Today London starts to officially welcome our Olympian visitors.  So the time is right to broach a knotty subject. Tourists.  The minute ANY of us venture too far from our own front door, we ALL become tourists.  The problem is, when we become tourists we lose our grip on what is socially acceptable, particularly if we never knew what is acceptable in the land we landed in in the first place.  From that point on, it is all too easy to become a right pain in the proverbial. So here are five things I wish that all visitors to London knew.

1) A train, bus or tube is a method of transport. It is not a salon or debating society. Thus, when groups of travellers are separated from each other, it is not OK to continue one’s conversation loudly across the train carriage.  Nor is OK to sit on each others laps and bellow at each other as though one was at different ends of the tube train. Frankly, this summer it is going to be worse than ever, so avoid the tube and rush hour as much as possible. As a tourist the one thing you have on your side is time. So, walk. Take in the ambiance. It will be nicer. But if you must travel by tube…

2) Tube gates and entrances:  These are among the busiest points in the network, and they rely heavily on people moving swiftly through them at speed.  Now, voyager, this is not the time to pause, take a moment, and reflect on where to go next. I know you now don’t know where you are and therefore legitimately want to take a moment to reevaluate your options.  But rapid stopping results in rapid crashing into the back of you, and honestly it turns me from mild mannered public servant to mildly psychotic within microseconds. So when you pause, do it out of the main thoroughfare, and do ask tube staff for help: usually they are pleased to help.

3) Luggage. Who among us has not had to spend their first or last day on holiday yanking around massive rucksacks, or dragging around wheelie suitcases? So I’m sympathetic.  I merely observe that rucksacks seem to completely kibosh whatever spatial awareness the traveller may have had in the first place. The main alternative, the wheelie, is a simply marvellous innovation. However, the streets of London have been dug up more or less weekly since the late 1600s, and they were pretty rustic in the first place.  They are not the wheelie’s friend.

If humanly possible, I suggest you stow all baggage with a concierge or a left luggage locker if humanly possible. If it really is your last few hours in a place, I simply don’t believe you want the delicate sound of thunder wherever you go; I really just don’t.

4) Photography. Ah the muse.  London is a city blessed with photo opportunities. And blow me, I think you should capture a goodly few of them, but when you feel the muse land, do take a minute to ask her the question “have you inspired any one else round here?” Speaking as one who has to pick her way over great hordes of tourists snapping at Big Ben or Buckingham Palace daily, I’m in a position to assure you that the muse gets around a lot around there.  I think you might want to give her a bit of a break… Which is why I think you should particularly observe number five on the list…

5) Do something different.  I don’t judge here. I too have gone on holiday with the Rough Guide, finding myself surrounded on every side by people all having precisely the same holiday as me because the same book has told all of us to visit the same things. My advice to you is simple.  Go on one of those bus tours.  Look at the London Eye, Big Ben, Oxford Street, if you must.  See these things so you have the photographs and can say you did, and then put the book away. Rather than louse up Covent Garden or Piccadilly Circus like everyone else, potter around the great parks, pop into one or two of our weirder museums, swim in the Serpentine on a weekday.  Don’t see the sights, rather, have an adventure.

Next time, we will have an adventure with thing 572: help a tourist in need, before getting involved in the 2012 summer of competition.  In my case with dire consequences…

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