The United Kingdom: Clearing Up Tourists’ Misconceptions

Travel plans

Before you settle on your trip to the United Kingdom, you will need to do your research about where you will be going to and what your plans will involve once you get there. Start by shopping around for cheap flights. I usually opt for http://www.expedia.com or http://www.expedia.co.uk You may find a better deal. Prices vary considerably from month to month. If you plan on visiting between June-September flights will be at the most expensive, as this is the peak tourist season. August will be about the most expensive time to travel, so bear this in mind when you are making your plans.

I looked at one airline just to see how much it would cost for a family of two to travel from Sacramento to London-Gatwick in August and it came out to $3057 per person, including the hotel, which is ridiculous! You can get a much better deal than that. Just shop around. A good time to travel to the UK is during September-early December or in January. If you fly during Christmas and Easter these periods are also very expensive times.

Official name

When you travel anywhere in the UK, do not assume that everywhere you go will be “England”. You are right to assume that there is an England in the United Kingdom, but it is only one small part of the whole country. The UK stands for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. See why we abbreviate it to the UK or Britain? It is a bit of a mouthful! The UK comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are not talking about Northern Ireland you can call the country Britain, as this is what the mainland, minus Northern Ireland is known as.

While you are in England, you can say you are in England. But if you travel further west into Wales or up north into Scotland, then please be aware of the cultural sensitivity of many people who will not appreciate it if you call them English! Some people will be able to laugh it off. Others may take real offence at what you have said. So be careful. If in doubt, just refer to the inhabitants you come across as British, rather than trying to decipher their heritage.

London

When people learn I am British, I am almost always asked what part of London I am from. I am not from London and many people you come across will tell you the same thing. I have yet to discover why tourists believe people are all from London. London is a large city, of about 620 square miles. The population was over 7 million in 2001 and it keeps on growing rapidly each year, making it the largest city within the European Union and also one of the largest cities in the world. But this does not mean that every person in the UK is from London. The total British population is close to 60 million, so it would be hard for everyone to live in one city! The city is crowded enough as it is.

The British are “stuck up”

Many tourists are led to believe that the British are stuck up and that all they care about is class distinction. This could not be further from the truth! Of course, there are a small proportion of the population that are part of the ruling aristocracy, and the rich landed gentry. But this does not mean that everyone is a “Lord” or “Lady”. The royal family are rich landowners, but not everyone can afford a castle or palace to live in! You will be surprised to see how relaxed the British can be, especially if you visit a pub, have a Sunday lunch and a beer or two. Tourists are often warmly welcomed to the UK. Pubs are an ideal place to meet new people and learn more about the local village, town or city.

It is cold and it rains all the time

This is not true. Every Hollywood film I have seen that has featured the UK has always subscribed to the idea that it rains and is cold a lot of the time. I don’t know why! Actually, if you want to experience four seasons then you will do just that in the UK. Winter runs from about November to March, Spring is from March to June, Summer from June to September and autumn from September to November. This is approximate, because seasons change quite quickly and some blend into others. For example, last year the summer ran from May to the beginning of November.

So there is no telling if there will be a short or long summer. It does rain and it can get cold, but the weather is not like that all the time. The sun does shine, although, not as much as it does in California! Your best bet is to make sure you pack for all four seasons, just in case. We get used to wearing layers, so that if the weather warms up later in the day (as it usually does) you can take off a layer and still feel comfortable. The further north you go, the cooler it will get. So bear this in mind.

The food is bad

On a television show a few months ago, a question was posed about people’s perceptions of the UK. One result was the fact that the food is no good. I couldn’t believe it! It is simply not true. Modern British food is a stylish, eclectic blend of flavours that incorporate many different ingredients and taste sensations. Traditional foods have been given a modern twist, thanks in part to chefs like Jamie Oliver. Then there are strong influences from Indian, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek and many other cuisines that have helped transform the reputation of British food from mediocre to truly delightful. The result is a great selection of food options that will satisfy any picky tourist. If you can’t find any food that will tempt you, then you are obviously not looking hard enough or you are too picky for your own good!

The British are hooligans

I have heard this said to me before. If you have heard of football (soccer) events and the eruption of violence that has accompanied such events you would be forgiven for feeling this way. Such an incident actually occurred in the town I used to live in. But such incidents are isolated to a minority of people who decide to turn their enthusiasm for the sport into violence. Thankfully this is not a problem that involves every sports fan in the UK. It is just a shame that a few hooligans end up giving everyone else a bad name.

I hope that I have been able to dispel some myths that tourists have about the UK. It is easy to allow the media to portray us in a negative fashion. But if you have not seen what the country is like first hand, it can be easy to believe what you hear. The UK is a beautiful, culturally diverse country, that will delight your senses. Enjoy your trip!
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