8 October 2011
This section of my guide has more information that you need to know. It has mostly “house-keeping” issues than anything else and some things that we never think about when holiday planning.
Bank & Public Holidays
These are similar to the so-called “Legal Holidays” in the states. Typically, banks and business are closed for that day and public transport is cut back.
There are eight holidays in England:
New Year’s Day
May Bank Holiday (first Monday in May)
Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May)
Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August)
Boxing Day (day after Christmas)
Be aware that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may have different days. This list is just for England & Wales. For more on this see Direct Gov site.
Body weight in England is given in Stone. One stone is 14 pounds and 8 stone (stones not typically used) is a hundredweight (112 lbs). A person’s weight is expressed as 10 stone, 5 pounds, 10 ounces or, 145 pounds, 10 ounces American. Don’t make fun of me using ounces, as this is what is announced for body weight of members of the crew in the Oxford – Cambridge Boat race.
Churches for every religion can be found in the phone book or from the hotel porter. There is nothing for me to say, really, other than that I have a story for you. St. Paul’s Cathedral has a service every November 24th for all the Americans in London. It is said that this date is when they have their largest turnout.
In as much as Americans and the English (Europeans to some degree) speak English, we all seem to have our own ways. Keep this in mind when you see numbers. Americans use a decimal (.) to separate dollars from cents. The Europeans use a comma (,). When you see 100,00 it means 100.00.
Days of the Month, expressing
Americans express a date as month – day – year.
The English and Europeans write day – month – year.
This is important to know when the month is not spelled out. Typically the Brits will write 22 March 2007, but it could also be seen as 22/3/07. This is obvious but what about 4/7/07? That is 4 July 2007 but if you miss-read it as April 7, 2007 then you will be early for the fireworks.
Incidentally, calendars in the UK are made differently that ours. We begin a week on a Sunday where they start a week on Monday. That places Saturday and Sunday next to each other on the calendar. I guess they don’t want to break up their weekends?
Electricity & Electronics
Please see my Electronics in the UK page.
Floor Levels (of Buildings)
Americans regard a street level floor to be the first floor. In a way this makes sense, as it is the first floor you walk on. However the Brits call this the ground floor as it is nearest to the ground. To them the first floor is the first floor above the ground floor. You take the lift to the first floor.
Food for take away is even more abundant than chemist shops. Take a look into the grocery store as you can find hot and cold food to eat in the hotel room, or for souvenirs. Never buy tea from a souvenir vendor as a shop has better prices. Going further out from Oxford Street will see a price drop on most goods. I typically spend two weeks in the UK and I always bring a plastic plate and metal cutlery (better than plastic) so I can eat in my hotel room comfortably. You can find hot deals on hot food that will be cheaper than a restaurant; or when you want to stay in for the night.
Some of the larger stores are Marks & Spencer’s Food, http://www.marksandspencer.com/. Sainsbury, http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/. Whole Foods has a store on Kensington High Street. Find them, and their sister stores at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/
Keep an eye open for free service areas and Internet cafés. Hotels have Internet booths or kiosks, but the cost could be high.
The Apple store in London, 235 Regent Street W1B 2EL (Phone: 020 7153 9000) has free Wi-Fi service. The store is on the right side of the Regent Street, when walking from Oxford Circus towards Trafalgar Square. See: http://www.apple.com/uk/retail/regentstreet/week/20071209.html
The City of London, the “Square Mile”, is wired for Wi-Fi throughout. You can also fine hotspots on the web before you go. I am not sure what is free.
A large number of places offer free wifi service but as good as that sounds there is a catch. You need to register your mobile number so you can receive a text with the pass code. American numbers may not be accepted.
Please remember that you are not in Kansas anymore, Toto and things will be different. Most eating places such as coffee shops, pubs or cafeterias style restaurants do not have private seating, in that somebody could land next to you at your table if there is an open seat. You will have you own table in places that have table service. Also, the sugar bowl is never covered, corn is a topping on pizza and coffee to go (take away) costs more. And just try to buy a cup of Joe. Most coffee is espresso and if you want standard issue American coffee you will need to order filter coffee, black or white.
