LONDON - Welcome to Britain! The line forms to the right. Here are some tips for Olympic visitors hoping to get the most out of their experience.


For many visitors, their first experience of the great British tradition of lining up will be at Heathrow Airport. Europe's busiest air hub has been making headlines over the past few months for its long waits at immigration. Officials promise the problem has been fixed for the games, but — fear not — visitors will have plenty of other opportunities to stand in line at post offices, bus stops, subway stations and the entrances to the Olympic Park.

British lines are usually orderly, often elaborate and full of gallows humour. Be patient and don't try to barge ahead — all attempts at queue-jumping will be met by glares and furious tut-tutting.


Britain is an island nation — "this precious stone set in the silver sea," as Shakespeare put it.

Silver, but also stormy. The country's famously fickle climate has caused pre-Olympic misery, as the wettest June and early July on record caused floods, disrupted transit and forced the cancellation of sports events.

This week, sun and heat have appeared, causing heat-buckled pavements and trains delayed by overheated rails.

Britons have learned to cheerfully accept that all forms of weather are bad news. It's best to prepare for the worst and treat the weather as a useful conversation-starter — though once on the topic, many Britons find it hard to stop.

And heed the advice of Olympics chief Sebastian Coe: "People do need to be wearing the right footwear, the right rain-proof clothing — and sunscreen."

Story continues below slideshow: A look at London Olympic Style from A to Z

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  • A Is For Adam Van Koeverden

    Not only is Adam Van Koeverden the face of Roots, he is one of <a href="" target="_hplink">The Huffington Post Canada's Olympians to watch</a>. Good looking and talented -- Van Koeverden makes us proud. <em>And</em> he can accessorize with any colour of medal, because, you know, he's won three -- one in every shade.

  • B Is For Bikinis

    Beach volleyball players no longer have to sport the too tiny bikinis of past summer Olympics. In fact, it could be so cold this year they may rock long sleeve shirts. A letdown for fans, yes; but a necessity to keep muscles warm.

  • C Is For Cycling

    Because many of the streets of London will be shutting down due to the Olympics, we suspect people will have to take to their bicycles and skip on the car. This presents an opportunity to see some stylish bike fashion around town. And let's not forget the skin-tight uniforms of those participating in the official biking events.

  • D Is For David Beckham

    Thank you David Beckham for bidding to have the Olympics in London. And thank you David Beckham for being as attractive as you are. We can't wait to see what you and your wife, Posh Spice, wear to the various parties and events you'll be at.

  • E Is For Editorial Spreads

    While <a href="" target="_hplink">Vogue's cover of Olympic athletes</a> was a little disappointing, athletes have been able to showcase their style stuff in other ways. Our very own <a href="" target="_hplink">Mary Spencer is a CoverGirl</a>, and P&G chose British athletes to be brand ambassadors for 2012 (just look at the über patriotic spread).

  • F Is For Flags

    We can't even hypothesize on how many Union Jacks we'll see starting Friday. Or any flag for that matter. We're hoping that Geri Halliwell comes out at the closing ceremonies in her iconic Union Jack dress. Dreams can come true, right?!

  • G Is For Gold Medal Stamps

    For those representing the U.K. at this summer's games, a win means much more than just getting a gold medal -- the athlete will also have a stamp created with their picture on it. Talk about a stylish way to decorate any envelope.

  • H Is For The Hudson's Bay Company

    One of the most classic Canadian companies is dressing our Olympians for London -- in everything from denim jackets to bold windbreakers. The good news is, you can don some of the wares, too (the collection is available in The Bay stores). Simply swap your Vancouver 2010 heart mittens for London 2012 red sunglasses.

  • I Is For Innovative Materials

    With every Olympics, comes newer, faster, more innovative materials created to shave nanoseconds off an athlete's time. With ultra-lightweight sneakers and seal-esque suits, this year's material technology will be an important part of the games.

  • J Is For Jolie At The Olympics

    It's rumoured Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will be hosting one of the most star-studded parties of the Olympics. The event, Sports For Peace, will take place two days before the opening ceremonies and will have guests like Prince Harry and the Beckham's in attendance. Talk about a glamorous event and a reason for us to ogle celebs in gowns.

  • K Is For Kate Middleton

    We cannot control our excitement for what Kate will be wearing <a href="" target="_hplink">to her scheduled events</a>. We envision a whole lot of Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.

  • L Is For London 1948

    This is London's second time hosting the Olympics (lucky!). We'd be happy to have this vintage poster hanging in our house even if 1948 was way before our time.

  • M Is For Mascots

    Although we don't quite understand this year's mascots, we think they look awfully cuddly. Hopefully, Kate and Will get their photo snapped with these guys -- it'd be cheesily amazing.

  • N Is For Naomi Campbell

    Naomi Campbell will be joined by fellow supermodels, Kate Moss and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as they take to the runway at the closing ceremonies. The models will be dressed in British designers like Vivienne Westwood and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Talk about a showstopper!

  • O Is For Opening Ceremony x Adidas

    There are so many Olympic collaborations taking place, but Opening Ceremony x Adidas has to be our favourite. The line looks like it stepped straight out of 1998 -- and that's not a problem with us.

  • P Is For Pop-Up Shops

    From H&M to Karl Lagerfeld, designers and companies are opening stores just for the Olympics all over London. If you happen to be heading to the city and want to pick up some limited edition gear, <a href="" target="_hplink">Elle has a round-up of the top pop-ups to visit</a>.

