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Dear Travellers to the United Kingdom: Here Are 9 Things You Need to Understand Before You Come Here

United Kingdom Student Work Insider Guides
by Lauren Williams May 30, 2016

1. Be prepared to read between the lines.

Overwhelming politeness is observed in every circumstance. “Sorry” could mean anything from a genuine apology to a threat, and passive-aggression should be looked out for. We’re also quite tight with compliments, flouncy adjectives and the truth:

    • Not bad = Very good
    • Quite good = A bit shit
    • How interesting = What absolute nonsense
    • Oh, by the way… = Everything I have said previous to this was leading up to what I actually have to say, and it’s probably a cleverly cloaked insult
    • Pop round anytime = Please don’t
    • Hi! How are you? = I don’t want to talk to you, I’m just being polite
    • Don’t worry = I will never forget this as long as I live
    • Perfect = Well that’s that ruined then

2. Be very careful about which newspapers you read.

Non-partisan, objective journalism is a thing of the very distant past in the UK, and each newspaper has its own political party it quite obviously backs. Take every news-piece like the pinch of salt on the side of a rather bitter shot of tequila, and squint in distaste to find the truth between the words.

In short,

      • The Independent despises our current government, the Conservative Party, and aren’t shy about telling you so.
      • The Guardian and Observer are loyally Labour and are non-aggressive about their stance.
      • The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday will shove racially questionable, right wing propaganda down your throat, sugar-coated in a cancer scare.
      • The Sun follow the Conservatives like baby ducks waddling after their mother, with a sprinkling of terrorism-scaremongering on the side.
      • The Telegraph is the newspaper of the rich and are staunch Conservatives through and through.

At least half of these newspapers show boobs on page three every day of the week.

3. Leave your cliches at the door.

There’s way too many stereotypes floating around that all of us Brits reside in quaint little thatched cottages, with a red telephone box at the bottom of the road and Hugh Grant popping in for a cuppa every Sunday, sitting awkwardly on our ancient, floral three-piece-suite whilst chatting about the weather with a mouthful of wonky teeth.

I hate to rain on your parade, but the UK isn’t exactly like that. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; we’re all a bit rough and ready and the majority of us are surviving somewhere on the poverty line, meaning that a thatched cottage in the countryside is so far out of our budget that the thought of ever owning one is laughable. Our dental hygiene is also nothing like Austin Powers’. In fact, a study performed by OECD, an international economic organisation concluded that the British “have the very best teeth in the entire world.”

I’ll own it, though, that we do love to talk about the shitty weather over a cup of tea, and most women fancy Hugh Grant, but he’s never sat on our hand-me-down-sofa.

4. London is cool, but there are far better things outside of the city.

I hear ya, Big Ben and Westminster and Camden Market and Buckingham Palace. There’s allure. But if you take yourself out of the city you’ll find some other cool things… and spend a hell of a lot less money.

Just an hour south of LDN is Brighton, arguably our finest town for revelry, free lovin’ and riotous parties. We’ve got the Scottish Highlands way up north where there is some of the best hiking in the world and Cornish beaches way down south where the surf is world-class. There’s paradise getaways in the British Channel Islands just a half-hour flight off the south coast and the wild valleys of Wales to the west. Cross the Irish Sea and you’re already in Northern Ireland. Staying inland of England will reward you with cheese-rolling festivals, nights where flaming tar barrels bowl down the streets and a ton of eccentric traditions, dialects and cultures.

5. But if you must stay in London, walk.

London is a relatively small city, and although you’ll definitely have some achy feet by the end of the day, it is best discovered on foot. The Tube, although a wonderful feat of British engineering, is fabulously deceptive and gives the illusion of travelling far further than you actually have. In reality, 10 minutes moving underground, plus waiting for a train and the added discomfort of being pushed up against 13 sweaty armpits, could actually be a 15-minute stroll in the sunshine.

That saying, if you do use the Tube, get yourself an Oyster Card at one of the ticket offices at most stations. These cards can be topped up as and when needed, and work out far cheaper than buying day tickets.

6. The country is much bigger than you think it is, but our public transport is terrible.

Our main body of land may be just one island, but driving from top to bottom, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, will take you approximately 15 hours without breaks. Travelling this distance is not always easy, or affordable.

Internal flights are relatively reasonable, but only if booked at least 12 weeks in advance. Trains are extortionate, unless booked exactly 12 weeks ahead of time. Coaches range from reasonable to so-cheap-it’s-too-good-to-be-true, so choose your provider wisely. The MegaBus is the equivalent to a moving sweatbox, or freezer, depending on the time of year, and is usually filled with drunken students traversing the country; National Express is not so cheap, stops at every village, town and service station possible, but is slightly more comfortable with nicer people; the rest fit somewhere in-between, all will take at least double the time as if you were driving.

All forms of public transport will be late.

We also drive on the left and use a stick shift if you choose to take to the wheel. Be warned that although most main roads are a joy to drive, once you get into our extremities there is little more than windy, pot-holed lanes.

7. We’re not just about tea, we do extreme sports pretty well too.

There isn’t anything you can’t do in the United Kingdom. We have an endless list of things to do for the adventure lover — from surfing in the north sea to trampolining underground in caves in Wales. Scotland caters for winter climbers and hikers as well as sailers, kayakers and walkers during the summer. The coastline around the whole country is pristine, loaded with seals, dolphins and sharks and is totally equipped for long-distance walking. We have Dartmoor in the south where wild camping is at its best, and the Lake District, Peak District and Snowdonia all lend themselves to the mountaineer. If anything, our cold weather makes being outdoors that much more extreme.

8. We’ve got quite a dark sense of humour.

And there is no subject off the table and not available for ridicule. Just watch a bit of Frankie Boyle to get a glimpse into our whimsy. Don’t be offended, or the joke will get turned on you.

9. You should not miss Bristol.

Bristol is a city that fringes the south-west and Wales. It’s got Banksy on almost every corner, art galleries, experimental music, soon-to-be designers and events that aim to bring together a community. It is creative and intelligent, busy and calm, has country and town and encompasses almost all that the UK has to offer in one place.

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