On a bright note, the wait staff will not care what kind if day you’re having.
Packing light makes carrying luggage a bit better. It is not too difficult to find a nearby launderette as most of all London is residential. Ask around.
Launderettes are self-wash coin operated but most have a person that will take in cloths and wash & press them for you. This may be better that the hotel as they will most likely send them out anyway. What better way to meet the local women during the day? They can tell you the best places to eat and shop and this will add to you holiday experience.
Man with Camera
Be wary if a man with a camera in hand comes up to and asks if you are a tourist. He wants to take your photo and send them to you for a fee. Even of he is on the up and up you will pay dearly for this photo. Who doesn’t go to London without a camera? Well, I do know a lot of people who don’t take photos. Still, stop another person on the street. They will do this for free. It happens all the time. And by the way, why doesn’t he just e-mail a digital picture to you?
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are on the Pound Sterling (£) system. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro (€). Scotland has its own currency as well and pounds and both can be used in Scotland and England. Coin is broken into 100 pence to one pound. Nobody says pence and neither should you. Just say pee. If something cost £5.50 say “five pounds fifty”. If it costs 50p say fifty-pee.
The pound consists of 100 pence to a pound. In coin you will find 1, 2, 10, 20 and 50 pence and the one and two pound coin. Halfpence coins are still being used. Notes come in 5, 10, 20 denominations. One-pound notes were discontinued some years ago and are no longer valid.
If you have lost your passport you need to contact your embassy at once and make sure you file a police report. Get a copy of the police report, as you may need it in getting thru immigration. Before you travel you should make several copies of the photo page of your passport. Place a copy in each of you bags along with name and phone numbers of hotels and other contacts. If your luggage is lost it will help the authorities get them back to you. You will also have the photo page of your passport in the event it is lost or stolen. You should also give it and contact information to somebody staying home so they can help if needed. Make sure your contact person has phone and fax numbers of the hotel as well as a copy of this page. This will show them how to call the UK and it has information for the US Embassy.
Petrol (Gasoline) is sold in the UK in Great British Pounds (£), and not Euros (€), per litre. The price is shown at the pump in pence. As oil prices have gone up the price may 107.9p when it used to be 99.9p. To find what it would cost in US dollars for a gallon we need to do a math problem.
Take the UK price £1.079 (move the decimal over two places to make pence into pounds & pence, if not already advertized that way) and multiply it by the exchange rate (check current rate here); let’s say $1.75/£1.00. Then divide that by 0.264, which is how many liters are in a gallon. Thus, one liter of petrol costing 107.9p is the equivalent of $7.26/gallon. The British government has a 25% tax on petrol. Check the current petrol price here. You can scroll the map around.
As of 12 January 2011, the price for unleaded is 127.9p and diesel is 132.9p, for one litre. The exchange rate for the day was 1.5667USD/1.0GBP.
127.9 = £1.279/L X $1.5667/£1 ÷ 0.264L/G = $7.59/gallon and diesel is $7.88/gallon. If the exchange rate were to be in parity, then gasoline would be $4.88 and diesel would be $5.08 per gallon.
To find what gas in the US is selling for in British pounds per litre, take the price ($/G) $7.97/G and divide by the exchange rate of $1.5667. Then multiply that by 0.264. $7.97/G equals £1.34/L. If gas is $3.50/G, then it is £0.59/L. A lot of this has to do with exchange rates, taxes and international markets.
There is one geographical (area) code for London and it is 020. It is followed by a number used to further distribute phone numbers in London whereas 7 generally applies to Inner London and 8 generally applies to Outer London. As of June 2005, the number 3 has been applied to all areas of London. The general rule in writing a number is: 020 7000 0000 or 0207 000 0000. The 7, 8 or 3 after the 020 is really a part of the local number.
