UK Do’s and Don’ts: 15 Unspoken British Rules When Visiting the UK
Visiting the UK for the first time? Whether you’re planning a holiday vacation or a business trip, there are a couple of UK social norms and customs you should know about. To avoid having a culture shock (or worse, offending someone or getting sued), here are British do’s and don’ts you must learn.
1. DO: Speak softly
England is one of those places where silence is more appreciated than speaking your mind – so be very mindful of the tone of your voice, if you’re quite a loud person. If you’d like to speak when eating in a restaurant, visiting a museum, or riding public transportation, do it quietly to avoid disturbing other people (and receiving that meaningful glare from them).
2. DON’T: Be late
Different countries have different takes on punctuality: other people get offended if you’re too late or too early. In the UK, people are serious about punctuality. “5 p.m. sharp” means 5 p.m. sharp. You’re generally expected to arrive on time, but they often allow a 10-15 minute grace period if you’re running late.
It’s polite to take a small gift, like chocolates or a flower bouquet, when visiting someone.
3. DO: Engage in small talk before doing business
Are you going to the UK for a business trip? Expect to be engaged in some small talk before discussing business. One of the most common topics would be the weather. They’ll be happy to complain about whatever weather conditions they’re currently experiencing,
4. DON’T: Delve into personal topics
While Brits like small talks, there are lines you shouldn’t cross. You should always maintain personal space. Avoid hard-selling tactics, confrontations, Brexit topics, and asking personal questions.
5. DO: Learn British slangs and greetings
One of the most important things to know about Brits is that they often say something they don’t mean. People will say “alright?” as a greeting, not to inquire how you’re actually doing. They’d say “sorry” too without really apologizing.
So when someone says “alright?”, responding with “no I’m not, because I had a long-haul flight and the legroom is too tight, plus there’s an annoying kid who was talking non-stop behind me” will result in a confused Brit.
6. DON’T: Get offended when being called strange names
Outside of London, you can hear a variety of strange greetings when you meet local people. If you’re staying in a serviced apartment in Newcastle and you go out to buy snacks, you might hear “alright pet.” If you’re in Derby, “ey up duck” is the standard greeting.” “Hiya” is an informal greeting used throughout the country.
7. DO: Hold the door for the next person
If you’re passing through a door and let it close while there’s someone behind you, the innocent mistake might be regarded as rudeness. We all know that holding the door for someone is a kind gesture wherever you are, but it’s mandatory in the UK. So the next time you pass through a door, be mindful of whether someone is walking behind or alongside you.
8. DON’T: Cut in line EVER
Brits are famous for queuing. They believe in the “first come, first served” theory. It doesn’t matter if you’re only holding one item while you’re in the supermarket queue and you’re in the 10th spot: YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER CUT IN LINE if you don’t want to be shunned by the rest of the queue.
9. DO: Let people off before getting in
I guess this is a universally-accepted etiquette, but some people still fail at this simple gesture. Whether you’re on a train, bus, or even in an elevator, you should let people off before you try and step inside.
10. DON’T: Stand on the left side
The standard rule across the country is to stand on the right, especially when traveling on an escalator in London underground. If you wish to stand still, always stand on the right side as people in a hurry will be rushing past on the left side. The last thing you’d want to receive is the stares of hatred from angry Brits.
11. DO: Answer “How do you do?” by asking it back
According to Insider, when someone asks you, “how do you do?”, the correct answer isn’t “I’m fine”. Instead, you should ask the person back with “how do you do?” and let the person be the first one to answer.
12. DON’T: Sit down until you’re asked to
Whether you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner or you’re a guest in a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to remain standing until you’re invited to sit down. Well if you know the person well and the meal is casual, you can skip the rule — but not if you’re having a business lunch or meeting new people.
13. DO: Mind your dining etiquette
There are universal rules in the UK concerning table manners.
Firstly, you should keep your elbows off the table. As for utensils, the knife should always be in the right hand while the fork is on the left. The fork is often held tines down and the food is scooped up onto the backside of the fork. When you’re finished, lay your knife together at the clock position of 6:30 to signal that you’re done with your meal.
14. DON’T: Be scared to criticize the royal family
No, you won’t get arrested if you badmouth the royal family. Most people in the UK won’t bat an eye if you do.
15. DO: Buy rounds at a pub
When in the UK, it’s unusual for someone to buy only their own drinks in a bar or pub. The custom is if someone gets you a drink, you should reciprocate. If you’re in a group, the UK pub culture says you need to pay for a round of drinks for everyone, and they’d do the same for you.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a self-proclaimed foodie and content writer who hates being locked up at home. She may be an awkward introvert but she’s got a lot to say about travel, food, and cultural appreciation.
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