10 Things That Aren’t True About London

Yes, I’ve decided to try a little “10 things” blog, let’s see how it goes!

As a teacher, you always have that one lesson where you want to know what students actually know about the country they’re visiting/staying in, and it’s in those lessons that you find that students always have an idea of what London is like that they’ve adopted from movies, the internet and stereotypes.

Being originally from Portugal, I too used to have such notions and have come to find that, unfortunately, London is not the magical place that I thought it was (obviously). Here is the top 10 of things I thought were true but aren’t about London, which sometimes also apply to the rest of England.

1. People don’t speak with a “British accent”

If you spend some time in England, you will find the incredulous fact that the norm is not that British accent that you were used to hearing on the BBC. Very few people speak like that. And that’s why people call that wonderful, clear accent BBC English. I’ve met a few people who do speak like that, but they tended to be older.

Of course London had a vast number of different accents due to the high number of foreigners who live here, but even between English people there are different accents. You’ll find that people from an upper-class family have a “posh accent”, which is similar to BBC English, and that lower-class people speak in a way that you can barely understand at first. And I think the vast majority just speaks a middle-ground English.

If you’re interested in listening to different English accents you can watch TV shows like “The Jeremy Kyle Show” or really any reality or live show you can get your hands on and you’ll find how incredibly rich English accents really are.

2. People don’t say “It’s raining cats and dogs!”

This came as a shock to me! In all of my school books they would show “It’s raining cats and dogs” as the prime example of British expressions, but nobody actually uses it, unless maybe if they are older. I’ve never heard anyone use it in my 7 years of living in England. So, if it’s raining heavily say “It’s pouring!” if you don’t want your British friends to have a good laugh and pet you on the head because you’re an adorable foreigner who doesn’t know any better.

3. British food isn’t all bad

People still are reluctant to believe me when I tell them that I’ve had delicious British food. It is a widely believed fact that British food is colourless and flavourless, even British people themselves say it! A friend once said that “British people boil their food until it has no colour, no flavour and no nutritional values left in it”. Don’t believe them!

Ok, of course there is some food like that around otherwise it wouldn’t be such a strong stereotype, but there is lovely food here. I always tell my (adult) students to nip down to a good pub on a Sunday and enjoy a Sunday Roast. Seriously, try it. It’s so delicious and warm and goes down so well with a nice pint of lager. Pub food can be extremely nice. And a Full English Breakfast will cure you of any hangover you might have.

4. Not everyone is a gentleman

Nor is everyone a hooligan. That’s how English people are perceived outside the country but that’s not the case. Yes, there are hooligans and gentlemen but usually you’ll find that not many English people fit into these categories.

As to being gentlemen, British people do give a lot of importance to “minding your p’s (please) and q’s (thank yous)”. We had to teach this during summer school because the kitchen staff would refuse to serve anyone who wouldn’t follow this rule because it was rude. So when in England always say please and thank you!

Most foreigners think British people drink a lot and are problematic. And you do get a lot of British tourists who drink way too much and are way too cocky because they’re on holiday (so why should they care if they break a few windows or a few noses?). But I think that a lot of young tourists (no matter from what country) behave in the same way.

5. There is no “5 o’clock tea”

Not once have I met or seen people who have this habit of having tea at 5 o’clock with sandwiches and cake. It’s more of an old tradition, and nowadays it’s thought of as a special treat and considered posh (upper-class). There is no time for tea, they drink in the morning, afternoon and sometimes evening. At some point at university I found myself drinking more than three cups of tea every day because people around me would do the same.

I do recommend you have some cream tea at some point. No, it’s not tea with cream, but tea served with scones with jam and clotted cream (which is like a very creamy butter). It’s delicious and quaint and very English.

6. It isn’t always foggy/raining in London

Actually, we’ve been having a lovely couple of weeks of sunshine. No, it’s not exactly hot, but the sky is blue and it added a spring to my step when I leave the house to go to work every morning. And it isn’t usually foggy in the winter either. Cloudy, yes, but not foggy. However it does get dark really early in the winter. I remember a Spanish classmate of mine got really depressed because we used to go to the library at university at around 9am and left at around 3.30pm and never got to see daylight.

7. London isn’t paradise

I think it is the equivalent of the American dream, isn’t it? Foreigners often think the grass is greener on the other side, especially in romantic cities like London, Paris and New York. Well, I’m sorry to crush such dreams, but it isn’t easy at all living in London. That is, if you don’t have the money of course. With rent always rising, homes getting demolished to be reborn as high-end luxury apartments, the 8 million people living in London, taxes and the price of transport make it a very expensive and unforgiving city to live in.

8. It isn’t easy finding a job in London

Not if you don’t have any experience. And often even with experience, you might find yourself fighting against 100 others as qualified as you (or more). More often than not you’ll start to feel like all those CVs and cover letters you’ve been sending non-stop are just being swallowed up into a void as people don’t always have the courtesy to reply to your application, not even to say that they’ve gone with someone else.

9. People don’t go to the theatre every week

I don’t know if I’m the only one who used to think this about London, but I thought people went to the theatre every week. The theatre appears to be so very much alive in London, I just couldn’t help imagining watching a new play or musical on opening night, all dressed up. However alive the theatre still is (and it is very much alive), it can be quite expensive, especially musicals. Young people usually try to get cheaper tickets on the day, but they are limited and I’ve never been successful.

10. Big Ben isn’t Big Ben

The famous clock tower, which we all call Big Ben, is officially called the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben actually refers to the big bell inside the tower. However, Big Ben is generally accepted. So, if you’re ever in London you can impress your friends with this little fact.

I hope these little things about England are interesting for you, they were certainly for me when I first moved here, and I’m still learning something new every day.

Until next time,

Inês

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