The British are said to be reserved and reluctant to communicate with strangers. This is not entirely true. You will find that most people are happy to help strangers with directions and practical advice but a general rule is that Northerners are more friendly and open to conversation with strangers than people from London and the SouthEast. Entire carriages of people will sit in awkward silence on the London underground so do not be surprised to be greeted with strange looks and annoyance if you strike up small talk with someone in the capital. The weather and football more amongst men are popular conversation starters. However, as in many other countries, it is best to avoid sensitive topics such as politics.
One thing worth noticing is that the British value privacy a lot, probably more than any other countries. When meeting with them for the first few times, avoid asking personal questions. Age is an obvious one same for most other countries, but also marital status or if they have a girlfriend/boyfriend. Some questions considered ordinary in other countries are considered "too personal" in Britain, such as where do you live and what is your job. It is not uncommon for an British person not to know what their neighbours' jobs are for many years or sometimes never!. A good tip is to use the mirroring rule – if they ask you a personal question, it is safe to ask the same question back but answer their question first!.
In any emergency call 999 or 112 free of charge from any phone, including mobiles and ask for Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Service, Police, Coast Guard or Mountain And Cave Rescue when connected. The United Kingdom has this one, unified number for all the different emergency services.
British cities and towns can be dangerous in some parts at night as you can find rowdy groups of drunk people on the street, usually in nightlife and clubbing areas. Drinking alcohol in public except outside a bar or pub is not permitted in some towns and areas of cities. Crime rates in areas such as homicide are broadly in line with the European average though there can be significant variations between different parts of the UK and crime in general have been falling in recent years.
The police have fairly wide ranging powers to fine or arrest people who are causing a disturbance, and although they can be heavier-handed in major cities they are generally tolerant. If you are stopped by the police, avoid arguing and be sure to appear respectful. Do not try to reason with them, and above all, do not swear, because although it has been ruled that swearing is not a crime, police will often arrest people who swear at them.
Be wary of wearing football shirts or otherwise showing support for a football team – particularly on match days. Hooliganism has almost entirely vanished but some footballing rivalries are still taken very seriously - arguably the most infamous and internationally known one being Glasgow's "Old Firm" Rangers vs Celtic, which often descends into violence. Generally it shouldn't be a problem but use common sense: for example do not wear a Liverpool shirt in Manchester – doing so will definitely draw you some very dirty looks at the very least! For this reason you will find that many bars and restaurants in major towns and cities universally ban the wearing of football shirts - regardless of team.
Jay walking is not illegal except on motorways, but always try and cross at designated pedestrian crossings. Most operate a "Push the button and wait for the green man" system, but zebra crossings are also widespread, particularly outside of city centres – identified by white stripes on the road and yellow flashing spherical lights – pedestrians have right of way but it is advisable to make eye contact with the driver before stepping into the road. Unlike in many other countries British drivers tend to be very respectful of the laws around zebra crossings.
If you are bringing or hiring a car, be sure to lock the doors if you leave your car, and always park in a busy, well-lit area. Don't leave valuables on display in a parked car – satellite navigation systems are a particular target.
The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 throughout the United Kingdom. British laws support LGBT rights and are some of the most progressive in the world. You shouldn't be discriminated against in any area of the UK for your sexuality although that doesn't mean it can't occur. Recently, a gay couple won their case for discrimination after a B&B turned them away saying they were devout Christians and same sex marriage was legalized in July 2013. British society is generally not homophobic and attitudes have changed in the past 30 years. There are some areas where you may want to not be overtly showing your sexuality very remote villages, 'tough' places such as football matches, bad areas of cities but even these in these environments attitudes have changed. Being homophobic is now the taboo in the UK where being homosexual used to be. Nevertheless be careful and follow others around you. If they don't show public affection, it probably is not one of the places that you should do that.
Racism is not common in the UK, and racially motivated violence is rare. Most Britons are strongly opposed to racism. The main concern for Britons isn't racism; the government strongly encourages the notion of a multi-cultural society, but recent high levels of immigration have been of debate. However, the UK is generally regarded by its own immigrant population as being amongst the most liberal and tolerant of European countries in this respect, but obviously there will be some people who are exceptions. Most Britons will go out of their way to make tourists and immigrants feel welcome and it's not uncommon for police to impose harsh punishments on any form racial abuse – physical or verbal.
