How to Meet People Abroad: London, England

London

LondonToday’s post is part of a new series – How to Meet People Abroad.  This idea actually developed from a comment on one of our other blog posts!  A woman living in England claimed she couldn’t meet locals and the Melibees all said “UNTRUE” in unison!  Since we deeply believe that immersion in the local culture is key to learning, we challenged her on the idea that it was too difficult to meet Brits.  Today, Melibee’s own Kyle Rausch tackles the question of how to meet locals in London head on.  Remember, this is the first of series – and a perfect tool for pre-departure orientations too!

Many of us who enjoy traveling abroad do so in part for the love of challenging ourselves.  Suddenly, something as simple as grocery shopping can be an exciting (and at times stressful) experience.  Yes, it is this wonderful new lens in which we see the otherwise mundane that leads many of us to develop this passion for exploration.

However, sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable either because we are homesick, lack the knowledge of the host culture, or are quite simply just too exhausted to understand why the waiter cannot separate the bill (sorry — minor pet peeve flashback surfaced just now!)  Our best intentions to experience the city as a local are quickly forgone for the comforts of  chatting with friends via Skype and staying up on the latest entertainment back home.

In a city as vast, and at times expensive, as London is, it can quickly become an intimidating challenge.  To start off our new series, I outline five considerations for the Londoner-to-be who is feeling as if they’ve been run over by a double-decker.  Don’t give up; take on these five challenges and hopefully you’ll be donning a fascinator with the best of ’em in no time!

1. As one friend of Melibee and Londoner, Michelle White, explains, “Londoners compartmentalize everything. They have their work friends, their ‘real friends’, their club/ sports friends etc. So your best bet to meet people is to join one of these compartments!”  If you want to meet true-blue Londoners then take a step back and attempt to compartmentalize your life.  Can you identify the major groups to which you belong?  A good way to do this is to think about what defines you.  The nice thing about this challenge is that it fits the travel experience quite well since a big part of travel is learning about yourself. While it might be difficult to slot yourself into a Londoner’s ‘real friends’ compartment straight away, chances are you can find something that will get you into one of their other compartments.  For instance, if you identify like me as a theater-buff, you can find an assortment of activities within this compartment to become involved. Start with learning about up-and-coming shows that are not drawing the tourist crowds just yet.  Wait after the show and speak to the cast.  Look online or at local libraries for theater clubs or organizations based in London.  See a show and write a review and share in the comment field of well-known London theater blogs.  Soon, you’ll be working your way into a compartment and that one will lead to another.

2. So what do Londoners like to do within their compartments?  Well, it certainly is no secret that pub life is a hallmark of the culture.  In traditional English society, the pub is often considered the center of the local community; a gathering place for friends and colleagues to hang the woes of work life at the door and catch up on a personal level.  londonpubEven in a city as big as London, then, you will find many neighborhood pubs that draw a loyal clientele.  Rather than taking the easy way out and going to meet other Americans at the American bar (or worse yet, Hard Rock/Subway/or McDonalds!) take the time to find your neighborhood’s authentic English pub and become a regular.  Have a meal there once a week. Stop by at the end of the day and have a shandy.  Chat with the bartenders. Peoplewatch. Learn the flow of your neighborhood and the occasion to strike up conversation with a local will reveal itself to you. Of course, you’ve got to be approachable too!  You cannot simply sit at the bar constantly checking your phone. You’ve got to take the effort to engage people–remember, Londoners already have their compartments, you’ve got to work your way in politely!

londonsports3. So earlier I used the example of the theater compartment, but there is a major UK compartment that deserves some attention: sports!  Chances are that if you have managed to engage a Londoner in some casual pub conversation sports will be a topic of discussion! Of course if you’re a soccer or rugby fan then you’ll find this very easy to implement. Still, since London played host to the 2012 Olympics, there is also a renewed focus on the importance of an active lifestyle so there are plenty of options to insert yourself into this compartment. Get Active London is a website that purports 10,000 ways to get active in London. With everything from Aikido to Zumba, it seems as though there is no shortage of opportunities to participate in this compartment. Not only will you be meeting and learning from the locals, you’ll be staying fit too!

4. A third compartment certainly deserves to be mentioned – MUSIC! London has a dynamic music scene and as of late has certainly been producing big name acts from the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, and Adele.  But where you’ll most likely find success in living life like a Londoner and meeting others is by way of the underground music scene.  There are so many different types of music to be enjoyed in a cosmopolitan city such as London that you might even have to sub-compartmentalize this compartment!  Although this Guardian article is from 2008, it demonstrates the range of London’s music scene and offers examples of the varied venues to which one could attend and become part of a true London crowd.  Find a local unsigned group to follow and get to know their fans–I can’t imagine a more unique and authentic way to fit in the London scene!

5. Finally, put yourself out there.  Plain and simple, Londoners are fairly friendly people even if relatively private and busy with their already-neatly identified compartments.  In a city this large, it is far too easy to use the excuse that everything is expensive or too far away to rise up to the challenge of learning what it is to truly be a Londoner.  Meeting locals is going to take a significant investment on your your part; you can’t be afraid to make the first approach.  This is where careful observation and taking the time to learn about current London events and important trends is vital.  You should always have the latest issue of Timeout London!  Once you’ve had enough time to understand the pace and energy of life in London you will be able to see opportunities in which to inject yourself in a conversation or to invite a colleague or new acquaintance to do something with you.  Don’t let the Londoners’ fact-paced lifestyle or penchant for privacy intimidate you–just be respectful of these qualities and give them a reason to slot you in one of their compartments!

kyle rauschAbout the Author:  Kyle Rausch works for Arizona State University’s Study Abroad Office in Tempe, Arizona.  In the past he has served as Immigration Specialist and Passport Acceptance Facility Manager at Florida State University where he is finishing his MS in Higher Education Administration.

  • Beatriz

    You need to mention the humour. It’s sharp and clever. Watching TV or listening to the radio is great way to get to grips with the type of humour. The thing I miss the most since leaving Britain is the quality of the humour. It’s top class.

    A little more about pop (TV, radio, music, film) culture will undoubtly get mentioned in conversation. The Brits are natural performers, artists, actors, musicians, good story tellers (documentary makers), photographers, speakers, not scared to make clowns of themselves in a tasteful and shocking way, and really, really good at marketing.

    TV programs, and pop culture in general are key for bonding, especially for a whole nation that had only 4 channels and few national radio stations up until the mid-1990s. They had to be good and entertaining.
    In this respect, I recommend watching / listening to a few key programs, and making the effort the remember the names presenter/s, main actor/s, director …
    Anyways, that’s my two cents

  • Missy Gluckmann

    Beatriz – you are absolutely correct! A super additional tool for meeting Londoners is to know their TV humor. It was integral for me (back in the late 80s!) to be able to participate in discussions and very reflective of the culture – if you know the old TV show “Spitting Image’ you’ll know what I mean. Thanks for adding this key point to the discussion.

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