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London Local Customs: 678 reviews and 735 photos

Pearly King and Donah near Trafalgar Sq. - London

Pearly King and Donah near Trafalgar Sq.

The Pearly Kings

The Pearly Kings originated in Victorian times, and some Pearly Kings still reign to this day (they will reign over a particular London district).

The Pearly Kings were originally street sellers, who sold fruit and vegetables. Their distinctive costumes supposedly came about when their was an arrival of a large cargo of pearl-buttons from Japan in the 1860's. Apparently the original Pearly King sewed some of the buttons on to his wide-bottomed trousers and the fashion caught on.

Traditionally, the street vendors elect a 'King' to look after them when a rival seller attempts to bully them off of their pitch (the area they sell from). Each separate part of London had a Pearly King and a 'donah', (as the wives of the Pearly Kings are known). Both the Pearly King and his wife are dressed in the buttoned outfits. These buttoned outfits (comprising of suit, hat and dress) are handed down along with the hereditary title (e.g. Pearly King of Stepney). These are sewn into the suit along with mystic symbols such as stars, moons, suns, flowers, eyes of God and fertility designs.

Each suit can have up to as many as 30,000 buttons on it. This makes them very heavy, and a suit can weigh in at up to 30 kgs or more. These days the pearly Kings wear their suits at charity events, christenings, weddings and funerals and some other general celebratory type of events. I took the picture of this Pearly King and his Donah outside St Martin in the Fields during the CHinese New Year Celebrations on the 13th Feb 2005. It sems it is not unusual for the peary Kings to be around St Martin in the Fields as they always attend the annual autumn Harvest Festival service there.

Website: http://www.pearlysociety.co.uk/welcome.htm

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Feb 14, 2005
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Broadband enabled payphone - London

Broadband enabled payphone

Need VT in a hurry?

Need VT in a hurry, and can't find an internet cafe?

Then don't forget that many pay phones in the capital are now Broadband equipped, so you can just start browsing the web at high speed whilst still on the street.

They come with a reasonable size ascreen and a keyboard, so surfing shouldn't be too difficult!

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 12, 2005
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Lost "future taxi driver" - London

Lost "future taxi driver"

The Knowledge

If you get in a licensed Taxi cab in London, you will be amazed at how well the driver (cabbie) knows his ay through the London Streets. He will probably know your destination too, without having to look at a map.

This is not down to luck. Before a taxi driver qualifies to drive a London cab, he has to pass a rigorous test on his knowledge of Londons roads. This is called "the Knowledge". Apparently it takes years of learning before someone can pass as London is a large area with lots of streets and many closed off roads and one-way streets, and a cabbie needs to know how to pick his way through them to pass the test.

The way mist drivers learn is to get on a small motorbike and just drive around. They are not unusual to see. This picture shows just such a person. Unfortunately he looked a little lost when I saw him, and I went up a footbridge to get a better picture of him!

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 10, 2005
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The Union Jack Flag of the United Kingdom - London

The Union Jack Flag of the United Kingdom

The Union Jack Flag

If you read my London Homepage, you will hopefully understand the difference between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom!

The Union Jack Flag (or to be more correct - The Union Flag) symbolises the joining of England, Scotland and Northern Island into one state. The flag is a mix of the three separate flags. Although Wales is included in Great Britain and the United Kingdom, its flag does not feature in the Union Jack - I guess a big red dragon on the flag would have made things just too complicated!

Basically the three flags are:

England: White flag with red cross of St George (lines are straight)

Scotland: Blue flag with White diagonal cross of St Andrew

Northern Ireland: White flag with red diagonal cross.

If you look carefully at the flag you will se all of these incorporated. England being the dominant 'partner' has her cross unbroken, whereas the Scottish and Northern Ireland crosses which are kind of merged together anyway appear to be underneath it.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 7, 2005
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The Red Man is advisory - London

The Red Man is advisory

Cross the road wherever and whenever you like

In Britain, the crime of Jaywalking does not exist. Indeed most Brits have no idea what jaywalking even means, which makes it a little difficult the first time we go to somewhere like the U.S.A. or Singapore where you can only cross a road at a designated crossing and at the designated time.

You may think that after reading my "have a nice day" custom tip, that I'm having a laugh here. No, this is completely true. The only roads pedestrians aren't allowed to cross are motorways in Britain. Otherwise (provided you take due care and attention - and I won't be held responsible for your lack of it) you can cross any road, anywhere and anytime. Some roads are so busy it is advisable you cross only at designated points or use the underpasses, but even at designated points, if the little man is red (don't pass), it is still OK to cross the road if you so desire (of course it helps if there are no vehicles coming first). If you still don't believe any of this, watch the locals when you get here, and you will see it is true.

Of course if you are heading back to the US or Singapore or anywhere else where jaywalking is illegal, don't forget to obey your local laws when you return. You may prefer to follow what you know so you don't get frustrated by the restrictions when you get back home (jaywalking is a serious frustration to me when I'm abroad...).

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 28, 2005
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Do say them! - London

Do say them!

Don't forget your "Please and Thank-yous"

Please read my other tip about never saying "Have a nice day" in relation to this one too.

In New York and Thessaloniki (Greece), local people seem to pride themselves in their rudeness to others. In Britain, being polite to people is extremely important. For instance, whereas in New York, someone may walk up to a tobacconist chuck some money on the counter and say "Gimme 20 Marlboro", if you were to try this in the UK, there is a good chance you wouldn't be served. Try "Can I have 20 Marlboro please". Hand the money to the assistant and say "Thank-you" once you have been served.

Do not exaggerate the "Please" or "Thank-you" however (which is where the "Have a nice day" comes in) as otherwise it sounds as if you are being rude. In Britain, how things are said are equally important as to the words used.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Nov 15, 2004
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Don't say it! - London

Don't say it!

Never ever say "Have a nice day"

In Britain, sarcasm and a dry sense of humour are a common every day occurence. Typically it will involve someone saying something but meaning the opposite of what they said. Americans in particular find this very hard to comprehend as Americans tend to say exactly what they think. For instance have you ever seen "Waynes World"? They used sarcasm in this film, but to make sure it was understood by the American audience they had to add "NOT" to the end of every sarcastic comment. In Britain, we were a bit mystified as to why they had to explain this.

Anyhow to cut a longish story short, one of the worst things you can say to a Brit is "Have a nice day". It sounds incredibly insincere in England, and is almost equivalent to "Go f*** yourself". If you have a broad American accent you may get away with it, but people will probably give you questioning looks all the same.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Nov 15, 2004
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