Use your ATM card to obtain money rather than exchanging traveler's checks or cash. It's more convenient and you get a much better exchange rate. Also, traveler's checks are not accepted in many stores or restaurants in the United Kingdom, but only for exchange at banks. When you arrive at the London airport, resist the impulse to exchange your cash in dollars for pounds sterling (£) at a bureau de change or foreign exchange kiosk. The exchange rate will not be advantageous, and you will be charged a service fee. If possible, find an ATM machine. To check on the daily exchange rate, click here.
A tip is included in your bill at some restaurants. Check the menu to determine if service is included. If not, consider leaving a tip of about 10%. It's considered more acceptable to give the tip to your server with the bill, rather than to leave it on the table.
Carry your passport with you only on days when you are traveling outside Oxford. Bring a photocopy of your passport with you in case of loss or theft. You can use your US driver's license as a photo ID. Also, you may obtain an International Student ID before departure in the University Center (Rm. 325).
Europeans keep the left side of escalators and moving sidewalks open for people to pass. If you don't want to walk or climb, keep to the right.
Waiting in a queue is a fact of life in the U.K. At the bus stop, the ATM machine, in a restaurant or a retail store there will likely be a line of people (a queue) awaiting service. It is considered especially rude and offensive to "jump the queue". Such boorish behavior often results in a scolding. Really! If you are not sure whether there is a queue, just ask. You'll be pointed to the end of the queue to line up.
Dates are always written as the day first and the month second. 04-07-2004 would be July 4, 2004.
In the United Kingdom, retail purchases are subject to a 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT). The tax is included in displayed prices. As non-residents of an EU (European Union) country, you may be able to obtain a refund of the VAT under certain circumstances—usually, only if the purchase exceeds a certain threshold (50£ or more). For large purchases, ask the retail merchant about reclaiming VAT. You will need your passport to show that you are not an EU resident. Typically, the merchant will provide a form to complete; you present the form with your receipt at the airport on departure. A refund, less processing fees, will follow weeks later. In some instances, major stores (e.g. Debenhams) will deduct VAT from the purchase price in the store. See store for information. For more information on VAT refunds, click here.
While it is exciting to live in a cultural environment different from your own, you must recognize that the change will sometimes be stressful for you. Some of you may experience "culture shock," which is a mixture of homesickness, confusion, and/or frustration. Such feelings are natural and will pass; talk about them, but do not be alarmed. Every traveler to a foreign country has had such feelings.
Mark Twain once described the English and Americans as “two peoples separated by a common language.” Do not be surprised if at times the British idiom leaves you confused. Moreover, British colloquialisms may be unfamiliar. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Do remember that we will be guests in another country and ambassadors, in a sense, from our own. Also remember that a smile and courteous behavior make a good impression in any situation.