Buying a ticket and packing your bags isn't enough! Before you take off to England, get to know a bit more about its culture.
1. Conversation topic: Weather
English people love to talk about the weather. Comments such as: “Gosh! What a miserable day,” or “It’s bloody cold, isn’t it?” are common conversation starters. This might be due to the many rainy, cold days they have to put up with in Britain; also, it gets dark at around 4:30pm during winter months, which means British people don’t get to enjoy much sunshine! So, if you ever feel the need to break that awkward silence in a lift, or you just don’t know what to talk about, the weather is always a safe option.
2. Children have a bedtime and teenagers are expected to work
Differently from Brazil, where most children go to bed when they please, in England children have a set bedtime according to their age. This allows for parents to spend some time together just the two of them. When it comes to teens, things can be a bit different too. If you’re a British teenager, you’re expected to get a job at the age of 15 (which can be a Saturday job), and after your 18th birthday, if you’re still living with your parents and not studying, in some households you’re expected to pay your parents rent. English people believe this teaches children responsibility and independence.
3. They cook only what’s necessary and they plate the food for you
You know how Brazilians are used to eating “buffet style” and people always cook far too much food? Well, in most households in England it’s a totally different picture. People will cook the exact amount needed. So, if there are four people dining and they’re serving roast potatoes for dinner, there will be an exact amount for each person—perhaps three or four—not because English people are stingy, but because they’re brought up not to waste food. In most cases, people will plate the food for you too; this is regarded as considerate and polite in England. If you can’t finish your food, you should say something like, “This is delicious, but I’m afraid I’m full now. I’m sorry I won’t be able to finish.” English people also love hosting dinner parties, so if you have British friends, you are very likely to get an invitation.
We all know that the English are well known for their politeness, so here are a few things you should keep in mind while in England:
· “Please” and “Thank you” are mandatory. Even if you’re just ordering a meal at McDonald's, they will expect you to say “Please” at the end of your order and “Thank you” as they hand it to you. Children are always expected to say please and thank you too, even if they are asking their mother to pass the ketchup at the table. If they don’t, they might hear something like ”What do you say?” followed by “Well done.” British people also have different words for thank you, like: “Cheers!” or “Ta!” which can be very confusing for us Brazilians.
· “Sorry” is their favourite word. If you’re walking down the street and you bump into someone, there will be a sort of “contest” to see who says sorry first. Even if it’s not your fault and you only touched the person slightly, you are expected to say SORRY!
· If they’re not happy about something, they will probably not voice it; most English people avoid confrontation and they will prefer to keep things they don’t like to themselves instead of voicing it.
5. Lunch is just a sandwich, and BBQs are burgers and sausages in a bun
In England, people eat their main meal at dinner time since they don’t have long lunch breaks. So, if you’re invited for lunch don’t expect to eat rice and beans, as you’ll probably be served a sandwich (unless it’s a Sunday). Their version of a BBQ is very different from ours too, so don’t be disappointed if you turn up at a BBQ and people hand you a burger and a piece of bread.
6. They love greeting cards
In England, you will get a card for almost every occasion in your life: if you’re sick, if a relative dies, if you graduate, if you have a baby, if you pass your driver’s test, if you get engaged/married, if it’s your birthday, etc. At Christmas, people usually get and give loads of cards and they like to display them around the house, so this is a common sight in a British home.
7. Punctuality is essential
Even if you’re going to a friend’s house, they will expect you to be on time—and if you’re invited for dinner, it’s very likely that it’ll be ready when you get there (which is different from many Brazilian dinners, where people start cooking when you arrive).
8. Table manners
Here are some table manners to help you avoid embarrassing situations:
· You can only start eating when the host has finished plating the food and is sitting down to eat themselves—so be patient if you don’t want to seem rude.
· In most households, it’s ok to blow your nose at the table.
· They eat with the “other side of the fork”… which means that eating peas can be a challenge!
9. No bins in the toilets
You will find that in most British bathrooms there are no rubbish bins, since the toilet paper goes in the toilet, not in the bin. This can cause many problems when you get back home, since our toilets here in Brazil get easily clogged (been there done that)!
10. They remember and honour people who sacrificed themselves
In Britain, every year people remember the soldiers who died in wars: they call it Remembrance Day and they wear a poppy (a flower that grows naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe). This is also celebrated in other countries that are part of the British Commonwealth. So, if you are in England and you notice that people are wearing a red poppy, you’ll know what it is about.
11. Greeting people
When greeting people in England, the polite thing to do is to shake hands, unless you’re close friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. In that case, one kiss in the cheek might be appropriate. English people, in general, really like their personal space, so avoid kisses and hugs. When it comes to conversations, privacy is highly regarded, so avoid very personal questions, such as “How much do you weigh?” or “How much do you earn?”
12. Christmas crackers
On Christmas day, they have Christmas crackers, which are cardboard tubes wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone. The cracker splits unevenly, and inside you’ll find a joke (usually not very funny), a small toy, and a hat (resembling a crown, representing the ones that the three wise kings wore on the day Jesus was born). You’re expected to wear the hat throughout the meal—which can be a bit awkward, but fun!
The most important thing to remember is that when it comes to culture, there is no “right” or “wrong”. It’s just the way things are done in that particular part of the world, and the things you hate the most when you first arrive at a destination might be the things you will miss the most when you leave!