All in all though, the UK is generally a much safer country to visit than most of Africa and the Americas, and the vast majority of tourists will run into no problems.
food and dining
The British are famous for tea, and wherever a kettle is available usually at work or at home, people will ask if you would like a cup of tea. You should do the same when inviting an British person to your house if you live in the UK. It is perfectly fine to let your host know if you have any dietary needs, as like the US, veganism and allergy-free foods are now commonplace throughout the country, and culturally accepted. This includes asking for Halal, Kosher or other religion-linked food types. On the other hand, it is rude to specify exactly what you would like to eat. Likewise, when you invite an British person to your house, make sure to ask if they have any allergies, or can't eat certain things.
There are hundreds of traditional rules which have developed over time, however outside of the upper class the super rich and royals, most people don't follow them. However, there are a couple of rules which are worth bearing in mind. Firstly, putting your knife and fork aligned together on the plate after eating is seen as basic politeness. Also, do not start eating when others have not yet started. When eating with other people make sure to keep eye contact and conversation going, and avoid using technology such as TV, mobile phones or laptops, as it is seen as disrespectful to the other person.
British people are often reluctant to complain in restaurants. If the server asks "how is the food?" many have tendency to say "fine, thanks", even if they think the food is awful. This is where other nationalities may be better off, so make your issues known at the point of service and you will often find that British restaurants overcompensate their mistakes with free drinks, bill reductions and a torrent of apologies.
When you find yourself in a pub or bar with your British friends, be aware that there is an unspoken convention of "buying rounds" from each person. This normally works OK if it is a small group. However if the group is large, the "round" could be costly and that could lead to "binge drinking". It is absolutely fine to have non-alcoholic drinks though, or to avoid joining the round, especially if you are female or have to leave early. Even better, arrange to meet your friends in a restaurant or cafés which have been increasing popular in Britain.
Internet cafés can be found in cities and towns; check the city pages for details. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though time is rationed. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access either via their cable TV system or WiFi, although the prices are quite steep www.spectrumineractive.co.uk provide the Scottish YHA with a network of broadband and WiFi-capable Internet terminals.
A number of ISPs charge nothing for Internet access by telephone modem - they get their payment from the phone company; local call costs are time-related. Examples are GoNuts4Free, DialUKT.
There are some Wi-Fi hotspots, although intentionally publicly available wireless is not yet widespread outside central London. Most McDonald's restaurants in the UK now offer free Wi-Fi. Many coffee shops offer paid Wi-Fi. The most you should pay for Wi-Fi access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many chain cafés will charge more for no extra value.
You can also rent a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot 4G/LTE for short term period at a reasonable price. Some companies such as My Webspot provide unlimited internet for the duration you need in the United Kingdom from 5€ per day. It is delivered to your hotel or at the airport. A good solution to stay connected, and place international calls with your favorite Apps
Most major UK population centres are covered by UMTS/HSDPA 3G coverage, giving download speeds up to 7.2Mbps, and GPRS coverage is extensive. However, in relatively rural parts of the country as well as in indoor locations, mobile broadband may become more limited. 3G data services should roam seamlessly onto the UK networks, or you can purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card for which credit can be purchased in the same way as for mobile phones. For example T-Mobile stores will give you a free SIM-card on which you can load any amount you want. Access cost £2 per day, £7 per week.
referring to nationality
The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - defined as 'countries within a country'.
Because of this, while internationally both 'British' and 'English' are used to refer to all people of the UK, use of 'English' is seen as offensive to people not from England , the term British refers to all people from each part of the United Kingdom, however use caution as some people especially some people in Northern Ireland and Scotland dont like to be referred as such if you ask them politely you will be told if they mind being referred to as British
A general rule is, unless you can work out from their accent in which case call them Scottish/Welsh/English/Northern Irish, avoid use of nationality, "the people here" vs "British people". However, 'British' is usually accepted when used by tourists.
However, it is extremely important to take caution in Northern Ireland. Peace was restored when the Troubles ended in 1998, but tensions are still very high between people favouring unity with Ireland, and people favouring unity with the UK. If absolutely necessary, always ask someone if they view themselves as British, Irish, Northern Irish, etc, but in general avoid the topic of nationality altogether.
