English social etiquette rules and customs UK

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Every culture comes with its own habits and differences and the English have a lot of ‘hidden’ social etiquettes. As you might be aware, politeness and trying not to offend drives a lot of the English behaviour. In this blog you will read about some social etiquettes which might be handy when socialising with the English.

1. Be patient to get to know them

The English spend a lot of time talking about safe subjects; this is a way of putting people at ease and avoids getting too personal too soon. You may well find yourself spending quite a lot of time discussing sport, celebrity gossip and the weather before you get on to more serious subjects like work and their personal backgrounds.

2. Class rule

Although England has changed considerably in the last 30 years, class still plays an important role. Being a foreigner can be a big advantage as you can’t be easily pigeonholed as working, middle or upper class.

3. Darling and love

Women should not be shocked when being called ‘love’ or ‘darling’ when they are in a shop or supermarket at the check out. You won’t be asked for a date but it just an expression of ‘a woman to woman’ friendliness.

4. Don’t be too direct

As mentioned above, the English are keen on not offending. Make sure you don’t ask them too personal questions at your first couple of social outings. Asking a direct question before you are a good friend may be considered offensive.

5. Don’t expect an invitation

The English are private people and the English pubs are considered to be their second home and an obvious place to meet up. It takes time and effort to become good friends and to be invited to their homes. However once you are over this hurdle, you can be good friends for ever.

6. Eat well before you go out drinking

Make sure you eat before you make it to the pub after work. English tend to go to the bar until closing time without stopping for a decent meal. It is hard to survive on just eating crisps and peanuts the whole evening.

7. Humour

Humour is a key ingredient of social life and in English conversation there is always an undercurrent of humour. Self depreciating humour is common and it is used to create a bond and relaxed atmosphere. However it is best to avoid making fun of others or other groups.

8. I am not English

As a foreigner you should be careful about calling someone English – if they turn out to be Scottish, Welsh or Irish they will be insulted whereas call an Englishman Scottish and he will shrug his shoulders and say, actually I’m English. Hence, it is best either not to assume or if pushed to plump for Scottish, Welsh or Irish.

9. I am sorry

The English are well known for their apologetic attitude. If someone else walks into them the English tend to say sorry; almost like an automatic response. The English themselves even make fun about it by joking that ‘they would even say sorry to the wall they walk into!’

10. Presents and Thank You cards

Always make sure you leave your present(s) well wrapped and with a card on it when attending a birthday party. The English don’t open birthday presents in front of you; they find that un-polite and rude. You will receive a thank you card afterwards. Be prepared when you celebrate your birthday and make sure you have your drawer stacked with Thank You cards in advance.

11. Queuing is a national sport

The English take their queuing very seriously; there is hardly any crime worse than not taking your correct place in the queue. If you do barge to the front or ignore the queue you are likely to be stared at or even reprimanded. If in doubt, ask who is at the back of the queue. Even if you are at the front of the queue in the pub, getting the barman’s attention is another English skill.

12. Rounds in the pub

In England it is very common to pay for rounds when you are in the pub with a group of friends or colleagues, instead of making a ‘kitty’ at the start. Make sure you get your round in early to make sure your round will be noticed. It is rude not to pay your round, although you can take a ‘rain check’ if you have to leave early.

13. Staring

Make sure when you are travelling on a bus, tube or train you have a mobile, book or newspaper with you to keep you entertained. Even in the rush hour when we are travelling as sardines we still make sure we find a tiny little space to glimpse through a newspaper or text a message. The English do anything to avoid looking up; they might catch someone’s eye!

14. Traditions

The English like their Sunday roasts. When invited for a Sunday roast make sure you have nothing else planned for the day. A Sunday roast normally starts around 12.30 and won’t finish until late afternoon. A Sunday roast usually includes a traditional chicken, pork or beef roast with roast potatoes and vegetables and will be served with plenty of wine. It may also include a delicious pudding, something the English are very good at making!

15. What they say is not always what they mean

The English are not confrontational so will not directly tell you if they do not like something. They will hint in a very gentle way like saying ‘something looks different’ when they don’t really like it. Try to read between the lines to get the meaning of what they are saying.

If you would like to read in more detail about the hidden rules of English behaviour I strongly recommend reading ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox.

Author Bio: Nicolette Wykeman has lived and worked in London since 2009 and has her own business ‘Wykeman – Connecting People with London’. She coaches expatriate partners on how to find a job or change their career when moving to London.  She also helps people starting up their business and she writes blog posts about working and living in London. For more information you can check her website: www.wykeman.com.

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