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One aspect that British society is known for its social class system, but how does this apply to foreigners? I will be in London and Manchester for a week, and knowing which neighbourhoods to avoid or to visit is seemingly a bit complicated. I know overall that these cities are safe, but some areas are known to be dodgier than others, and could be hostile to foreigners or "outsiders". On the other hand, some higher end places such as Bond Street that I might want to visit might not "appreciate" attention from outsiders. I do know that social class is a particularly complex topic, and I don't want any comprehensive explanation, just how foreigners fit into the larger picture and some possible do's and don'ts.

Note: I will be visiting with my wife, and we are both Anglo-Canadian.

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I lived in London for four years. Perhaps I just didn't appreciate it, but I can't say I really was that aware of the class system on a day-to-day basis.

Sure, you were aware that in Peckham in South London there tended to be a lower socio-economic 'category' of people than say, Kensington. And yes in Mayfair there were the private members' clubs and the like. And certainly the race day events tended to attract certain people.

However, I, and others like myself who were there for a few years (from NZ, Aus, South Africa, Canada and more) didn't see it as a limiting factor. If we wanted to go to the races, we would, and just dress up for the occasion. Bond Street is just a place to shop, the prices are higher, is all. Nothing stopping you strolling along and having a look.

It's funny, every so often a comment would crop up about it. Someone at work would make a comment about not taking the bus because they weren't poor enough to need it (or the tube). Yet, the current Mayor of London bikes to work, and the previous Mayor used to take the tube (still does, last I checked). And most of us Kiwis or Aussies etc, whether from rich or poor backgrounds - we'll take buses, tubes without hesitation - they're quicker, convenient, and driving in London is awful.

'Class' certainly didn't stop me getting into the Buckingham Palace garden tea party :) In general, the UK has become (well, London, but other cities more and more as well) so cosmopolitan and multicultural that in some facets of society, the class system has all but melted away. That's not to say that some people don't still hold it true and fast and insist on it and campaign against it when a fast food restaurant wants to open in Highbury (it'll lower their class somehow?), but on the whole, most people you meet are welcoming no matter your background.

As some people have said, in London - nobody's a foreigner, because everyone's a foreigner!

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You will need to brush up on the relevant etiquette if your doing either of the following: Meeting a member of the royal family Going to the races or other classic English sports event (Lords, Wimbledon, or Royal Ascot) –  Stuart Jan 30 '12 at 11:19
Yeah, I pretty much agree with everything you said, Mark. I also got into a "Royal" event at the palace (got lucky with my landlords). The only time "class" (or its perception) was ever noticeable was while living in Mayfair (nothing fancy) - if you gave the address to a salesperson or whoever the attitude would change (much more deferential). But that was it - pretty banal effect for most of us. –  gef05 Jan 30 '12 at 15:48
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What do travellers need to know about the British class system? Nothing. It won't come up. Don't believe everything you see on American TV.

The class system in the UK would be quite similar to the class system in the USA, Canada or other countries.

Certainly there are dangerous parts of some cities and expensive 'private members club' in the UK, and USA, and Canada, but this isn't feudal Japan. Unless you want to be the Head of State (i.e. King/Queen) there is no longer any offical class system. Lords no longer have a right to sit in the House of Lords now. It's just still called "House of Lords", but it's political. You aren't going to get people asking what your father does, and then decide if they'll let you into a restaurant.

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You almost start down the path of "it no longer exists" - which is, of course, incorrect. But you are right - for the average traveler it is meaningless. –  gef05 Jan 30 '12 at 23:03
It isn't correct that "Lords no longer have a right to sit in the House of Lords now". All members of the House of Lords are 'Lords', but they are mostly appointed (mostly for reasons to do with politics and/or bribery). There are currently 677 appointed 'Life Peers', 88 'Hereditary Peers' (in general, these peerages can only be inherited by men), and 24 'Lords Spiritual' (senior bishops in the Church of England) - see this Wikipedia article. –  James Mar 20 '12 at 12:36
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While there are some areas which are distinctly richer or poorer, this is in the same way the some areas in any country, state or city are richer or poorer.

Class just really doesn't come up in normal day-to-day life here, anywhere round the UK. Bond Street isn't particularly high end, it has some nice shops, some less so - you will be welcome to spend money in all of them :-)

Just come and enjoy yourselves.

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Kate Fox's "Watching the English" is a humorous look at English culture (with a focus on the class system) that may be helpful for travelers as well as expats. While you're unlikely to have to understand the intricacies of the class system on a brief voyage, being aware of the complex nature of English social life might enrich your trip and add meaning to your encounters. The book can be downloaded onto the Kindle.

Bond Street is full of tourists!

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