To play safe, you can ask someone from which part of the UK they are from, as this covers every corner of the isles - including Northern Ireland. However, Irish nationalists may avoid referring to Northern Ireland at all, referring instead to 'The Six Counties' or 'The North', or talk about 'Ireland' as a whole. 'Northern Irish' is less likely to offend, whereas referring to someone from Northern Ireland as 'British' or as 'Irish' can cause offence depending on a person's political ideology.
It is also worth noting that, while technically a county of England, the issue of identity in Cornwall is very sensitive amongst some people. It is best to refer to anyone you meet in Cornwall as Cornish, unless they have already explicitly stated their identity as English.
As a visitor from outside the UK, you are unlikely to cause serious offence. At worst, you will incur a minor rebuff and reaffirmation of their nationality, as in "I'm not English. I'm Scots".
"Two countries divided by a common language"Speakers of US English will find quite a few terms which differ in UK English:
Biscuits - cookies
Cash machine/cash point - ATM
Cinema - movie theatre
Chips - fries, which may be "french fries" or thick-cut traditional British chips
Crisps - potato chips
Fag - cigarette only used colloquially
Lift - elevator in building; the offer of a ride in car
Lorry - truck
Motorway - expressway or freeway
Nappy - diaper
Queue - line
Return ticket - round-trip ticket
Take-away in ordering food - to-go
Toilet or Loo - washroom/restroom/bathroom/lavatory a bathroom is where you have a bath/shower, not where you relieve yourself in British English
Torch - flashlight
Please see our article English language varieties for more words that differ from US English.
English is spoken throughout the United Kingdom, although there are parts of major cities where immigration has led to a variety of languages being spoken as well. English spoken in the UK has several dialects, some of which may contain words which are unfamiliar to other English speakers. It is exceedingly common for a resident of the south and one of Yorkshire not to understand each other at first go, do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves. Your best bet would be to ask someone under the age of 30 as generally elderly people have thick unintelligible accents. A trained ear can also distinguish the English spoken by someone from Northern Ireland as opposed to someone from the Republic of Ireland, or even pinpoint their origin to a particular town within a county, such as Leeds or Whitby. English in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be spoken quite fast. The different dialects can be extremely different in both pronunciation and vocabulary. If you encounter difficulty please remember that this is still English and offence might be taken if you ask someone to speak English, instead they should be asked to speak slower.
Welsh Cymraeg is also widely spoken in Wales, particularly in North and West Wales. The number of Welsh speakers has risen over the last few years partly due to promotion in schools, but this bilingual population is still only around 30% of the total population of Wales. Government bodies whose area of responsibility covers Wales use bilingual documentation English and Welsh - for example, see the website of the Swansea-based DVLA. Road signs in Wales are bilingual. Even the non-Welsh-speaking majority in Wales know how to pronounce Welsh place names. Once you hear how to pronounce a name, have a go and try not to offend! You may find that someone does not understand where it is you are trying to get to because you are using the Anglicised name, in this case explain you are not sure how to pronounce it and have the Welsh spelling to hand.
Scottish Gaelic Gàidhlig can be seen and heard in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, but there are only 60,000 native speakers.
The ancient Cornish language of Cornwall, in the far south west, was revived during the twentieth century, but it is not passed down from parent to child as Welsh and Gaelic still are. Be aware, however, that Cornish place names remain and can be rather challenging to pronounce for non-locals!
Irish is spoken in some areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in the border regions.
Many in Scotland claim Scots to be an entirely different language to English, it is what people commonly speak in much of Scotland and to some extent Northern Ireland. In northern England similar dialects can also be heard, such as Geordie. It can be difficult to understand, so feel free to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak more slowly. Speakers are likely to use standard English with outsiders.
All speakers of these minority languages are fluent to near-fluent in standard English but react well if you show an interest in their native tongue and culture. Inter-migration in the United Kingdom means you are likely to encounter people from all over the UK and beyond no matter where you visit. It is rare to find a place where all adults have the same accent or dialect.
There's an old joke that the people of the US and the UK are "divided by a common language", and travellers from English-speaking countries outside the UK may have difficulty catching specific words where regional accents are strong, but still there should not be any major difficulties in communicating. The British are good at understanding English spoken in a foreign accent, and visitors who speak English as a second language need not fear making mistakes. You may just get a slightly blank look for a few seconds after the end of a sentence while they 'decode' it internally. Most British people will not criticise or correct your language, although some are very keen to promote British usages over American ones when talking to non-native-speakers.
