UK Life and Culture
We appreciate that many international staff have ample knowledge about other cultures, acquired through their work and travel. Nevertheless, some may not be aware of some subtle cultural differences relevant to the UK, and we hope you may find this useful.
Outside their homes the British can tend to be reserved and do not enter into conversation as easily as people do in hotter countries where much of the life takes place outside. Being reserved is just part of the British culture and not intended to be unfriendly or unwelcoming, nor is it only foreigners who experience it. The British are equally reserved with each other.
It is seen as important to respect the privacy of others and impolite to intrude where you may not be wanted. It is frequently politeness, which prevents the British from making the first move, but we can be warm and friendly. You must expect friendship to develop more gradually than you may be used to at home. The British are renowned for their politeness.
“Please, thank you and sorry” are probably the most used words in the English language. There are no absolute rules about where/when you use these polite terms, but you should certainly use them when shopping, addressing strangers and on public transport. Even at home family members will use “thank you” and “please” with one another. British people feel more comfortable when these words and phrases are introduced into conversation than if they are omitted.
In Britain, it is normal to shake hands when meeting someone for the first time. This is acceptable for both men and women. In Britain unlike some other European countries, it is not usual to embrace or kiss the other person unless they are family or a very close friend.
One of the popular British leisure activities is going to the pub for a drink or eating out in restaurants. Most restaurants serve alcohol, and cater for children of all ages. However, you rarely see children in restaurants after 9 pm as it is seen socially inappropriate to keep children up late. British people enjoy entertaining at home.
Dinner parties and summer BBQs are quite common. If you visit people at home, you will usually be offered an alcoholic drink. In all cases it is possible to ask them for a non-alcoholic drink. Never feel that you have to have an alcoholic drink if you don’t want to. If you prefer not to visit places that sell alcohol, make this clear to the people you are with. There are usually alternative places where you can meet.
“Queuing” is simply the way in which people form a line at a bus stop, in a shop or when they buy a ticket etc… with the intention of allowing those who arrive first to be served first. It is advisable to take your place in the queue and not go to the front or push your way to the front, as this may annoy other people in the queue.
If you are in a desperate hurry, people will almost always let you through to the front if you ask politely. Also, it is expected that people keep to the right when going up escalators and stairs – this enables others to go by you if they are in a hurry.
Gender Equality in the UK
In the UK women and men share the same rights and opportunities, and treating anyone unfairly or unfavourably because of their gender is against the law. This applies to all areas of life across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision making.
Gender roles have changed tremendously for both men and women in Britain in the last few decades. Men and women in the UK are as equally independent and self-sufficient. Aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.
More and more women are choosing to work in what are traditionally seen as male dominated professions; equally more and more men occupy roles that are seen as predominately female professions. More women than ever before are striving for a career and choose to combine work with parenthood (2 out of 3 mothers are in paid work); more and more men are striving to take an equal role in parenting.