AN AWKWARD GIRL’S TONGUE-IN-CHEEK GUIDE TO BRITISH ETIQUETTE RULES

Queuing is an essential part of British Etiquette.

If there is anything that we Brits can bond over, it is our shared awkwardness when it comes to pretty much all kinds of social interaction. As somebody who most definitely lives up to the stereotype of the ‘awkward Brit,’ I can tell you that following these unwritten etiquette rules can be taxing and exhausting. So what must it be like for a visitor to our beloved nation? Absolutely overwhelming I imagine. If you want to feel comfortable here in the UK, it is important that you know what the rules are and how to respect them. Let us start with the core value of all things British: politeness.

Mind Your Manners!

If you’re going to get on in Britain, the most important thing that you must be aware of is the ridiculously high threshold of politeness that is expected. First and foremost, remember to always say thank you. I’m not just talking about when you buy something in a shop though. These words must be, without doubt, your most frequently spoken. Someone walks around you in the street? Say thanks. The bus driver gives you a ticket? Say thanks. Your latest work report has just been torn apart by your colleagues? Even if in your head you are thinking, ‘What is the bloody point!?’, you always say thank you. It’s just the way the UK works.

The next word you will find yourself using a lot is sorry. If you are to fit into British society, you will find yourself in situations that you need to apologise for all of the time. I am particularly bad for this, I say sorry so much on a day to day basis that I have pretty much accepted I am apologising for my existence every time I hinder another person in any small way. A classic example of this is when someone bumps into you. They could be steamrolling towards you and give you no opportunity to move and yet, it is still expected that you will say sorry.

Politeness is the pinnacle of British etiquette.

Now we need to address how to act when it comes to greeting people. Be aware that when you meet someone, you have limited opportunities to ask for their name. If for any reason you don’t catch it when they say it, you can ask them to repeat it once and if you’re feeling particularly shameless, maybe twice. If you still don’t hear them, you will have to accept you will never know their name and make a mental note to avoid saying it for the rest of your life.

So we’ve covered the importance of being polite, saying thanks and apologising whenever necessary (it’s always necessary). We now move on to the dreaded question: How are you? Let me tell you now, this is not a grey question. There is clearly a right answer here. Choose from ‘Not too bad, Good thanks, I’m okay,’ etc. One thing you must NEVER do is answer negatively. I understand we all have bad days and it is natural to want to say, ‘I’m awful, I missed Game of Thrones last night and was spoilered on the bus this morning.’ Of course, it is understandable that you will be upset about this. The thing is, no-one wants to hear someone else’s problems. It is uncomfortable and awkward. British people struggle with conversation at the best of times so be kind and don’t put them under this pressure.

Master The Art Of Queuing

When it comes down to the organisation of the UK, queuing is at the absolute pinnacle of British society. If there is anything that we do well, it is to form an orderly line and mutter about how long we have been waiting in it.

When I first travelled abroad I was shocked to see that the queuing system had been ruthlessly abandoned, instead favouring what I call the stampede method. Not only is this much less efficient but the threat of be crushed is far too dangerous for me. I am definitely a firm believer in the queue! Look at this article from The Telegraph, all of those Brits in self-formed lines, loving life. It appears that the only thing that Brits enjoy more than Ed Sheeran is a good old-fashioned queue!

Know Your Geography

When it comes to British etiquette, it is important to know your geography! Personally, I have no qualms with mistaken identity. If someone asks me whether I am Irish, I feel no offence whatsoever. (I’m English in case you were wondering.) However, not everyone feels the same as me. In order to save any offence, learn where Ireland (North and South), Scotland, England and Wales are on a map. Never assume you know where someone is from purely from their accent as getting it wrong can be humiliating for both you and the person in question. To avoid this social faux pas, it is instead easier to just assume people are British. This method should hopefully see you avoid any awkward confrontations when it comes to geography and if your new acquaintance has any preference in being known as something other than British, they will be sure to tell you.

