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London as a local: 10 tips for survival
Looking like a tourist can cost you money and pride. Here's how to see the English capital like a true Brit
Dating back 2,000 years, and with more than 300 languages and one truly eccentric mayor, London can be an overwhelming prospect for the Olympic tourist.
But it is possible to spend time here without looking and feeling like Oprah in India.
You just need to read our survivor's guide.
1. How to cope with the Olympics
Most Londoners view the Games in the same way they did World War II: they didn’t ask for it and it’ll make their lives hell for a while, but they’ll be excited when their side wins anything.
To be on the safe side, when talking to anyone about the Olympics, be sure to hit all the key moaning points of transport, security and massive budget overspends.
But since most locals claim they will be leaving town to avoid the crowds, the chances are if you’re talking to someone who claims to be a local, they’re faking it just like you.
2. How to experience culture
London is home to some of the planet’s best art galleries, theaters and historical sites. To be a true Londoner, you must ignore these entirely.
Traipsing around the Tate Modern or the Natural History Museum is strictly for tourists. Locals know these places exist, intend to visit them one day, but somehow never get around to it.
Instead, true Londoners find the best way of experiencing the rich culture their city has to offer is to leaf through the pages of a listings magazine, idly circling events that they know, deep down, they will never bother buying tickets for.
3. How to eat a balanced diet
A common misconception among newcomers is that an evening out in London will involve a meal. Failure to prepare for this can lead to lightheadedness, nausea and kebabs.
If someone suggests going for a drink after work, they mean drink and nothing else. Booze will be bought in quantity and at no time will the issue of dinner raise its ugly head.
To avoid a woozy stagger home via a frightening fast-food outlet, the sensible socialite takes dietary precautions.
It is acceptable to order prepackaged bar snacks such as crisps (potato chips) or peanuts to soak up some of the alcohol. Alternatively, try ordering drinks that offer a sliver of nutritional value, like a pint of London Pride beer or a cocktail with an olive.
In some bars you may see something called “Pork Scratchings” for sale. These are not for you.
4. How to speak
Forget cockney rhyming slang. Few people outside Disney films talk about climbing the “apples and pears” or talking on the “dog and bone.” Try this and you will be laughed out of the "rub-a-dub” -- or as Londoners call it, the pub.
The secret to blending in with locals lies solely in the use of one word: “innit” -- a colloquial abbreviation of “isn’t it?”
Confusingly, although “innit” implies a query, this uniquely London method of punctuating sentences is a purely rhetorical device.
Thus, “time for drink, innit?” is wrong, but “I’ve had four pints and no dinner, innit” is grammatically perfect.
5. How to shop
Sure, you can follow the crowds down Oxford Street in search of designer labels at Selfridges department store or low cost fashions at Topshop.
You can even trawl the eastern hipster districts for some retro cool.
But, when they’re not buying online, most Londoners know there’s really only one place to do their shopping: Paris.
6. How to cross the river
Easy -- just use one of the numerous bridges that span the Thames, right? Wrong!
A true Londoner does not cross the river unless forced by violence, employment, or the lure of alcohol. Only bad things lie on the other side.
South (pronounced "Sarf") Londoners stay south, north Londoners stay north. The river that separates them might as well be a gulf as deep and yawning as the Grand Canyon.
A long-distance relationship linking lovers in Stuttgart and Seoul has more chance of lasting than one between a couple divided by the mighty Thames.
7. How to dodge the chuggers
It’s a commonly asserted fact that you’re never more than a meter away from a rat in London. The same can be said of “chuggers,” or charity muggers.
Chuggers lurk on most street corners of the city. Here they attempt to get unsuspecting citizens to sign away their cash by overwhelming them with relentless enthusiasm and bonhomie.
It’s all perfectly legal, and most of your money will go to a good cause, but if you succumb to every single chugger you’ll be penniless by the time you reach the pub.
Most Londoners have developed evasion techniques to avoid falling into cheery chugger traps.
The best is to pretend not to be Londoner. If you don’t have a British bank account, you’re chugger-proof.
8. How to get intimate with strangers
When you’re not being chugged, London can be a lonely city. Locals tend to hang around in impenetrable cliques, making it hard to get acquainted.
Anyone feeling starved of human contact should head into the bowels of the Tube -- the London Underground rail system -- during rush hour.
This is when commuters stack into train carriages like a human version of Tetris. Every conceivable space is filled. Bodies press against bodies. Limbs intertwine with limbs.
Despite the intimacy of these encounters (some marriages never achieve the levels of physical contact found on the Underground), it is an important rule of Tube etiquette not to acknowledge them.
So, even when you find a stranger inadvertently wedged into crevices of your body that you never knew existed, under no circumstances must you look them in the eye.
9. How to tell the time
New York prides itself on being the city that never sleeps. The same cannot be said for London.
Anyone staying out late in the center of London will witness a peculiar ritual as panicked locals swig down drinks then run through the streets like Cinderella racing the chimes of midnight.
This nightly curfew is set by the closure of the Underground. Trains are halted shortly after 12 a.m. to give maintenance crews a chance to clear the grunge that builds up along its Victorian tunnels.
Anyone missing this crucial cut-off point will find themselves stranded far from home and facing a fate far worse than being turned into a pumpkin: the night bus.
10. How to survive the night bus
For all its crowds, grunge and frequent signaling failures at obscure stations like High Barnet or Cockfosters, when compared to the night bus, the London Underground represents the height of luxury travel.
Night buses are the last resort; the creaking life rafts that bear disaster survivors across the treacherous ocean that is suburban London in the wee hours.
Journeys that take 20 minutes by Tube, can take up to 48 hours on the night bus. During this time, the sun will not rise and many on board will either perish or get off and walk.
To survive this ordeal it is crucial to remain awake at all costs. Listen to loud i-Pod music, engage in rambling conversations with other passengers or play dodge the empty vodka bottle as it trundles towards you across the floor.
If you do succumb to sleep, expect to be woken up as the driver gleefully turfs you out at the end of the line -- usually a dark lane deep in the countryside.
You’re a long way from London now, innit.