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Customs & Traditions in The United Kingdom

Updated: May 5, 2021

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Traditions in England have been around for centuries. British traditions are famous worldwide, let's know

General Etiquette

  • Saying “please” and “thank you” are two important things

  • It is important to respect the British desire for privacy so don’t ask personal questions about family background, origin, profession, marital status, political preferences, or money issues.

  • Hugging, kissing, and touching are usually reserved for family members and very close friends.

  • Spitting in public is considered rude.

  • Do not stare at people.

  • If there is a line for something, always queue and wait for your turn.

  • To call over a waiter or person of service, do not wave or yell. Instead, keep an eye out for them until they make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand. You may also gently say “excuse me” as they pass by.

  • You should also avoid talking loudly in public or going to extremes with hand gestures during the course of communication.

  • It is considered rude to put someone on the spot by asking difficult or uncomfortable questions in any situation.

  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.

  • Do not be overly familiar with people you do not know well.

  • Do not stand too close to another person or put your arm around someone’s shoulder as they respect personal space.

  • The British like a certain amount of personal space.

  • Men should open doors for women and stand when a woman enters a room, although it is generally accepted for men and women both to hold the door open for each other, depending on who goes through the door first.


  • It is usual for a couple to be engaged for a while before they get married.

  • Once a wedding date has been set the banns of marriage, (from an Old English word meaning "to summon") are announced. This is a notice, usually placed in the local parish church or registry office, which tells everyone that a marriage is going to take place between two people.

  • Until the middle of the 20th Century, marriage was the standard for British families which comprised two parents as the father as the head of the household.

  • However, in the last few decades, there has been a rise in single-parent families and many more couples are choosing to cohabit rather than to marry.  Half a century ago, living together would have been socially unacceptable and was known as ‘living in sin’.  

  • Divorce at one time was also unthinkable but in the last few decades, it has become more acceptable.

  • There remains a commitment for younger families to take care of elderly relatives.

  • However, today the natural family (husband, wife, and children) can no longer exist as in the past as more children are being raised in single-parent households.

  • The preference for most British families is to have a small family unit, however, more adult children are living with their parents for economic reasons than ever before.

  • The average ages at which family life events occur (e.g. marriage, children, retirement) are rising, as people are tending to wait until later in life to have children to want to establish a career for themselves and travel before starting a family.

  • Women tend to be much older when they have their first child than previous generations, The average age of first marriage is 33 for men and 30 for women. 

  • Women enjoy equal rights and the opportunity to choose their form of contribution to the household dynamic. However, due to a number of reasons, more women choose not to work full-time and prefer to be available to raise their children.


  • British naming structure is the first name, middle name & last name.

  • Previously first names were based on Biblical names such as ‘Zacharias’, or names for religious principles such as ‘Grace’.

  • This practice still occurs, but in more recent times many British will often choose names for their children that sound nice or are influenced by popular culture.

  • A common convention is for parents to choose names that honor people (e.g. parents naming their son 'Henry' to pay respects towards King Henry.

  • Often naming is patrilineal and children will adopt their father’s surname.

Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings are usually informal in social settings.

  • First names are commonly used in social introductions.

  • A handshake is the common greeting and should be firm yet not too strong, and to shake hands with all those present, even children.

  • When greeting each other, close friends may hug or kiss one another on the cheek, while others may simply offer a nod.

  • The British don’t usually ask too many questions upon meeting someone as this can be seen as prying. That being said, it is still best to ask a person's whereabouts in the UK they are from upon meeting them. This prevents you from mistaking them as English if they are Scottish, etc.

  • Although the British may appear to be reserved and perhaps even apart, they are in fact friendly people and welcoming to foreign visitors.

  • At social or business meetings, it is polite to also shake hands upon leaving. Hand-shakes should not be too hearty, just a light friendly touch.

  • Last names should be used with the appropriate title unless specifically invited to use the first name.

Visiting a home

  • You have to arrange a visit before going to someone's house.

  • Do not arrive unannounced or bring friends and family along unless you’ve asked them before.

  • Do not arrive early to one’s house unless you've asked the hosts.

  • For formal dinners, lunches, or appointments you always come at the exact time appointed.

  • For public meetings, plays, concerts, movies, sporting events, classes, church services, and weddings, it’s best to arrive a few minutes early.

  • You can arrive any time during the hours specified for teas, receptions, and cocktail parties.

  • If you receive a written invitation to an event that says “RSVP”, you should respond to the sender as soon as possible, whether you are going to attend or not.

  • When invited to someone’s home, you should bring a small gift for the hostess, give flowers, chocolates, wine, champagne or books.

  • Some people may send flowers in advance of a dinner party but it is equally acceptable to take them on the day.

  • Feel free to express your gratitude and delight with the visit on the next day with a note or a telephone call.

  • If you visit a British home, you may not always receive a tour of the house, and many of the doors might be closed out of privacy.

  • Unlike many European cultures, the British enjoy entertaining people in their homes.

  • It is not always required to remove your shoes when entering a British home, but it is recommended that you ask upon entry whether or not shoes can be worn.

Giving gifts

  • Gifts are typically only given on special occasions (e.g. birthdays, Christmas).

  • People tend to open gifts in front of the giver, either upon receiving them or later along with other presents.

  • Recipients don’t usually expect to receive gifts of high monetary value, but rather that the gift will reflect their interests.

  • Gifts are opened on receipt.

  • It is not usual for gifts to be exchanged in a business setting.

Dining & Food:

  • Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

  • The fork is held tines down so food is scooped onto the back of the fork. This is a skill that takes time to master.

  • If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.

  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork together at the clock position of 6.30.

  • You have to wait until your host shows you where to sit.

  • Toasts are given at formal meals when the host will raise a glass (usually wine but a soft drink is acceptable) and will invite the guests to commemorate a person or event. The guests then raise their glass and repeat the toast before taking a sip of their drink.

  • When in a pub, it is common practice to pay for a round of drinks for everyone in your group.

  • If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the invitation usually pays. It is important to arrive on time. Do not argue about the check; simply reciprocate at a later time.

  • Using a mobile phone at the dinner table is considered impolite, as is speaking loudly when making a call, especially on public transport.

  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.

Communication style:

  • The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication.

  • Many older businesspeople or those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of an established protocol.

  • Most British are masters of understatement and do not use effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to use ‘qualifiers’ such as 'perhaps', ‘possibly’, or 'it could be.

  • When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct but modest.

  • If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved.

Tipping Etiquette

  • Sometimes even the Brits find it difficult to know how much to tip a server in cafes and restaurants if anything at all.

  • Following a meal, begin by checking the bill. If it reads ‘service not included, this means you can leave a tip for the person that served you and the amount is at your discretion.

  • If the service was good, it is customary to add an extra ten percent on top of the bill total.