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Culture in the United Kingdom

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What are the people like in the United Kingdom?

“Mustn’t Grumble.”When I first moved to the UK from America I must admit that it was not at all what I was expecting. For some reason I guess I thought that as it was geographically between the US and the European continent the culture would be as well. Maybe I was hoping it would have all of America’s convenience of living but with more castles and people in bowler hats greeting each other with a chirpy “Cheerio” in the morning. The men would all have accents like Colin Firth and sit around with cups of tea served out of a china pot discussing cricket. I think it’s time to give up on my fantasy. After 12 years of living there the only Cheerios I heard have been being poured into a cereal bowl and I have yet to see anyone wearing a bowler hat.

So I shouldn't expect to see these guys on my trip to the UK?

Instead, what you will find in the most town centres are ugly concrete shop fronts plastered onto the ground level of what could have been gorgeous historic buildings, each High Street homogenised to provide the requisite Boots, Marks and Spencer and W. H. Smith. For the budget traveller, the bright side is that there will also be a Gregg’s the Baker (sausage rolls .59 GBP) but you’ll have to queue behind the long line of “chavs” in their nylon football shirts to get your food. Needless to say, none of the tea served here will be out of a china pot.

The truth is that most impressions we have of merry old England only now exist in small pockets of heavily touristed locations such as The Cotswolds or The Lake District and are not nearly the norm. Villages are far more likely to contain a Tesco Metro and sprawling modern built housing estates than they are a cozy tea room or quaint post office. Either lower your expectations before arrival or prepare to be disappointed. Or just go to The Cotswolds , which I highly recommend by the way. I live there.

Things you probably won’t know before travelling to the UK

Though laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol in most pubs after 11pm have been changed, most still close much earlier than you would think. If you’re planning on having a big night out, be careful lest you turn up at 10pm only to hear the bell ringing for last orders!

Due to archaic trading laws, most large businesses are limited to 6 hours of trading on a Sunday. This includes the major grocery stores, which are only open from either 10am-4pm or 11am – 5pm. Apparently, the sale of a frozen pizza after 6pm on a Sunday will lead the end of all civilization as we know it.

Tipping

While eating in a pub it’s quite common to order your food at the bar and wait for it to be served to your table. You would not be expected to tip in this situation. Tipping in general isn’t expected as staff in restaurants and bars earn a full wage, however it is still nice to reward good service if you can afford it. If you can’t afford to tip, how about a nice word to the manager on your way out complimenting the person who served you? Remember, life is about karma.

Accents vary quite heavily from region to region. Don’t be afraid to say “pardon” more than once. It’s not just because you are a foreigner. Someone from 30 miles down the road might say the same thing.

Sample of differences in US and UK English vocabulary

US “pants” = UK “underwear”
US “apartment” = UK “flat”
US “fanny” = UK “womens private parts that would be impolite to mention at a dinner party”

Remember, we are one country separated by a common language.

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What were your experiences with the people of the United Kingdom and England? What did you think of the culture?

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Filed under: Culture and Society, England, Europe

About the Author:

Cindy is an ex-pat American who lives in the UK with her charming English husband, overly clever toddler and pudgy cat. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, crocheting, creative writing and might even one day pick up a few miscellaneous hobbies that don’t start with the letter C. When not in the kitchen or at the computer you can probably find her dressed in velvet, wandering castles and dreaming of days gone by. Visit her blog at Medieval Moods, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. has written 12 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.