Using the 0 in 020 is required within the United Kingdom but not used when calling from the United States. See below for dialing from the states.
Calling England from the United States
Dial the International Access Code (011) + the country code (44) + city code (20) + local number. You do not dial the 0 in 020 when calling from the states. Example: 011 44 20 7123 4567. The Brits don’t seem to like hyphens. The international access code gets you an overseas connection and the country code for England is 44.
Please note that the country code 44 is for the United Kindom, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (Belfast). The country code 353 is for the Republic of Ireland (Dublin), which IS NOT a part of the UK. Also, if you are calling any area code in the UK or Ireland, you drop the 0 at the beginning of the number.
Calling the United States from England
Dial the International Access Code for the States (010) + country code (1) + area code (???) followed by the number (???-????).
Example: 010 1 412 123 4567
+ Symbol and International Calling
If you see a number that has a plus sign before the country code it is an indicator for you to add the international access code of the country you are in. This is when you are not in the country the number applies to. You also omit the +XX portion of the number is you are in that country the number applies to. Mobile (Cell) and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones can allow for this by pressing the 0 key twice or by holding it down. You should see the + symbol on the 0 key. The phone network will read the + and automatically connect the IAC. If your phone does not have the + symbol then you need to add the number manually.
This site: http://www.howtocallabroad.com/codes.html lists country codes and access (exit) codes.
The phone number for any emergency service is 999. The pan European emergency number of 112 is also valid. They are both used in the UK and Northern Ireland. It is possible to get a connection using 911 in the UK but should be avoided.
What we Americans call toll-free is called Freephone. Calling 0800 within the UK is free but calling 1-800 calls to the states are charged at the international rate. Calling a 0800 number is free for landline phones but not always from mobile phones. Calling a number such as 081, 082, etc. is not free and prices can vary. Calling a 090 number is expensive and calling a 098 number is the most expensive as it is for sex lines.
You can buy a phone card from a vendor or the post office. They usually come in £10 or £20 (and £2 and £5 if you can find them) denominations and last for about 6 months. They have instructions in very fine print on how to use them. They are good anywhere in the world so you can bring them back for stateside use.
For more information on telephone numbers, see this site on telephone numbers.
Some hotels have direct dial phones while others require you to dial 9 for outside access. The phone in your room will cost more than using a pre-pay phone card. You can use cards in most phone booths and the hotel lobby. Charges for room phones will be added to your bill upon checkout. See the front desk about phone charges (local or long distance).
Most everyone travels with a mobile (cell) phone and takes them overseas. Contact your phone provider and tell them where you are going as they may offer plans that permit your phone to work overseas at a reduced cost. Verizon phones issued in the US do not work in the UK. Verizon can loan you a mobile phone for use overseas.
Public Phone Booths
Public telephone booths look nice from the outside but a word of caution should be mentioned before you setting foot in one. Oh yes, they are safe but it is the “want ads” that could cause you to flee. Certain types of ladies who try to earn extra money for their pension place ads on the wall of the booth. They have their picture and phone number. They just want to talk. Judging by the photo, one would think they need money for cloths.
Photography & Video
Photography with or without a flash is very restricted in most buildings. Be aware of where you are and ask permission first if you are in a public building, such as a pub and especially if using a flash or light. Actually pubs are not public buildings, but I think you get the message.
When you present your mail at a teller window you will asked to place one letter at a time on a scale. You will be given stamps for each letter based on their weight. Post cards have a fixed price unless they are huge or unusual. Post card stamps come in packs of four. The teller generally does not take your mail. Some post office locations have a mail drop inside the building and some have the mail slots outside on the building wall.
Similar to the Zip code in the states, the postcode can help you get around and find the right spot. There is no central code but the codes read in a relative compass direction of north, south, east and west, with respect to one another. The code is always written with the street name: Bedford Square WC1.