  • Q Is For The Queen

    As fun as Kate-watching will be, we'll also have our eyes peeled for the Queen. Hopefully she has a few spectacular hats ready-to-wear for her opening ceremony duties.

  • R Is For Ralph Lauren

    Nothing says America more than a Ralph Lauren-designed uniform. And the U.S. outfits are all about classic Americana (with a dash of odd flight attendant).

  • S Is For Spice Girls

    We want the Spice Girls to spice up the closing ceremonies! <a href="" target="_hplink">It's only rumoured they will perform</a>, but our fingers, toes and eyes are crossed that it'll happen. We're also hopeful they wear some of their iconic 90's outfits.

  • T Is For The Tube

    Transport For London recreated the tube map so that every stop is an Olympic athletic legend. That's 361 Olympic stars -- past and present. Next stop: Michael Phelps, please!

  • U Is For Umbrellas

    With a whole lot of rain on the Olympic horizon, we're sure to see a lot of umbrellas. It's always fun to see how people dress stylishly in the rain, so get ready for some damp sartorial inspiration.

  • V Is For Visa

    Swipe! Swipe! Swipe! You can already hear guests of the Olympic games swiping their cards and buying souvenirs and treats. And as one of the official Olympic sponsors, we're sure Visa logos (and plastic) will be everywhere.

  • W Is For The Weather

    Summer Olympics generally means it's hot, hot, hot. But that may not be true in temperamental London. The weather shows it's going to rain and be significantly chillier than we'd normally expect for the summer games. We're sure our athletes can handle anything Mother Nature throws their way. But just in case, we're glad The Bay has our team decked out with windbreakers and sweatshirts.

  • X Is For Xtreme Patriotism

    If you dare to get decked in Canadiana from head to toe, why not top it off with an <a href="" target="_hplink">Olympic CND shellac manicure</a>? All of the athletes will be able to get a manicure and pedicure in the Olympic village that will last for 14 days. Bold nails to go with bold patriotism? Why not!

  • Y Is For The Youngest Athlete

    Fifteen. Victoria Moors is 15. We don't know if we need to say more. She will dazzle in her glittery bodysuit while competing in artistic gymnastics.

  • Z Is For The Zoo

    Penguins are classy animals. They're constantly wearing a tuxedo, which means they're always ready for a black-tie event. And this year, lucky them, they get to join human athletes in competing in the summer games. The London Zoo will host an animal Olympics for tourists (check out this penguin practicing his/her dive off their brand new diving board).


British cars drive on the left, which can provide a potentially lethal surprise to visitors not from Australia, Japan, or the other handful of countries that do the same. When walking, remember your mother's advice and look both ways before you cross the street.

In London Underground stations, the same rule applies: keep left while moving. This is especially important on escalators — nothing annoys commuters more than tourists blocking their progress. If you remember only one thing about London etiquette, let it be this: stand on the right side of the escalator, walk on the left.


Britons take great pride in their sense of fair play. Many visitors will encounter it in pubs, where each member of a group is expected to take a turn buying a round of drinks for everyone. Buying a drink only for yourself is considered exceptionally rude.


American visitors are advised to pare back the amount they tip for services in Britain. In restaurants, it's customary to add 10-15 per cent to the bill. In pubs where you order and pay at the bar, tipping is unnecessary.

Many locals do not tip taxi drivers — although visitors will find that London's famous cabbies possess a detailed knowledge of the city that often comes in handy. Any tip will be gratefully received.


Like tips, restaurant portion sizes are often smaller in Britain than in the United States and some other countries. Two U.S. diners at London's Oxo Tower restaurant were recently heard remarking about their tiny portions and the sizable prices.

"Meals are definitely bigger and cheaper in Texas," one man remarked as a waiter brought him three small venison slices with a squirt of puree.


In common with many big-city residents, Londoners scrupulously avoid acknowledging strangers on the street. This is especially true on crowded buses and subways.

Exceptions: Buses, trains and subways full of people who have had a few drinks will often be full of boisterous but generally friendly banter. And during travel disruptions, camaraderie will triumph over social awkwardness, unleashing a latent "Blitz spirit" that can be unexpectedly jolly.


North American visitors will quickly learn that many common, everyday items have different names in Britain — chips are fries, a sidewalk is a pavement, pants are trousers and underwear is pants.

"Pants" is also slang for bad, rubbish, lame — just one example of the delight Brits take in coining new words and phrases.

The Olympics has added a trove of new phrases. They include jubilympics — the period from the queen's Diamond Jubilee in June through the Olympics, which end Aug. 12 — and omnishambles, a word first applied to government screw-ups that has been used to describe the crisis-prone buildup to the games.


Above all, Britons love an eccentric. That may explain the popularity of London Mayor Boris Johnson, a disheveled, bicycle-riding, Latin-spouting figure with a shock of blond hair who was re-elected to a second four-year term in May.

Johnson's behaviour at Friday's opening ceremony is one more unpredictable element in an evening of surprises. Bookmaker William Hill is offering odds of 33-1 on the mayor accidentally setting his hair on fire with the Olympic flame.


Associated Press Writer Paisley Dodds contributed to this report.

Jill Lawless can be reached at

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