As a Bulgarian who has lived in the UK for 4 years I have encountered many alien British customs: some of them I found enchanting, others – slightly peculiar.
Many of these differences you can embrace and adapt into your life, others may still strike you as bizarre. Either way, be prepared for a lot of rain, tikka masala and tea.
The UK is a big island and every part of it varies from the rest, as do the people. Many stereotypes turn out to be true, while others just seem ridiculous. Eventually you will get used to the varying British slang and accents, the traffic and looking both ways before crossing a street, however you might want to have a read of the following to avoid arriving unprepared and surprised.
1. Oh, the rain
The British weather is a very popular topic of conversation, and many jokes are made in its honour, however it can be difficult to adapt to the constant drizzle and general wetness. A heatwave is a rare phenomenon in the UK, and the sunny summer days don’t last for long. Don’t be surprised if the country literally shuts down in extreme (for the UK) weather – whether there is a heat wave or a lot of snow, schools, offices and transportation are often affected.
In the winter, it may snow in many areas, however that normally lasts for a few days only and is soon substituted by rain. Be sure to wear waterproof footwear during autumn, winter and spring months and always carry an umbrella. The most common British weather characteristic is how changeable it is – a sunny morning can be spoiled by rain within minutes, then the same may repetitively occur throughout the whole day.
It is surprising how long the British can converse about the weather. People are very fond of this topic and they become genuinely happy when sun light shows up from behind a cloud. Be prepared for continuous surprises by the British weather and do make the most of the sunny days you get!
2. Charitable nation
The UK is very fond of charity work, there are non-profit organisations and charity shops all over the country, supporting various causes. Depending on where you come from, this might seem like a normal thing for everyone to get involved with, or it may fascinate you and inspire you to give more to the ones in need.
It is fascinating how great it feels knowing you have helped someone without a home, raised money for a serious disease research, or made an orphan smile. The Brits can definitely be crowned a charitable nationality.
3. Tea o’clock
Another well-known stereotype is the British love for tea. Of course, the stereotype exaggerates reality: not everybody drops whatever they are doing just so they can have their afternoon tea.
However, you will find that many people are very fond of tea, have favourite brands and types, and definitely do not drink tea only when they are ill, as done in other countries. From the 18th century, when tea became the infusion of every British social class, to the present day, Brits love their tea.
4. Bread & butter
Mainly amongst students, though others join in as well, simple bread with butter seems to be enjoyed at any point in the day. Butter on toast, crackers, and bread rolls are not only a side to a big meal in the UK, but often consumed by themselves when you fancy a quick snack.
5. British cuisine
More than a few rumours have circulated that British cuisine is not highly thought of by expats, but at the end of the day people have varying tastes. It is genuinely hard to say “no” to fish & chips or a Sunday roast.
British cooking is strongly influenced by Indian culture and many Brits enjoy a good curry or a tikka massala. Meals in the UK tend to be heavy on potatoes and meat, just think of the classic Sunday roast. If you don’t fancy traditional British food, there is plenty of choice in the supermarkets, including lots of ethnic and world foods.
6. Fancy dress binge drinking
This is a phenomena that has become kind of a lifestyle throughout the country amongst young people, according to Drinkaware.co.uk. Binge drinking is the consumption of alcoholic beverages with the main intention of getting intoxicated in a short period of time.
Groups are often seen out in bars and clubs in fancy dress (anything from superheroes to crayons, morphsuits, Greek togas and animals costumes), so seeing a drunk Batman hugging a caveman lying on the sidewalk should not come as a surprise, especially in university student areas.
7. British humour
British humour is something not everyone understands. Its distinctive characteristics include strong sarcasm and self-deprecation, often accompanied by deadpan delivery. Barely any topics are considered taboo when it comes to making jokes. According to Simon Pegg (a British actor and comedian), “emotion is regularly buried under humour in a manner that may often seem insensitive to other cultures”. To conclude, if you consider yourself an open-minded person, get ready for a great laugh.
8. The friendliness and politeness
Even if you haven’t met a British person yet, you may subconsciously expect them to be polite and gentlemen-like, which is the general stereotype. Of course, there are specific cases, however the British are indeed very polite and generally friendly. Many Brits are used to meeting foreigners and will normally be very friendly and well-mannered.
9. The Queen and the Royal Family
The British Royal Family is one of the United Kingdom’s major symbols and they are recognized throughout the world. Some Brits respect and admire the Queen and the Royal Family more passionately than others and with the Royal birth this year there has been a lot of media interest in them. Love, hate, indifference – however you feel, get used to hearing about them!
People from the UK tend to be very precise in terms of many things such as accuracy and punctuality. They are normally organised and appreciate the same characteristic in others. For instance, if you have any administrative to-dos, make sure you bring all required documentation in the exact form requested, otherwise chances are you will have to go back again and again until you have fulfilled the exact requirements. Well, nothing wrong with a little precision.
Are you moving to the UK soon? You will need more than just an umbrella, check out our UK guide for all the essential information.
Do you agree with these? What did you find strange or difficult to get used to in the UK? Let us know in the comments below!