’ service allows you to use one of the 20,000 bikes to get around the city, and it’s quite cheap. Also, Paris has numerous cycle lanes, or bus/taxi/bike lanes. Be careful though, as it can be a little dangerous to cycle around Paris if you don’t know the city. Take some time to observe how people drive first.
If you live in Paris – actually, you probably won’t be living in Paris because it’s too expensive, but let’s say you work there – you will be mingling with the Parisian routine, which is Metro, boulot, dodo (or metro, work, sleep). But in between, you will also need to buy groceries and go out, so here are a couple of things you should know.
Parisians typically buy a baguette every morning (croissants are more of a weekend type of breakfast) at the boulangerie (bakery) down the street. There are boulangeries everywhere, and prices are quite similar (although you should watch out for the ones near tourist attractions). In any case, a baguette should never be more than €0.80 to €0.90.
Tipping in Paris is different than in other big cities. First of all, Parisians don’t tip as much as tourists do. Tipping in France is not mandatory, but shows your appreciation for good service. In a bistro, a tip can be between 5% and 10% of the bill.
When you enter a shop, you might get the loud “bonjour” coming from an unknown location behind a shelf, which makes it difficult to respond (but you should always do it anyway). This welcoming behaviour is mostly typical of clothing stores in main streets and big shopping centers. Don’t expect it in a big supermarket though.
Contrary to popular belief, Paris closes down on Sundays. Yes, it is the capital and you might think shops are open all the time, but unless you are walking down the Champs Élysees, or unless it’s Christmas, you can’t just go out and shop on a Sunday. The weekend is an important time to rest, for everybody.
Finally, depending on where you’re from, you may find Parisians to be rude or aggressive. On the metro for instance, people don’t look or smile at each other: if you happen to catch someone’s eye, don’t be surprised if they take it the wrong way. In fact, be prepared for some major shouting if you disturb the routine, such as being stuck on the roundabout without knowing where to go. The motto is: if you can’t drive, don’t!
The French also love to complain when something is not to their liking. Instead of finding this outrageous, give it a try too. It will help you blend in, and it is kind of liberating.
Overall, don’t worry! Paris is one of the most amazing cities in the world, and becoming a Parisian will help you survive anywhere.