The United Kingdom Cultural Background

One of the most important things to know before going to the United Kingdom is what their cultural and social norms are. No matter where you are in the UK, these are some of the social norms that you will learn from the English people.

  • The English are punctual. Being late is odd and, in some cases, considered to be rude. If you’re going to be late to be late to a meeting, contact those involved as soon as you know you will be late.
  • Please, thank you, sorry are normal parts of every day conversations and interactions. Some people are simply baffled by how polite the English are.
  • Never jump lines, known as “queues” in England. In some countries jumping the queue may be acceptable, but in England, people may not be very happy with you and will definitely let you know how unhappy they are about the situation. Standing patiently in the queue is a normal part of English culture.
  • When greeting a good friend or family member in England, you do not simply shake their hand. Many times, especially if one of the people that are greeting or being greeted is female, you will frequently give and/or receive a small kiss on the cheek. If you are not a close friend or family member, then physical touch is perceived as odd or uncomfortable (you may shake hands, but often a smile and a bow of the head is acceptable enough).
  • The English have a high amount of respect for older adults and the disabled. If you are on public transportation, you are expected to give up your seat if someone who is disabled or older comes onto the tram (or whatever vehicle you are in) and there is no other seat. If an older adult or someone who is disabled seems to be struggling with something, you are also expected to ask the person if they need your assistance.

Business Etiquette and Protocol:

  • A firm handshake is the norm; there are no issues over gender in the UK
  • The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first
  • Maintain eye contact during the greeting but avoid anything prolonged. They find it uncomfortable and intimidating.
  • Most people use the courtesy titles or Mr, Mrs of Miss and their surname
  • Business cards are exchanged at the initial introduction without formal ritual

Gift Giving Etiquette:

  • The British exchange gifts between family members and close friends for birthdays and Christmas
  • The gift need not be expensive, but is should usually demonstrate an attempt to find something that relates to the recipient’s interests.
  • If invited to someone’s home, it is normal to take along a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine or flowers.
  • Gifts are opened when received.