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  London - Fact Sheet

Passport/Visa Requirements—Passports required for Australian, Canadian and U.S. travelers. Check travel document requirements with carrier prior to departure.

Language—English is spoken everywhere, though often with a local, provincial or foreign accent that can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. On practically any London street, a plethora of languages, of both residents and visitors from overseas, can be heard.

Currency—Currency is the pound sterling, shown: . One pound sterling is divided into 100 pence, shown: p. Notes come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 denominations, coins in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 1. The introduction of a 2 coin is in the works.

At press time, the exchange rate was 0.44 for one Australian dollar, 0.45 for one Canadian dollar, and 0.62 for one U.S. dollar.

Health Advisories—Excellent medical and dental facilities. Food and tap water are safe, but use common sense when buying food from a street stall. No vaccinations are required.

Voltage Requirements—240 volts. U.S. appliances need an adapter and converter. Plugs are distinctive, with three thick, flat prongs. Many hotels have two-pin sockets for North American razors.

Business Hours—Offices are open Monday-Friday 9 or 9:30 am-5:30 pm. Most shops are open Monday-Saturday until 7 pm, although shops in busy shopping or tourist areas are likely to be open on Sunday as well. Thursday night is late-night shopping (until 8 pm) in the West End. Very few stores close for lunch 1-2 pm, but it’s often difficult to contact anyone in an office at that time.

Business Practices—In London, business meetings tend to be fairly relaxed, though some bastions of tradition are still stiffly formal. Shake hands upon meeting, but hold off on exchanging business cards until later. The extended business lunch is common in many fields, and most Londoners drink—and expect you to drink—beer or a glass of wine with lunch. An informal drink is also quite common after the close of the business day—it’s a time to continue business discussions and, perhaps, amicably resolve outstanding problems.

Dress—There are now few formalities in London, where practically anything goes. Business conventions, however, call for a suit and tie or their female counterpart. If you’re visiting a conservative company, the more traditional the cut and color, the better. (Some tailors on Saville Row will work only with gray cloth.) The most expensive restaurants and upscale hotel dining rooms expect patrons to dress appropriately.

Tipping—Taxis, restaurants, hairdressers: anything up to 15%, with 10% typical. Sometimes an “optional” service charge of 10%-15% is included on the bill at a restaurant. Always ask if service was added whenever you are uncertain. Londoners ask for the optional service charge to be removed or reduced in the event of truly bad or overtly rude service. A tip of 10%-15% may be left at the visitor’s discretion at hotels and some bars, although there’s no tipping where there’s counter service, such as in pubs. Usherettes are not tipped.

Population—Greater London: 7 million.

Area of City—580 sq mi/1,500 sq km.

Province/State—Greater London is the metropolitan area that engulfs the county of Middlesex and penetrates, at its margins, the counties of Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey.

Weather—Cool to mild climate, extremely variable; frequent clouds and rain alternating with sunshine. Average temperatures: Jan 36-43 Fahrenheit/2-6 Celsius; Feb 36-44 F/2-7 C; Mar 38-50 F/3-10 C; Apr 42-56 F/5-13 C; May 47-62 F/8-17 C; Jun 53-69 F/12-20 C; Jul 56-71 F/14-21 C; Aug 56-71 F/14-21 C; Sep 52-65 F/11-19 C; Oct 46-58 F/8-14 C; Nov 42-50 F/5-10 C; Dec 38-45 F/3-7 C.

City Holidays1997: 25 Dec, Christmas Day; 26 Dec, Boxing Day.

1998: 1 Jan, New Year’s Day; 10 Apr, Good Friday; 13 Apr, Easter Monday; 4 May, May Day; 25 May, Spring Bank Holiday; 31 Aug, Summer Bank Holiday; 25 Dec, Christmas Day; 26 Dec, Boxing Day.

Sales or Use Tax—A 17.5% value-added tax (VAT) is levied on most purchases, including hotels and restaurant meals. Non-British passport holders residing outside the United Kingdom may reclaim VAT on goods purchased in London by using Customs Form 407 (some shops keep these forms handy), to be completed and presented to the VAT Enquiries Office at the airport before departure. Shops set their own minimum purchases (usually around 35) for you to qualify for a VAT refund. Certain stores will actually take care of the VAT paperwork for you. Ask first. At the airport, take your forms to the Tax Free Cash Refund Desk for reimbursement. For information about the VAT refund process, call Foreign Exchange Tax-Free Shopping, 0800-829-373.

F. W. Stephens & Co., 10 Charterhouse Square, EC1M 6LQ, phone 251-4434, fax 608-3555, will take care of the VAT reclaim for you. However, because their minimum fee is 100, this service is worthwhile only for shopping hauls with VAT refunds in excess of 200.

Crime—London is a safe city by most standards; you’ll enjoy a far greater degree of personal security in parks and on public transport than in many other large cities. Street crime exists, of course. Normal vigilance is necessary, especially at night, around bus and train stations and crowded tourist locations, such as Piccadilly Circus. In general, the likelihood of coming face to face with crime is greater in some of the areas beyond the center, particularly to the east and south.

Emergency Number—For fire, police or ambulance, dial 999 or 112.

Telephone Codes—The U.K. country code is 44 followed by the area code (171 for inner London, 181 for outer), followed by the number. Within the U.K., dial the area code, adding a zero prefix (0171 or 0181), followed by the number. No need to bother with area code if you’re dialing within the same area. This report drops the 0171 area code for inner London numbers.

For operator assistance, dial 100; for directory inquiries, dial 192; for international directory assistance, dial 153. Toll-free (“freephone”) numbers begin with the prefix 0800. To locate businesses or services, call the “Talking Pages,” 0800-600-900.

Time/Temperature—Time: phone 123. Weather Check: phone 0891-200-820 (national), 0891-200-851 (London region).

Time Zone—Because England lies almost on the Greenwich Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) prevails. Daylight Saving Time (in Britain “summer time”) commences the last Saturday of March and >