Top 7 Things NOT to do in the UK: Customs and Etiquette Guide

by Jules on July 15, 2013

Travelling to the UK, which is steeped in ancient traditions, historical gems and stunning natural landscapes, is a fantastic experience but make sure you’re on the right side of the local customs and etiquette, with our pointers.

Don’t expect Londoners to be friendly – When I first explored London as an adult, I was unprepared for the rush and pace; everybody’s got to be somewhere yesterday. But if you take the time to make eye contact, smile and speak to someone, 90% of the time you’ll get a response back. London is the most culturally diverse city in the UK, so differences in customs and etiquette can crop up.

Don’t misunderstand the wit – Ever watched a UK chat show with an American guest where they just don’t ‘get’ the ironic humour? Us Brits can do irony, sarcasm and acerbic wit like nobody else on earth but hopefully we’re becoming more understood now thanks to the international adoption of such of our biggest TV shows such as Downton Abbey: Dame Maggie Smith’s character is a perfect example.

Don’t expect any niceties – The British are often considered reserved, which comes across as rude or stand-offish. Trust me, we’re not rude (at least if you’re not), we just sometimes take a little while to get warmed up and like to get to know you a little.  That said, we rarely wear our hearts on our sleeves – one look at a British twitter profile, compared to an American’s twitter profile, will pretty quickly reveal this!

Don’t expect good food – The UK seems to have a bad reputation across the world when it comes to food and dining out. Some of our cultural classics are misunderstood: take the deep-fried Mars bar, Norfolk dumplings and haggis for example! But we also have fantastic food if you look a little closer; the ubiquitous roast dinner for example is delicious on a cold winter’s day. Besides, just about every cuisine from Japanese, Indian, Mexican etc can be found right across the country.

Don’t expect PDAs – It’s rare that you’ll see British people back-slapping each other, like in a sports-based movie. We just don’t go in for public displays of affection either generally. Youngsters kissing can evoke tuts from the older generation, but when you see pensioners holding hands it’s cute and almost brings a tear to your eye.

Don’t expect good weather – The most popular subject in British culture, bar none, is that of the weather! Whatever the weather, come rain or shine it’s always TOO hot/cold/windy/wet/dry and is always a subject up for discussion. In our defence, we do have a point. Take last summer for example: it started so dry that the first hosepipe ban for 20 years was implemented and much of south England was declared a desert. Then it rained solidly for about three months, with landslides, floods and cool temperatures and ended up as the wettest year on record!

Watch your labels – The UK is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and unless you want to avoid a cultural slip up, avoid addressing somebody as English/Welsh/ Scottish/ Irish etc unless you’re 100% certain. Much like New Zealanders hate being called Aussies and Canadians hate being called Americans, the Scottish really hate being called English, as do the Welsh!

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