5 British Customs that Puzzle the Rest of the World

Travel June 8, 2016


In Norway, eating anything – including a sandwich – without using a knife and fork is considered rude. It’s the equivalent of asking for salt at the dinner table in Egypt, or clinking your glass with a fellow drinker in Hungary. It’s just not done.

Essentially, what is usual in one place, is totally unusual in another.

So after we’d pondered the thought of eating a bacon sarnie with a knife and fork, we quickly saluted a lone magpie sat on the office steps and started thinking about our own local customs. But being typically British, we were unable to speak candidly about ourselves. Yup, there’s a puzzling custom already!

The only fair way would be to ask an expert British local from another country. Enter Dutch WeSwapper, Lisa, she’s a five-year UK resident and knows a lot about our weird ways…

5 British customs that puzzle the rest of the world

I was recently practising for the Life in the UK test that you need to pass to apply for an indefinite leave to remain – every foreign national will know what I’m on about. To settle here, you need to be able to answer questions on what year the Christians first set foot in Britain and which forts were part of Hadrian’s Wall.

But to get to the heart of British culture, there are a couple of other things I’ve noticed about life in Britain that the test doesn’t prepare you for. Here are five things British people do that the rest of the world find a tad unusual…

The British always stay polite

British people don't like to argue

When you tell someone you completely disagree with their argument, you phrase it as: ‘That’s a really interesting point. However, have you considered X and Y?’ When your manager is angry at you, she still calls you ‘love’, and when you’re asking someone to do something for you, you can get into a lot of trouble if you don’t say ‘please’. The British tend to spend a lot of time queuing, holding doors for others and apologising when you bump into them. If you want to truly fit in, you better get used to it!

Everyone dresses like it’s sunny even when it’s not

A typical Saturday night in February: boys are walking around in T-shirts and shorts, whilst the girls seem to have forgotten to put on tights and walk around on their bare feet, carrying their heels in their hands. Even when it’s freezing, bringing a coat on a night out is not done. Also, for a country where it rains so much, why is there no good drainage system? We’re not in Spain!

Places are obsessed with health and safety standards

British health and safety standards

So you’ve just started a new course at university or you’ve landed a job in a multi-corporation. Well done, but before you’re told what your new tasks will include, you’re submitted to various long talks about where the fire exits are and what a kitchen looks like after a fire. You’ll be reminded a dozen times of the fact you should never place boxes in pathways and all those heavy fire doors will give you a muscle pain within no time. More so than in other countries, schools and companies are obsessed with health and safety and there’s no chance of escaping it! Even the guys at Stonehenge are getting in on it now!

People love debating about whether it’s tea, lunch or dinner

It makes a huge difference whether you hang out with northerners or southerners. Your southern friends will tell you they have breakfast, lunch and dinner/supper, broken up by tea breaks. Northerners, on the other hand, will tell you it’s breakfast, dinner and tea, whilst a cup of tea is called a brew. Now maybe it doesn’t matter much to you, but a lot of British people love to debate about what the right way is of saying it and you’ll find yourself involved in this conversation A LOT. And don’t even dare to mention ‘scones’…

Public transport has an etiquette of its own

British people don't talk to each other on public transport

You don’t have to have been in the UK for a long time to notice that people value their personal space when commuting. Fair enough, staring at strangers on the tube comes across as rude in most countries, but people here can also get pretty uncomfortable from sitting next to them alone, especially if there are multiple other seats available. Even if a fellow passenger wrongs you, it’ll be frowned upon to make a fuss and most people will just ignore it to avoid confrontation. Britons’ sense of awkwardness reaches far and wide!


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