International Student Guide: British Culture
22 March 2018
Life in the UK may seem very different to what you’re used to back home, and there many unique customs and traditions that you should be aware of before you get here. Our guide to British culture can help you get to grips with some of the quirks of living in the UK, and help you settle more quickly into life in your new home.
Depending on where you’re moving from, the UK may feel far removed from your home country, with distinct cultural differences and unique traditions making it challenging to adapt to local life.
So, to help you overcome the culture shock of moving to the UK, here we address some of the quirks and customs of British life you need to be aware of, and provide information on things such as the weather, national holidays and the etiquette of eating and drinking out.
Use the links below to navigate the guide.
You’ve probably heard a lot of rumours about how poor the weather is in the UK. The truth is, it’s really not so bad and comparable to other countries in Europe – but that doesn’t stop Brits talking about it. A lot.
The weather in the UK is mild, temperate and rarely extreme. In the winter, temperatures range from around 2°C – 8°C, with minimal risk of snowfall, while in the summer things are usually a nice 16°C – 24°C. Seasonal changes do mean you need a diverse wardrobe, however, so pack jumpers and coats for the winter and t-shirts and shorts for the summer.
As we mentioned earlier, the British love to talk about the weather, so if you’re ever struggling for a topic of conversation, that’s usually a good option.
National Public Holidays
Like all countries, the UK has a scattering of public holidays throughout the year, and these are often referred to as ‘bank holidays’.
Below, we list the main UK bank holidays and the days they traditionally fall.
- New Year’s Day – 1 January
- Good Friday – The Friday before Easter Sunday
- Easter Monday – The Monday after Easter Sunday
- Early May Bank Holiday – The first Monday in May
- Spring Bank Holiday – The last Monday in May
- Late Summer Bank Holiday – The last Monday in August
- Christmas Day – 25 December
- Boxing Day – 26 December
For the exact dates that public holidays fall on in the current year, go here.
Eating and Drinking Customs
Eating and drinking is very popular in the UK, so you’ll probably find a lot of your student budget going on trips to the pub and eating out with friends. British eating and drinking customs differ greatly from those of other EU countries, so we’ve highlighted a few things you should know before you head to your local.
- Drinks are bought in rounds at the bar – When you’re in the pub, don’t expect table service like they have in countries such as France and Spain. You’ll need to go to the bar to order your drink, and when you’re with friends it’s expected that drinks are bought in rounds, with each person taking turns to buy everyone a drink.
- A 10% service charge is sometimes added to your bill – Read your bill carefully when eating out, as tips are often already added in the form of a 10% service charge. If they are, don’t feel obliged to leave any extra.
- Ask to take home when you get full – Most restaurants let you take food home when you get full, as a means of cracking down on food waste, so don’t be afraid to ask for a ‘doggy bag’.
- Don’t worry about ‘Under 25?’ signs – In pubs, restaurants, supermarkets and off-licenses, you might see a sign saying ‘Under 25?’. This doesn’t mean you need to be 25 to buy alcohol, but that you may be asked for identification to prove your age.
- Always try to make reservations when eating out – If you’re planning a meal out, book ahead to reserve a table. While it’s often possible to get a table by walking in off the street, there may be a time limit on how long you can have it for when you haven’t booked, which can make things feel rushed.
General Tips and Advice
Here, we offer some additional tips on negotiating British culture and customs, helping you better settle in your new home:
- Queueing – Brits love to queue, and need little excuse to do so. There’s a unique, unspoken code to queuing that can be difficult to adapt to, so just be aware of your surroundings and never be tempted to skip to the front when you see a queue forming.
- Punctuality – British people are usually very punctual when arranging appointments and meetings, and consider it rude when others are late. Our advice? Invest in a watch.
- Greetings – A handshake is a customary greeting among British men, in both a formal and informal setting. While a handshake isn’t necessary among women, hugs are becoming more popular, so make sure you’re prepared.
- Politeness – Thank you, excuse me, please; British people are incredibly polite, so it’s expected that you’re polite in return. One of the funniest British traits is that people tend to apologise for things even when it wasn’t their fault.
For more tips and advice on British etiquette, we’d recommend this article from the International Scholarship Guide.
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