A few examples of words that overseas visitors may not be familiar with:
Wee - small Scotland, Northern Ireland, some English people, can also mean to relieve yourself England
Loch - lake Scotland
Lough - lake Northern Ireland
Aye - yes some parts of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and North England
Poke - ice cream served in a wafer cone Northern Ireland; a paper bag, especially one containing chips or sweets Scotland
Downing Street - used to refer to the Government similar to White House referring to the President of the United States
Cymru pronounced 'Cum-ree' - Wales Wales
Cockney rhyming slang is not a language but a collection of terms, some local and temporary, others so long-lasting that they are used by many people who don't realise that they are rhyming slang. Example of the latter: "raspberry" for the derisive noise called "Bronx cheer" in the US - derived from "raspberry tart", rhyming with "fart".
British people have historically been very tolerant of swearing, when used in context. It is considered far less shocking to say taboo words like "Cunt" or "twat" compared to in America, and can even be a term of endearment depending on the situation. Tourists should get used to hearing the word "mate" and "boss or "bruv" to a lesser extent in London a lot which is used in informal interaction frequently male only between strangers and friends alike, and is something similar to calling someone "buddy" or "pal". The use of affectionate terms between the sexes such as "darling", "love" or "sweetheart" is common between strangers and is not meant in a sexist or patronising manner. Furthermore, British people are prone to apologising for even the smallest things, much to the amusement of some and can be considered perhaps rude to not do so. An example such as bumping into you will warrant a "sorry" and is really more like "pardon" or "excuse me".
British Sign Language, or BSL, is the UK's primary sign language. When interpreters are present for public events, they will use BSL. In Northern Ireland, both BSL and Irish Sign Language ISL see use, and a Northern Ireland Sign Language, or NISL, is emerging from contact between the two. Users of Auslan or New Zealand Sign Language may understand BSL, as those languages were derived from BSL and share much vocabulary, as well as the same two-handed manual alphabet. On the other hand, users of French Sign language and related languages—notably ISL and American Sign Language—will not be able to understand BSL, as they differ markedly in syntax and vocabulary, and also use a one-handed manual alphabet. However do note that Makaton is also used more information about makaton can be found at (https://www.makaton.org)
French and to a lesser extent, Spanish and German are taught in schools, although British people are generally not able to speak one of these languages at even a basic level. Immigrant languages are widely spoken in some ethnic minority communities. These are mainly Arabic, South Asian languages, African languages, and Polish, Lithuanian, Russian.
naming and referring to people
Most commonly, first names are used to refer to someone. However, in formal situations, always refer to someone by their title and last name i.e. Mr. Smith. For women, it is polite to use the term 'Ms.', pronounced 'muzz' like 'buzz', i.e. Ms. Smith, which avoids referring to marital status. Only once you have been given permission by the other person "Please, call me Adam" should you stop using title and last name. Similarly, women may ask you to use a certain title to their preference, i.e. "Please call me Miss Smith".
It is also common to use Sir for a man and Miss for a woman, when speaking to a stranger. Use of the term 'Sir' is seen as very polite, and most people would omit the word "Excuse me" vs. "Excuse me, Sir". Friends usually address each other using "mate" informally, and sometimes to strangers. However, when used with strangers it is seen as working class and also impolite - so unless you have met the person before it is best to avoid this.
Family members are addressed with their relation to you e.g. Grandma, with different words used depending on dialect or background. For example, "Grandma" / "Grandmother" / "Grandmama" / "Nan" / "Nanny" / "Nanna" all carry the same meaning, but vary in majority use from region to region. Outside of England, words from regional languages may be used as well i.e. mamgu for grandma in Wales.
The Royal Mail has a long history. Postboxes are still the traditional red colour although there are green and gold Victorian "Penfold" boxes retained in some areas and a historically important blue box in Windsor. To commemorate British gold medal winners at the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, some post boxes, usually located in the home towns of the gold medallists, were re-painted gold. Mail can also be posted at post offices.
