When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do
Cultures and customs all over the world are distinctive and unique to each country. Many factors, such as environmental, social, economic, technological, political, religious, artistic, and educational, help contribute and shape this diversity.
By learning and distinguishing between different cultures and customs, you will be well-prepared for adapting in new environments.
Great Britain is no exception. When travelling to Britain, it makes sense to know some of the customs that can allow you to avoid making mistakes and enjoy a richer experience. Here are six customs you should know about:
In most houses in Britain, doors are usually kept closed. It is customary to visit people at a pre-arranged time and day. By and large, people are not comfortable if you just drop in. Nevertheless, if someone says to drop in at anytime, feel free to do so as long as it is not in the middle of the night.
In Britain, the handshake is the common form of greeting. When you meet people for the first time, it is normal to shake hands. A firm handshake is the norm; there are no issues over gender in Britain. The usual formal greeting is ‘How do you do?’ and a firm handshake, but with a lighter touch between men and women.
‘How do you do?’ is a greeting, not a question. So the correct response is to repeat ‘How do you do?’ You say this when shaking hands with someone.
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). The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first but after a while they will relax as you get to know each other. Avoid prolonged eye contact when you meet people for the first time, as it might make them feel uncomfortable.
Queuing is a unique part of the British culture. People in Britain usually form a queue or a single line in a shop or at a bus stop. It is advisable to take your place in the queue and not try to muscle your way to the front as this may annoy other people in the queue. If you are really in a desperate hurry, people will always let you through to the front if you politely ask.
The Brits are generally punctual, especially the Scots. The Brits consider it rude and impolite if you turn up late for an appointment. Punctuality is very important in business situations. In most cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Call even if you will be 5 minutes later than agreed. If you have been delayed or cannot make the appointment, then make an effort to contact the person to let them know.
5) How to Behave in Public Places
It is impolite to stare at people in public places; and spitting in the street is considered to be very bad mannered.
Most members of the British public will happily provide you with directions if you approach them politely. Make sure you are familiar with terms like roundabouts, level crossings, traffic lights, zebra crossings, bus lanes, contra flow, and, if using any of the motorways, traffic jams.
6) Thank you / I’m Sorry / Please
The Brits say ‘thank you’ a lot, even for minor things. If you accidentally bump into someone, say ‘sorry’. They probably will too, even if it was your fault! This is a habit and can be seen as very amusing by an ‘outsider’.
Sometimes the Brits say ‘cheers’ instead of ‘thank you’. You may hear ‘cheers’ said instead of ‘good bye’. What they are really saying is ‘thanks and bye’. There are no absolute rules about when to use polite terms, but you should certainly use them when shopping or addressing strangers.
Adapted from “Ten British Etiquette and Customs You Should Learn