When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This proverb is so true that I’ve gathered 10 British etiquette and customs that I think international student ought to know. There is a proper way to act in most situations and the British are sticklers for adherence to protocol.
In most houses in Britain, the door are usually kept closed. It is customary to visit people at a pre-arranged time and day. As a generalization, people are not comfortable if you just drop in. Nevertheless, if someone says to drop in at anytime, feel free to do so as long as it is not in the middle of the night.
When you go into someone’s house, do take your hat off (men only). It is impolite for men to wear hats indoors especially in churches. Nowadays, it is becoming more common to see men wearing hats indoors. However, this is still seen as being impolite, especially to the older generations
2) Form of Greeting
In Britain the handshake is the common form of greeting. When you meet people for the first time, it is normal to shake hands. A firm handshake is the norm; there are no issues over gender in Britain. The usual formal greeting is ‘How do you do?’ and a firm handshake, but with a lighter touch between men and women.
‘How do you do?’ is a greeting not a question & the correct response is to repeat ‘How do you do?’ You say this when shaking hands with someone.
In Britain, Unlike some other European Countries, It is not unusual to embrace or kiss the other person ( unless they are family or a very close friend). The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first but after a while they will relax as you get to know each other.
Avoid prolonged eye contact when you meet people for the first time, as it might make them feel uncomfortable. In Britain, there still some protocol to follow when introducing people in a business or more formal social situation. Introduce a younger person to an older person, that is, introduce a person of lower status to a person of higher status. When two people are of similar age and rank, introduce the one you know better to the other person.
3) Gift Giving Etiquette.
During Birthday and Christmas celebrations, it is common for the British to exchange gifts between family members and close friends. The gift need not be expensive, but it should usually demonstrate an attempt to find something that is related to the recipient’s interests. When invited to someone’s home, it is normal to take along a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine or flowers. I have found from experience that the British love chocolates. Note that Gifts are opened when received!
Queuing is a unique part of the British culture. People in Britain usually form a queue or a single line in a shop, or when they want to buy a ticket with the intention of allowing those who arrived first to be served first. It is advisable to take your place in the queue and not try to muscle your way to the front as this may annoy other people in the queue. If you are really in a desperate hurry, people will always let you through to the front if you politely ask.
People queuing and waiting for the Iphone.
The Brits are generally punctual, especially the Scots. The Brits consider it rude and impolite if you turn up late for an appointment. Punctuality is very important in business situations. In most cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Call even if you will be 5 minutes later than agreed. If you have been delayed or cannot make the appointment , then make an effort to contact the person to let them know. It is a good idea to telephone and offer your apologies.
6) Dining Etiquette
If invited to a person’s house for dinner, ensure you are punctual as already discussed. Do not sit down at once when you arrive. The host may show you to a particular seat. Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
Do not rest your elbows on the table. When you finish eating, lay your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate. remember If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the invitation usually pays. Usually Starters will be served first, followed by the main course, before dessert. When discussing business over dinner, be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. Brits rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions.
7) Making Friends
As Mentioned in my post 10 British facts all international students should know, the Brits are generally friendly and open-minded. It usually takes some effort at first to build relationships, but once built it could last over a long period of time. one easy way to make friends is to chat with your school mates as the opportunity presents itself. Attending activities and parties organized by the Student Union is another great way to make friends and meet new people.
Generally, the Brits are very reserved and private people and their women are accustomed to being independent. It is considered impolite to ask a lady her age. The two classic signs a lady would like to be left alone are reading a newspaper or listening to music through headphones. Only interrupt if you actually know the lady quite well.
In the UK It is deemed okay for a woman or young lady to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, unlike many parts of Africa.
Tipping is not expected in the UK, in the way it is in the United States or Canada, but is much appreciated. It is not necessary to tip at all in taxis, but it is customary to round up to the nearest pound on metered taxi journeys, more as a convenience than a tip. On an airport journey in a booked minicab you might wish to tip two or three pounds if the driver helps with your bags. If taking a metered London taxi from Heathrow the metered charge will be so high compared to minicabs, that this really is not necessary.
Some restaurants add on an ‘optional’ service charge to bills, of typically 10% or 12.5%. This should always be noted in the menu. If you are unhappy with the service you can ask for it to be removed. For parties of six or more the service charge is sometimes mandatory. If a service charge has been added onto your bill, you should NOT add any further tip
9) How to Behave in Public Places
It is impolite to stare at people in public places; and spitting in the street is considered to be very bad mannered. Also try not to pick your nose in a public place. If your nostrils need de-bugging, use a handkerchief.
Most members of the British public will happily provide you with directions if you approach them politely. Make sure you are familiar with terms like roundabouts, level crossings, traffic lights, zebra crossings, bus lanes, contra flow, and, if using any of the motorways, traffic jams.
10) Thank you/ I’m Sorry/ Please
The Brits say thank you a lot, even for minor things. If you accidentally bump into someone, say ‘sorry’. They probably will too, even if it was your fault! This is a habit and can be seen as very amusing by an ‘outsider’.
sometime the Brits say ‘cheers’ instead of thank you. You may hear ‘cheers’ said instead of ‘good bye’, what they are really saying is ‘thanks and bye’. There are no absolute rules about when to use polite terms, but you should certainly use them when shopping or addressing strangers.
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