“Do’s” and “Don’ts” for an American in London

IMG_71111. Do be a tourist.  You may not think you want to see Buckingham Palace, but, believe me, you do.  One minute you are walking across Green Park,  the next you are stunned by the palace.   (You didn’t consult the guidebook before gettiing off the tube.) It is old! It is glamorous! It is historic!  There are lots of tourists!  And, besides, the characters in “Parks and Recreation” came here in the London episode.  I love D.C., but the White House is just a mansion.

2. Don’t agree to take anyone’s picture.   Am I the last person on earth without a phone?  Everyone wanted me to take his or her picture.  After boldly pushing the wrong button,  I laughed and gave up.   My camera is a camera.  I can’t imagine doing everything with a phone.  I felt like my mom.  I have wandered into a different culture.

0e26422ab76b11a01d2cf6427884b0b83.  Do go to the Waterstones on Picadilly.  Much fuss is made about Foyles, but the flagship  Waterstones has more small-press books, more Loebs, a bigger fiction section, and a more fabulous travel section. Maybe I just got lucky.  It’s a great store.

51gzDrAmXoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_4.  Don’t buy hardcover books. I sadly put back a copy of Robert Harris’s Dictator, the third novel in his Cicero trilogy, because I must leave half my luggage behind to make room for paperbacks as is.

British Library

British Library

5.  Do go to the British Library. You will never be sorry you saw that manuscript of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve.  And it is a very cool building.

6.  Don’t wear your cat sweatshirt.  All tourists wear black.  It doesn’t show the dirt, and you will fit in.  (I wonder if anyone ever wears colors except Americans.)

The Brontes

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte by Patrick Branwell Bronte, oil on canvas, circa 1834

7. Do go to the National Portrait Gallery.    Seeing Branwell Bronte”s portrait of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily was the most stunning experience of the trip. And then there was the thrill of seeing the Tudor portraits.  Anne Boleyn!  I was looking for a sixth finger, but perhaps that was someone else.  And did you know there are portraits of Aubrey Beardsley and A. S. Byatt? Oddly, I thought there was one of Mary Beard–I swear she blogged about it– but it occurs to me it is at another gallery.

Robert Icke's

Robert Icke’s “Oresteia”

8.  Don’t go crazy for ticketed events.  All right, you may think you want to see Robert Icke’s “Oresteia,” or D. J. Taylor chatting at a TLS Literary Weekend event.  The truth is you’re so jet-lagged you will do none of those things.  You will drink coffee, or eat a sandwich at Trafalgar Square.  Honestly, who are you?  Not Lady Ottoline Morrell!

ls9.  Do go to all the bookstores in Bloomsbury.  Oxfam, London Review Bookshop, Skoob, Persephone, Judd Books.  As I said, I had to leave my cat sweatshirt behind to fit books in my luggage.  And I’m sure I missed some bookstores!

w_120010. Don’t spend all your time in museums.  It’s nice just to have an ice cream in the park.   There are swans, deck chairs, Mrs. Dalloway walks, and  pelicans.    But I miss Kansas.  (Not literally Kansas.) I’m like Dorothy in Oz.  I can’t wait to get home!  I do wish I’d brought my computef.  It’s hard tapping everything out on a tablet.

10 thoughts on ““Do’s” and “Don’ts” for an American in London

  1. Looks like we just missed each other! I’m back from the Jane Austen in Scotland conference, the Lake District, and visits to friends in Liverpool, Cambridge, and Oxford, as well as museum-and-park going in London. It was my 35th trip, so I’ve done all the basic things long ago or many times. But it doesn’t matter if it’s a first, tenth or whatever visit: every time I’ve gone the joy has been at the same high level. Only one disagreement – my fine cell phone camera is the most wonderful thing, I’ve kept up a steady stream of beautiful pictures I’ve delighted in sharing, and it’s so easy to carry and to send the pictures instantly. One of the best inventions ever. I resist new technology that seems pointless (I hate Twitter, can’t cope with Sat-Nav though I wish I could), but literally would feel bereft if I didn’t have my little phone-camera!


  2. There are many things to love about London as a visitor. I personally couldn’t live there – but I do occasionally enjoy it as a tourist. Although I live only a couple of hours away though I don’t go all that often. You remind me why I should.


  3. You had a great trip and did all the right things. You would like the Lake District, but there aren’t as many books there. I especially enjoyed the London parks. Just to be in one made me feel good.


    • I would love to see Stratford! There’s something oddly touching about seeing people taking selfies and documenting their lives with phones. My camera is a point-and-click, and my pictures are no better than the snapshots of old.


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