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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: August 2013

One of the aspects of UK life that will surprise many expatriates is the reservedness of the British people. Handshakes are not the usual way in which a British individual will greet a neighbour, acquaintance or work colleague. In business circles, however, handshakes are very common. Generally speaking, introductions or informal meetings are accompanied by a slight nod of the head. Often, even good friends will adopt this way of greeting instead of the hugs and kisses prevalent in many other countries around the world. The famous British ‘stiff upper lip’, ie not letting emotions show, can be said to be part of the general reservedness of the British and can be difficult to understand for someone new to the UK. Although once a more permanent relationship has been formed, a more personal approach will gradually emerge over time.

British politeness is almost world famous. Individuals are usually very quick to say ‘sorry’ when involved in slight mishaps – even if it wasn’t their fault. Someone walking through a crowd of people is often heard saying words such as ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’. Other Brits are usually disapproving of others who do not follow this etiquette. This disapproval also extends to queue jumpers. The British are renowned for forming orderly queues wherever a number of people may be waiting for a specific thing such as the next bus, the post office, entrance to attractions and shops such as greengrocers and butchers. The scramble at these events experienced by some expats in their country of origin is rare in the UK. Anyone attempting to jump the queue will usually be told by many individuals waiting in line to take their place at the back.

Drinking tea is synonymous with being British. The widely held belief by people who have lived in the UK all their lives is that a good cup of tea makes everything better. Shock, such as that experienced after a fall, will be greatly soothed by a strong, sweet cup of tea. Many people feel they are unable to function until they have had at least one cup of tea at the start of their day. Indeed, research has shown that Brits often take teabags on holiday with them as they think that tea bought in the UK is better than that available in other countries. You will have to judge for yourself.

Nearly everyone in Britain is obsessed with the weather. This is perhaps due to the fact that this is an island nation and the weather can be very unpredictable. The topic is often used by individuals who want to be polite by making conversation but do not want to touch on any potentially contentious subjects such as politics or are not interested in sharing information about themselves or their lives. The weather is always deemed to be a safe subject that can fill awkward silences.

Another characteristic marking out many British individuals is their unwillingness to complain when it comes to bad service they have received or unpalatable food served to them in a restaurant. When faced with a hair in their soup or food cooked not the way they had asked for, British people will often leave the food uneaten instead of asking for it to be done to the proper standard. Equally, receiving unsatisfactory service in a shop, restaurant or from any service provider will usually lead to the individual to go elsewhere without making a complaint.

Despite all of these traits, or perhaps because of them, British individuals generally have a great sense of humour and the wonderful ability to laugh at themselves. The British usually love sarcasm and will make up jokes about all kinds of subjects, even when some might be considered in bad taste.

According to a survey carried out in 2008, there are 50 in all that make up the ‘typical Brit’. They are:

1. Talking about the weather
2. Great at queueing
3. Sarcasm
4. Watching soaps
5. Getting drunk
6. A love of bargains
7. A love of curtain twitching
8. Stiff upper lip
9. Love of all television
10. Moaning
11. Obsession with class
12. Gossiping with neighbours over the garden fence
13. Obsession with the traffic
14. Enjoying other people’s misfortune
15. Inability to complain
16. Love of cheap foreign holidays
17. Working long hours
18. A soothing cup of tea to ease worries
19. Eating meat and two veg
20. Looking uncomfortable on the dance floor
21. Feeling uncomfortable when people talk about their emotions
22. Clever sense of humour
23. Obsession with property values
24. Pandering to political correctness
25. Road rage
26. Being unhappy with our weight
27. Wanting a good tan
28. Being proud of where we live
29. Not saying what we mean
30. The ability to laugh at ourselves
31. Washing the car on a Sunday
32. Taking the mickey out of others
33. Asking people about their journey
34. Inability not to comment on how other people bring up their children
35. Jealousy of wealth and success
36. Being overly polite
37. Texting instead of calling
38. An inability to express our emotions
39. Obsession with the Royal Family
40. Fondness for mowing the lawn
41. Love of rambling through the countryside
42. A love of all things deep fried
43. Emulating celebrity lifestyles
44. Leaving things to the last minute
45. Irony
46. Keeping our homes neat and tidy
47. Take decisions and accept the consequences
48. Achieving against all odds
49. Wanting our sportsmen / teams to fail
50. DIY on a Bank Holiday

All in all, living and working in the UK and having the chance to observe and experience at first hand the traits of UK citizens is a wonderful and enriching experience that will have an influence on many, even long after they have returned to their home country.



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