Visiting any new country provides its set of challenges, and visiting the UK is no different. Despite its close connection with other English-speaking nations, the different customs in the UK can be just as unsettling as those in any other European country. Here’s the essential list of things to know before you go.
1. Accommodation: The vast majority of the accommodation available is bed-and-breakfast. This can be the best and the worst of the UK, quality-wise, ranging from an elderly lady’s converted family home to a purpose-built luxury hotel.
The basic form of a bed-and-breakfast hotel is a large building with a number of bedrooms (not always with ensuite – non-ensuite rooms are cheaper, so be sure to check what you’re getting when you book). A cooked breakfast, served in a communal dining room and consisting generally of bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, fried bread, baked beans and eggs, is included in your room fee.
2. Food: If ordering in a restaurant, entrees are starter courses and main courses are mains. Surprisingly, pubs are the best place to find good, affordable meals. Beer, which can be ale, stout, lager or bitter, is generally ordered in pints in the UK, particularly if you are male. Americans looking for a familiar beer should order a lager, which is the cold, light gold beer common in the U.S.
3. Public transport: Public transport is expensive. Trains across the UK are frequently £50 and above for a return ticket for a two-hour journey. Look at each provider’s web site for special cheap fares and book ahead.
If you are going to spend a lot of time on London’s public transport it could be beneficial to purchase an Oyster card. These are pre-pay travel cards that you swipe every time you board a bus or train or enter the Underground.
Cheap flights to Europe are accessible if you are able to book ahead.
4. Internet: Internet is generally available everywhere in the UK, but you may have to look for it with a little more effort when in the countryside. The concept of the internet cafe has not penetrated into country areas, but wireless internet is widely available. If you ask around in the town you are in you will soon find somewhere to log on.
5. Finally, politeness: The British are in general a quiet people. As this Australian author has discovered, it is very easy to startle the average Brit when walking down the street, in a restaurant, or even in the quiet of your room. Be aware that you may seem louder to others than you think.
Be prepared for language confusion when you are in the countryside. Be heartened, though – people don’t mind you asking what they mean, as long as you are polite. They will also ask you (or give you a quizzical look) when they don’t understand you.
In general, steer clear of political comment, particularly about the troubles in Ireland. Many people in all parts of the UK have relatives who have either served there or had bad experiences connected with the issue.