Compared to the states, the cost of postage is much higher in the UK. Be aware of the cost of the cards, postage and the exchange rate. The term the Brits use when sending pre-paid (free to you) mail is Freepost. Be aware that the cost of the card and stamps can well exceed $1.00 when sending out postcards. Airmail postage for cards is very high. If you think 30, 40 or 50 cents his bad here try $2.00 to $3.00 in the UK.
Most of the world is on the metric system and temperature is given in Celsius (0°). The US states temperature in Fahrenheit (32°). Converting is a bit tricky but here is a brief comparison.
Remembering high school math: F = (9/5C)+32 or C = 5/9(F-32)
And to note, 0° C = 32° F, which is the freezing temperature of water.
Time and Time Zone Reference
Time is given in two ways in the UK. One method uses the 12 hour clock as is typical in the US. Time is designated morning or evening with the suffix am or pm. It is typical in Britain to use the 24 hour clock in which the hour between midnight and 1 am is 1 hour and noon is 12 hour. One o-clock in the after noon is 13.00 GMT and six pm is 18.00 GMT. Add the number of hours after noon to 12 to get the correct Greenwich Mean Time. Yes, math problems on vacation.
This is a good time (yes, you should have seen it coming) for a joke from Bette Midler: When it's three o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London.
Standard Time (British Summer Time)
British Summer Time begins on the last Sunday in March and lasts to the last Sunday in October. Clocks, in the UK and the European Union “spring” ahead one hour at 1 in the morning.
Consequently on the last Sunday of October the clocks “fall” back one hour at 0100 to Standard Time.
There are five time zones between the East Coast of the United States and England. Remember this five hour difference when calling home.
Tipping is pretty much the same as in the states but the percentage is a little bit less in the UK. Actually, tips of 10% or a wee bite more are the norm. Anyone who does a service for you such as porters, maids, cabbies, etc should be tipped. Bartenders are not supposed to be tipped with cash but they seldom say no. If you have a favorite bartender or want to show one your appreciation and he doesn’t take your cash you can buy him a drink. The traditional way of tipping a bartender is to offer him/her a drink when you order yours. When you ask for a drink say; “and one for yourself” If they accept they can dink it then or save the money for latter.
When you buy a meal in a restaurant or pub and see this term, service included, on the bill it means that a gratuity (the tip) has been added. In a pub you do not tip the person serving you a meal since they serve it at a counter. You will see the staff clean up after the patrons, which is customary in pubs. It is permitted to tip the bartender but is not expected in England. CHECK YOUR BILL Do this each time to see if service has been added. Check to see that the only items are the ones that you ordered. If there is a priced next to something on the menu you will be charged if it brought to your table. This really is not of much concern but it has happened to me in the past.
The Ugly American
Think of going overseas as going to somebody’s home. This should be a time that we are on our best behavior. Try not to be too demanding or pushy. Please and thank you is always good. Now, the people that live there may engage in bad manners but it is different when “outsiders” do it. It’s human nature. I have witnessed bad behavior on the part of American’s as well as people from other countries. Nobody enjoys their antics. I have also reaped the benefits of being nice to others. I have had pleasant encounters and more than several free pints at pubs for playing nice. If you have contact with somebody often during your stay you can build a nice friendship.
As an American in London I have found that the Brits are curious about us, and our way of life. Everyone from the bartender to the maid has a desire to talk to you. Some of my most enjoyable memories come from my engagement with others.
See Money and Banking
Please see my Electronics in the UK page.
Although we have a common language everything seems to be different. Walking on the left just like driving on the left is the “English” way. Remember this when using an escalator. Stand to the right so that others can walk on the left.
As you walk about London you will no doubt find a need to ask for directions. You will not be given directions in feet or city “blocks” but in how long it should take you to get there. “Just 5 minutes to Piccadilly, Gov.”