The Royal Mail has introduced a new system where post within the UK is priced on size and weight. You can find size charts at all post offices but bear this in mind when sending a larger envelope, parcel or packet. Postage stamps cost 34p/24p domestic 1st/2nd class for envelopes up to C5 size which are less than 5mm thick and less than 100g, 48p Europe up to 20g, 54p Worldwide up to 10g. Stamps can be bought at supermarkets, newsagents and tourist shops. Domestic first-class mail can usually be expected to arrive the following day; second-class mail may take several days. Signage on all postboxes displays the final collection time at that location typically about 17:30 on weekdays and noon on Saturdays, as well as details of later weeknight collections that are available in many areas from a central postbox or sorting office. Deliveries are likewise made six mornings per week, Monday to Saturday. There is generally no post on Sundays or Public Holidays.
If you wish to send something heavy, or want to send a larger letter or packet within the UK, then you will have to get it weighed and/or measured at the post office. The staff at post offices are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at around 12:00-13:30 when there is often a long queue and 30+ minute waiting times.
One interesting side-pursuit is to look at when the postboxes were built since some can be very old. The 'R' stands for Rex/Regina and the first letter the initial of the monarch reinging when it was built. E.g. A postbox built after 1952 would have the initals 'E II R'. Finding a box with the initials 'VR' Queen Victoria, pre-1901 is possible.
The electricity supply runs at 230V, 50Hz AC. Visitors from countries such as the US and Canada, where the voltage supply runs at 120V 60Hz, may need a voltage converter which can be picked up in most specialist electronic shops. Many appliances needed whilst travelling such as laptop chargers, shavers and the like are designed to run off both voltages, however check on the label before setting off. Anguilla's electricity is 110V, 60Hz, the Cayman Islands electricity is 120V, 60Hz, and Gibraltar and the Isle of Man's electricity is 240V, 50Hz.
British plugs have three flat, rectangular pins which form a triangle. These sockets are the same used in Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and several other former British colonies. Both Anguilla and the Cayman Islands use the U.S. plug. Gibraltar, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands uses the Europlug, along with the Type G plug.
Some of the most important British newspapers are as follows:
The Sun - the nation's biggest selling newspaper with a daily circulation of over 2 million, and the most ubiquitous of the British red-tops. The Sun is infamous for its sensationalized stories, and frequently courts controversy - legal action between The Sun, celebrities and politicians is almost a blood sport in Britain. Its sister Sunday title The News Of The World was killed off in 2011 after one scandal too many. The Sun's political stance generally floats between centre-left or centre-right depending on the political mood of the moment, the paper famously backed Margaret Thatcher at the height of her popularity in the 1980s, then switched to supporting Tony Blair's administrations in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Daily Mirror - similar to The Sun in both style and content, if slightly less sensational. Is known for known synthesizing news down to easy-to-read-and-comprehend stories. The Daily Record is the Mirror's Scottish sister paper. Unlike The Sun however, the Daily Mirror takes a definite left-wing stance, and strongly supports the Labour Party.
Daily Mail - A staunchly right wing tabloid, which strongly endorses the Conservative Party, and frequently courts populist opinion.
Daily Express - A tabloid which has a major agenda of withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Union. There is also a Sunday edition called The Sunday Express. It is mostly aimed at British Eurosceptics and is very critical of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. But often has a supportive view for the UK Independence Party UKIP.
The Guardian - One of the "quality broadsheets", along with its sister Sunday edition known as The Observer. The Guardian is aimed at a more erudite audience, and takes a liberal, and generally centre-left political view. It is sympathetic towards the Labour Party, but does not support it directly.
The Times - one of the oldest and traditional broadsheet newspapers, it takes a moderate right-wing stance, although stops short at vocally supporting the Conservative Party.
Daily Telegraph - Similar to The Times, it is a right wing broadsheet which is affectionately known as the "Daily Torygraph" owing to its support of the Conservative Party
The Independent - As its name suggests, the Independent is supposedly a politically neutral broadsheet. However in recent years this is no longer the case and it currently presents a centre-left political stance.
Financial Times - one of the best known British newspapers internationally, it is aimed primaily at a business readership, competing with The Wall Street Journal, and of course sponsors the London Stock Exchange FTSE. Officially it is politically neutral, although by its very nature does tend to lean right.
The local emergency telephone number is 999; however, the EU-wide 112 can also be used. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24-hour NHS 111 service on 111.
