Travel Tips for the UK
How much you spend travelling around the UK will depend greatly on where you o and what you do. If you’re feeling cheap you might be better off spending more time up north where everything is cheaper, including drink, food and accommodation. There are many different options when it comes to your night’s sleep – stay in a shared room in a hostel for around £15 or splash out on a cheap hotel room with a friend.
There are often deals for food, drink and accommodation about, you just need to know where to look. Martin Lewis’ moneysavingexpert.com site is a great place to start.
English is spoken throughout the UK, although there are parts of major cities where immigration has led to a variety of languages being spoken as well. The English spoken in the UK has many different dialects and people who live just a few miles apart can actually sound very different. Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves – anyone with a broad accent will be used to it.
Welsh is also widely spoken in Wales. Road signs are bilingual and it’s a requirement for Welsh kids to learn the language at school. Once you hear how to pronounce a name, have a go and try not to offend! Scottish Gaelic can be heard in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and if you’re lucky you’ll hear ancient Cornish in Cornwall, although the dialect is sadly dying out. Irish is spoken in some areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in the border regions and of course, Scottish is spoken in much of Scotland.
British people have historically been very tolerant of swearing, when used in context. At the other end of the spectrum British people are prone to apologising for even the smallest things, much to the amusement of some and can be considered perhaps rude to not do so. An example such as bumping into you will warrant a “sorry” and is really more like “pardon” or “excuse me”.
Money in the UK
The currency throughout the UK is the pound (£) which is divided into 100 pence (p, pronounced ‘pee’). Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes with a different design which can be used around the UK, although some shops may be unfamiliar with them. They’re under no obligation to do this though.
You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It is both singular and plural; “three quid” means “three pounds”. The words “Fiver” and “Tenner” are common slang for £5 and £10, respectively.
ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints, cash machines or informally as ‘holes in the wall’, are very widely available and usually dispense £10, £20 and sometimes £5 notes. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.
If a bank card is issued by a foreign bank, some ATMs will ask whether they should perform the conversion to the local currency, instead of debiting the bank account in GBP. This is almost always a worse deal than going with the conversion rate provided by the issuing bank, resulting in surcharges of sometimes over 5% on the withdrawal. It is more prudent to choose the “Without conversion” withdrawal option, whenever this choice is presented.
Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and American Express are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is sometimes not accepted by smaller independent establishments, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues.
Although most small shops will take cards, there is often a minimum amount you have to spend (usually around £5).
Politics in the UK
English politics is as complex as its history. The basic political system in England is a parliamentary system with a constitutional monarchy – Queen Elizabeth II acts as the head of state. It has an unwritten constitution, which means that no laws are officially written down. Confusing?
There are three main political parties in England – the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Blue, Red, Yellow.
England currently has a coalition government made up of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, with David Cameron as prime minister.
There are two chambers of Parliament – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Anyone can be voted into the House of Commons. The House of Lords is a little different; as the title suggest, you have to be a Lord or Spiritual Lord (e.g – a religious dignitary) to become a member of the House of Lords. Not that it matters – the House of Lords doesn’t do much and holds virtually no power. Cool name though.