Whether you arrive at Heathrow, Gatwick, or Stansted, once you touch down in London, it’s important to observe local etiquette. Too often, traveling executives arrive to a meeting directly from their business-class flight, expecting to find that British business customs are the same as American ones. Take the time to learn about the culture before traveling to London. Tips, etiquette, humor, and social norms are all seen differently in Britain. We’ve compiled our top tips for making sure that your next business trip to London is successful.
Emergencies and Safety
Call 999, which is similar to America’s 911, if you encounter an emergency. Be aware of pickpockets, and use the common-sense approaches you would use in any major city. The police force here is world-famous for being helpful.
When it comes to London travel tips for Americans, this one is often forgotten: remember to bring a UK power adapter, which should have three flat prongs.
The currency in London is not the euro, but the pound, which is worth about one and a half U.S. dollars (though exchange rates do fluctuate). Because the pound is often worth more, you’ll want to be careful with your expenses. Pounds come in the form of both moderately heavy coins and bills. Note that you may be eligible to get a value-added tax refund on some expenses.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local tipping customs before traveling to London. Tips are not expected, because British workers are paid minimum wage. Tipping is only used for exemplary service and is not an obligation. In some situations, however, tipping is customary. For instance, it’s polite to round up the fare of a taxi ride to the closest pound. Check your bill when dinning out; service charges are often included.
Though its often mocked, British cuisine has been reinvigorated in recent years. Americans often don’t expect the city to be quite as multicultural as it is; Indian dishes are quite popular. However, classical British meals such as afternoon tea are still occasionally observed. Traveling professionals should note that business lunches are preferred over business dinners. As always, mind your manners; keep your elbows off of the table.
British Business Etiquette
Because Americans and British people speak the same language, they often assume that their cultural norms are the same. This is not the case, however, and not taking the time to understand differences can lead to miscommunications. Business in Britain is often very formal. If you’re dealing with an older generation, they will often prefer dealing with you through a well-established third party. Rank and hierarchy is respected, but there is also a team-focused attitude in business. Here are a few more tips for doing business in London:
- Punctuality – It’s very important to be on time in London. Arrive within five minutes or call ahead. Meetings should be scheduled in advance.
- Greetings – Usually, it is customary British business etiquette to shake hands with everyone present with a light grip while maintaining eye contact. Use last names and titles unless instructed otherwise. Business cards are exchanged without ritual. Gifts are usually not exchanged in business settings. Very brief small talk is customary before getting down to business.
- Communication – Speak with a low volume and use formal speech. British people often combine both direct communication and understatement, preferring a mix of the two to hyperbole. Humor in Britain is often self-deprecating. Sometimes, British businesspeople can be very difficult to read for Americans, as they often use diminutives differently than other English-speakers to avoid being confrontational.
- Negotiating – Many, if not most, decisions need to be approved by a board of directors in London. Group consensus is preferred, and teamwork is valued.
- Faux Pas:
- British people value their personal space. Don’t invade it by standing too close, back-slapping, or touching.
- If you are invited to someone’s home, don’t discuss business there. Like the French, the British value a separation between business and private life.
- Holding up two fingers with your palm facing you (the “v” sign) is considered to be very rude.
- Don’t insult the royal family, and avoid potentially controversial topics.
- Don’t ever push ahead in a line, or “queue”; it is considered rude.
- Excessive staring is also considered rude.
- Using overly direct speech and being blunt is seen as aggressive in Britain.
- Speaking loudly or shouting in public (especially while using the subway system or “tube”) is considered to be extremely rude.
Visa requirements are often overlooked when discussing London travel tips. For an American doing business in the UK for six months or less, a visa may be necessary, depending on the circumstance. A Standard Visitor visa covers those traveling for business meetings or training.
for Your Day Off
London has become a favorite tourist attraction for people the world over, especially in recent years. Using the tube, you can easily get to most of the more famous tourist attractions. Be sure to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, cross the Millennium Bridge, ride the London Eye, tour the tower of London, and visit several of the many world-famous museums in the city.
If you remember these tips, Londoners may see you as very travel-savvy. You can also be travel-savvy by purchasing a cheap first-class ticket at an unbelievable discount with Executive Class Travel. With our unbeatable prices and priceless tips, you can have a successful business trip!