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS National Health Service at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E Accident & Emergency department. At A&E be prepared to wait for up to 4 hours to be seen to if the medical complaint is not serious, depending on the time of day/night. The longest waiting times usually occur on Friday and Saturday nights. Emergencies will be dealt with immediately and before any question of remuneration is even contemplated. Walk-in centres also provide treatment for less urgent conditions on a first come first served basis. They are open to residents and foreign nationals.
All treatment at an NHS hospital or doctor is free to residents of the UK. All emergency treatment is free, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. As a result, an EHIC card is, in fact, not necessary although advised for EU travel in general, as the UK is possibly one of the only countries to provide free emergency treatment without question or identity verification. This also applies to tourists, both from the EU and outside.
For advice on minor ailments and medicines, you can ask a pharmacist there are many high-street chemists, and to practise legally all pharmacists must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC which involves a university degree and other exams and training). Notable pharmacy chains include Boots and Lloyds, and many supermarkets also have pharmacists. It is worth noting that the medicine trade is strictly controlled and many medicines available to purchase from a pharmacy in other countries eg: antibiotics can only be provided on production of a prescription written by an authorised medical professional.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases STD are spreading between young people, so make sure you practise safe sex. There are around 50,000 HIV victims living in the UK. Chlamydia is common enough to warrant public health screening of young people. Condoms are available in toilets, pharmacies, and supermarkets. They are also available free from some NHS sexual health clinics known as GUM clinics, which also provide free STI testing and treatment, even if you are not eligible for other NHS services.
Tap water is safe to drink everywhere, unless otherwise stated.
queueing and door holding
Allow some personal space between you and others in queues and elsewhere. It is said that the British invented queueing, and they become very annoyed if anyone jumps the line. Unlike in other countries, jumping the line is rare, so avoid doing it out of habit. This applies even in non-formal situations such as fast food restaurants, although if it becomes too busy for a clear queue to be seen, most people are comfortable with crowding. Just don't push past people!
When someone is right behind you when you open the door, hold the door for a second or two for the other person. This may not be a common practice for other countries but this is quite common here. If you are that person behind, say 'thanks' or 'cheers' to the one holding the door for you. When 2 strangers must manoeuvre through a single door, a narrow footpath or a cramped shop, give way to the other person with a hand gesture or friendly nod and step to the side, allowing them to pass through first. It is not uncommon for both parties to take this polite approach, leading both to begin moving left and right while apologising to each other for some time.Acknowledge these small gestures or don't be surprised when you hear a sarcastic "you're welcome!" as you walk away. Remember although manners and politeness are highly regarded by the British, ignoring these unwritten rules of consideration can be met with mild hostility.
attitudes towards alcohol
Despite being famous for its pubs, being drunk in public is not acceptable. Among friends it can be frowned upon depending on the occasion and type of person.
In some areas particularly city centres, the police may have the power to request that you not drink in public. It is a crime to ignore such a request. Generally, though, drinking sensibly in public is both legally and socially permitted.
The UK is made up of 4 different countries - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and within these 4 countries, there are distinct regional accents and dialects, as well as languages too. As a result, most tourists and visitors are surprised and fascinated by the number of different voices within the UK.
But even if you are a non-native English speaker, it is best to speak as you would normally do, as any attempt at imitating an accent is seen as very rude. This includes for British people imitating other regions accents. However, people are proud of their roots, and asking about accents is often a good way to start a conversation, and after starting this conversation, attempts at speaking another's accent will often be appreciated and well-received. Just make sure it's not for too long - a couple of example words given by the person to say are enough. For example, "I like your accent, where are you from?", "What kinds of words do people in [area] use?".
Well-known accents include the Liverpool accent known as "Scouse" [rhymes with "mouse"], Newcastle's "Geordie" accent and "Cockney" from London, as well as the Glasgow accent, Northern Irish accent and North and South Welsh accents.
