UK - Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
(taken from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/uk.html)
Facts and Statistics
Western Europe, islands including the northern one-sixth of the island
of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest
Climate: temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast
Population: 60,776,238 (July 2007 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: white (of which English 83.6%,
Scottish 8.6%, Welsh 4.9%, Northern Irish 2.9%) 92.1%, black 2%, Indian
1.8%, Pakistani 1.3%, mixed 1.2%, other 1.6% (2001 census)
(Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) 71.6%, Muslim 2.7%,
Hindu 1%, other 1.6%, unspecified or none 23.1% (2001 census)
Government: constitutional monarchy
Language in the UK
United Kingdom does not have a constitutionally defined official
language. English is the main language (being spoken monolingually by
more than 70% of the UK population) and is thus the de facto official
Other native languages to the Isles include Welsh, Irish, Ulster Scots, Cornish, Gaelic and British Sign Language.
Immigrants have naturally brought many foreign languages from across the globe.
British Society, People and Culture
The United Kingdom
United Kingdom is comprised of four countries: England, Scotland,
Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is important not only to be aware of
these geographical distinctions, but also the strong sense of identity
and nationalism felt by the populations of these four nations.
terms 'English' and 'British' do not mean the same thing. 'British'
denotes someone who is from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern
Ireland. 'English' refers to people from England. People from Scotland
are 'Scots', from Wales ‘Welsh’ and from Northern Ireland ‘Irish’. Be
sure not to call someone Welsh, Scots, or Northern Irish ‘English’.
The Class System
in the past few decades, people from varied backgrounds have had
greater access to higher education, wealth distribution is changing and
more upward/downward mobility is occurring, the British class system is
still very much intact although in a more subconscious way. The playing
field is levelling but the British still seem to pigeon-hole people
according to class.
Class is no longer simply about wealth or where
one lives; the British are able to suss out someone’s class through a
number of complex variables including demeanour, accent, manners and
A Multicultural Society
a very homogenous society, since World War II, Britain has become
increasingly diverse as it has accommodated large immigrant populations,
particularly from its former colonies such as India, Pakistan and the
West Indies. The mixture of ethnic groups and cultures make it difficult
to define "Britishness” nowadays and a debate rages within the nation
as to what now really constitutes being a Briton.
The Stiff Upper Lip
British have been historically known for their stiff upper lip and
"blitz spirit” as demonstrated during the German bombings of World War
II. This ‘grin and bear’ attitude in the face of adversity or
embarrassment lives on today.
As a nation, the Brits tend not to use
superlatives and may not appear terribly animated when they speak. This
does not mean that they do not have strong emotions; merely that they
do not choose to put them on public display. They are generally not very
openly demonstrative, and, unless you know someone well, may not
appreciate it if you put your arm around their shoulder. Kissing is most
often reserved for family members in the privacy of home, rather than
in public. You'll see that the British prefer to maintain a few feet of
distance between themselves and the person to whom they are speaking. If
you have insulted someone, their facial expression may not change.
British are very reserved and private people. Privacy is extremely
important. The British will not necessarily give you a tour of their
home and, in fact, may keep most doors closed. They expect others to
respect their privacy. This extends to not asking personal questions.
The question, "Where are you from?” may be viewed as an attempt to
"place” the person on the social or class scale. Even close friends do
not ask pointedly personal questions, particularly pertaining to one’s
financial situation or relationships.
There is a proper way to act
in most situations and the British are sticklers for adherence to
protocol. The British are a bit more contained in their body language
and hand gestures while speaking. They are generally more distant and
reserved than North and South Americans and Southern Europeans, and may
not initially appear to be as open or friendly. Friendships take longer
to build; however, once established they tend to be deep and may last
over time and distance.
British Etiquette and Customs
Meeting and Greeting
- The handshake is the common form of greeting.
- The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first.
- Avoid prolonged eye contact as it makes people feel uncomfortable.
- There is still some protocol to follow when introducing people in a
business or more formal social situation. This is often a class
distinction, with the 'upper class' holding on to the long-standing
- Introduce a younger person to an older person.
- Introduce a person of lower status to a person of higher status.
- When two people are of similar age and rank, introduce the one you know better to the other person.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- The British exchange gifts between family members and close friends for birthdays and Christmas.
- The gift need not be expensive, but it should usually demonstrate an
attempt to find something that related 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.
- Unlike many European cultures, the British enjoy entertaining in people their homes.
- Although the British value punctuality, you may arrive 10-15 minutes
later than invited to dinner. However, if going to a restaurant be on
- Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- The fork is held tines down so food is scooped on to the back of the fork. This is a skill that takes time to master.
- Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
- Do not rest your elbows on the table.
- If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
- Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate.
- Toasts are given at formal meals.
- When in a pub, it is common practice to pay for a round of drinks for everyone in your group.
- If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the
invitation usually pays. Do not argue about the check; simply
reciprocate at a later time.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
- A firm handshake is the norm; there are no issues over gender in the UK.
- People shake upon meeting and leaving.
- Maintain eye contact during the greeting but avoid anything prolonged.
- Most people use the courtesy titles or Mr, Mrs or Miss and their surname.
- Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. People under
the age of 35 may make this move more rapidly than older British.
- Business cards are exchanged at the initial introduction without formal ritual.
- The business card may be put away with only a cursory glance so don’t be offended if not much attention is paid to it.
The British Communication Style
have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both
understatement and direct communication. Many older businesspeople or
those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of established
protocol. Most British are masters of understatement and do not use
effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to use
‘qualifiers’ such as 'perhaps', ‘possibly’ or 'it could be'.
communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or
class, the British are direct, but modest. If communicating with someone
they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will
still be reserved.
Written communication follows strict rules of
protocol. How a letter is closed varies depending upon how well the
writer knows the recipient. Written communication is always addressed
using the person's title and their surname. First names are not
generally used in written communication, unless you know the person
E-mail is now much more widespread, however the communication
style remains more formal, at least initially, than in many other
countries. Most British will not use slang or abbreviations and will
think negatively if your communication appears overly familiar.
British can be quite formal and sometimes prefer to work with people
and companies they know or who are known to their associates. The
younger generation however is very different; they do not need
long-standing personal relationships before they do business with people
and do not require an intermediary to make business introductions.
Nonetheless, networking and relationship building are often key to
long-term business success.
Most British look for long-term
relationships with people they do business with and will be cautious if
you appear to be going after a quick deal.
If you plan to use an agenda, be sure to forward it to your British
colleagues in sufficient time for them to review it and recommend any
Punctuality is important in business situations. In most
cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Scots are extremely
punctual. Call if you will be even 5 minutes later than agreed. Having
said that, punctuality is often a matter of personal style and
emergencies do arise. If you are kept waiting a few minutes, do not make
an issue of it. Likewise, if you know that you will be late it is a
good idea to telephone and offer your apologies.
How meetings are conducted is often determined by the composition of people attending:
- If everyone is at the same level, there is generally a free flow of ideas and opinions.
- If there is a senior ranking person in the room, that person will do most of the speaking.
In general, meetings will be rather formal:
- Meetings always have a clearly defined purpose, which may include an agenda.
- There will be a brief amount of small talk before getting down to the business at hand.
- If you make a presentation, avoid making exaggerated claims.
- Make certain your presentation and any materials provided appear professional and well thought out.
- Be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. The British rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions.
- Maintain eye contact and a few feet of personal space.
- After a meeting, send a letter summarizing what was decided and the next steps to be taken.
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