You Are Humbly Invited…

In some countries, it is acceptable to drop round to someone’s house if you are passing by, with no need to pre-warn the residents of your arrival. This is not the case in the UK. If you believe you have made friends with a British person, the first step to keeping it that way is to never invite yourself round to their house. Us Brits find this a hugely inconsiderate invasion of privacy and very rude. Don’t show up uninvited, ever.

If you have been lucky enough to pass through the acquaintance stage and have been invited to a British person’s house, then be aware that when you receive the invitation, there will probably be several reasons given for why you might not want to attend. Do not take these reasons as evidence that you are to decline the invitation, British people are constantly mindful of making others feel at ease. These reasons are not to put you off but simply to save you both embarrassment if you don’t want to accept the invitation.

For example:

Mary: Would you like to come round to mine for dinner tonight? Don’t worry if not, I know you went out last night and the kids have been keeping you up late. 

Judith: That would be lovely Mary, I’ve been dreaming of your bangers and mash for weeks! 

Or if Judith wanted to decline, the conversation could have happened as follows:

Mary: Would you like to come round to mine for dinner tonight? Don’t worry if not, I know you went out last night and the kids have been keeping you up late.

Judith: I think I’ll pass tonight thanks. Little Liam barely slept and I feel like the walking dead!

Mary: Okay, I did think he’d been causing you some trouble. You go and have yourself an early night. You deserve it! 

See? No problem. It’s really quite considerate when you think about it.

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

So you’ve made it through the initial awkwardness of meeting someone and accepting an invitation to their house. What happens when you actually get there? It is likely that the first thing will be that you are offered a cup of tea. As some of you may know, I have a turbulent relationship with hot drinks (it turns out it was tea I was looking for!) and this can be awkward in social situations. The politest thing to do is to accept the cup of tea and then make a special effort to compliment the host on their fabulous drink making skills. As a rule, British people tend to feel quite uncomfortable with compliments (we get all tongue tied and instead blabber and melt) but praising their tea making is an exception to the rule.

If you are attending a dinner party at the house of your host, it is important to remember that you must eat the food that you are given. Always try the food before you season it as some people get very touchy about this and never say you don’t like what is in front of you. It is literally the most confrontational thing in the world to have to tell the person who has been slaving over a stove for the past four hours that you don’t like the meal they have prepared. Eat it even if it makes you sick. Okay, that might be a bit extreme but at least try to make a good dent so as not to be rude. Whilst it is unlikely that your host will be rude to you if you say that you don’t like the food (not to your face at least), I can guarantee they will quietly curse you in the kitchen. If you have an allergy which means you physically cannot grin and bear it, make this known to the host before the dinner party.

When it comes to conversation, remember that the Brits value their privacy and don’t like confrontation. Asking somebody why their wife walked out or why they aren’t married at the grand old age of 31 is not seen as an innocent curiosity but as a personal intrusion. Also, avoid talk of politics unless you are with trusted friends as this can lead to awkward and opinionated standoffs. Instead favour conversations of a lighter nature such as, television, transport and whilst it is massively cliched, the weather. A good British conversation will usually include a bit of a moan with a dash of humour. Embrace it!

How Will I Remember All That?!

To all of you who are reading and feeling completely overwhelmed, you will be pleased to know that this is a tongue in cheek guide to etiquette rules in the UK. Whilst performing to the British standard of politeness can be tiring and overwhelming, the most important things to remember are to brush up on your manners and always be respectful and courteous. It might seem like the standard is very high (especially if you’re a Downton Abbey fan) but in reality, making friends with a British person really is as simple as a moan about the rain over a good cup of tea.

What are your experiences travelling in Britain? What do you think about British etiquette rules?

Sheree

8 Comments

  1. This is brilliant! I love British humor, and truthfully prefer your standards of politeness to our American brashness 🙂 But the queueing thing cracked me up. We’re coming up on Black Friday so I can guarantee there will be some stampeding for sure at the stores on Friday. You’re so much more civilized across the pond!

    • The news videos I see of the Black Friday stampedes always shock me, I’m definitely more of an online shopper when it comes to deal days! 😀

  2. Great tips! It is so important to keep etiquette up in a destination. These are great for when you head to Great Britain. Thank you for coming to Fly Away Friday! See you tomorrow!

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