Five ways London will drive American business travelers nuts

On my recent trip to London, I was asked frequently if it was my first time I didn’t quite know how to answer, as I’d spent a day wandering the city in 2008 before schlepping out to East Anglia. Instead of yes-with-a-but or no-with-an-except, I settled on kinda and used that as bait to give an explanation nobody really cared about.

Why is this important?

Subtlety matters in London, and for business travelers, time is of the essence. Fail to handle the former properly, and you will lose on the latter. Had I said I’d been to London while asking for directions, for example, the outcome would have been much different (I’d not have gotten sufficient detail). But, I remembered just enough to be dangerous.

London can be a tricky city for the white collar travel set, largely because it’s more different from what you see in the United States, given the shared language and history. Going to London on business? Here are five things that will tangle with your corporate yankee sensibilities:

1. They drive on the other side of the road: I know; I know – this is perfectly obvious, and you should know about it already. Here’s the problem, though: I’ve spent the last three decades looking or traffic on the right side of the road. Old habits die hard. Combine this with jaywalking (a New York necessity), and the results can be unpleasant. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but after several close calls, it becomes annoying.

2. Cold toilet seats: no explanation needed.

3. Hopstop FAIL: I love Hoptstop in New York, but it just doesn’t measure up in London. Too many streets are missing. Usually, getting “close enough” is fine, except when close enough points you in the wrong direction … when you’re on your way to a business meeting. I quickly gave up on Hopstop and started carrying a paper map.

4. Late-night dining FAIL: It seems like London hates to eat after 10 PM. I worked late several nights on my last trip and found myself needing dinner after 11 PM. There just wasn’t much. If you’re in London on business, feed yourself and your team early if you have an all-nighter forming … and stock up for the early hours of the morning.

5. Nobody knows where anything is: I grew up in the Boston area, so I’ve been through this before: these tiny, crazy little streets are difficult to navigate, and the comfort of the Manhattan grid is nowhere to be found. Everything makes sense if you know where to look. But, it takes targeted knowledge to help a lost American businessman, and I mostly encountered only friendliness and willingness. Give yourself plenty of time to get to that next meeting …