Note that during the Christmas and New Year holiday period much of the country shuts down. During the week leading up to Christmas people will travel to their hometowns to visit their family, meaning that the motorway traffic can be very heavy and trains are much more crowded. Also, many people rush to shopping areas to stock up on food and drink and last-minute gifts. On Christmas Day, Boxing Day Dec 26th and New Year's Day most businesses will close including supermarkets and most restaurants and bars although major hotels remain open. If you need to purchase food, drink or cigarettes on these days then most petrol gas station convenience stores will still be open but almost everything else is closed, and on Christmas Day itself even many of these are closed. Many large shops are open and extremely busy on Boxing Day. If you don't have a car then avoid travelling on these days as the only available transport in many areas is taxis, which will charge up to three times the regular price. If you have a car then it is much better as roads are almost empty on Christmas Day and parking is often free - however many petrol stations are closed on Christmas Day except those at Motorway Service Stations, which must be open by law so plan your journey carefully if you will need to refuel. In many areas, bus and train services finish much earlier than usual on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and do not run on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Buses also tend not to run on New Years Day, outside of major cities. During the week between Christmas and New Year, many transport services operate revised schedules and it is advisable to check with operators.
Greetings are dependent upon the situation. In anything but a business situation, a verbal greeting such as 'Hello, 'Hi,' 'Hiya,' or 'Hey' 'You all right?' or 'All right?' Etiquette for a hug is somewhat complicated, so the best advice is to accept a hug regardless of the gender offering it if it is offered, otherwise a handshake is appropriate. Kisses on both cheeks are not common but that could happen, so be prepared, especially when dining.
Note that the British often use "Alright?" or "You all right?" as a greeting - it is not a question, and they aren't asking about your feelings. The usual answer is simply responding with the same "Alright?".
The British can be extremely indirect when requesting things from people they do not know. It is common for Britons to "ask around" questions when requesting something: for example, it is more likely for a Briton to ask "Excuse me, where can I find the changing room?" in a clothes shop, rather than "Where's the changing room?", and when dining or shopping with friends, it is common to ask questions to friends such as "Do you reckon there is a toilet in here?" as opposed to directly asking an employee "Where's the toilet?".
Similarly, saying 'What?' when you cannot hear or don't understand something is sometimes considered rude, so 'Pardon?' or "Sorry?" is more appropriate to use in situations with a stranger or a superior. British people apologise a lot, even when there is absolutely no need to do so. For example, if someone stepped on someone else's toe by accident, or if you bump into someone in the street, both people would normally apologise. You should do the same even for little things, and even when the other person is in the wrong. This is a very British quality, and despite the lack of sincerity in the apology, not saying 'sorry' is seen as very impolite and rude, and can even lead to confrontation 'Are you going to say sorry?', or even 'Say sorry!'.
On the whole, British police officers tend to be professional and polite, and are generally less aggressive than law enforcement agencies in other developed nations however, this does not mean they are lenient. The vast majority of British police officers do not carry firearms on standard patrol, and the only time one would usually see a "Bobby" with a weapon is at ports or when there is a suspicion they will meet armed offenders. The exception to this is Northern Ireland, where all police are armed. Most officers will only speak English and you will be made to speak to an interpreter over police radio or will do so at a police station if you cannot communicate in English. You have the legal right to remain silent during and after arrest – but police in England and Wales will warn you that "You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence".
All illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are classified as 'A', 'B' or 'C'. Class A drugs are typically regarded as the most dangerous not always the case and attract severe prison sentences for supplying.
Class C are generally regarded as the least harmful again not always the case and thus attract lesser penalties. Remember: all of these drugs are equally illegal and you will be arrested for possession regardless of the class; the classes are used to determine policing priorities and penalties.
Class A drugs include ecstasy MDMA, LSD, heroin and cocaine; penalties will mean arrest and possibly jail even for possession. Magic mushrooms were previously legal because of technicalities in the law, but are now class A.
Cannabis is now a 'Class B' drug. A first offence for possession will usually result in a formal warning, or an on-the-spot fine. This does not apply to other Class B drugs, such as speed. Subsequent offences may result in arrest.
Examples of Class C include ketamine, some steroids, some prescription drugs such as Valium legal if they are prescribed for you, GHB, and some tranquillisers.
Prescribed drugs may sometimes require a letter from a doctor to be imported. This applies where the drug is a Controlled Drug A,B or C in the UK.
Drug use is a growing concern for authorities, with some of the highest levels in Europe. Cannabis and ecstasy are both very widely available and you could even be offered it if you are in the right location such as certain markets and clubs.
Although the act of prostitution is not in itself illegal in the UK, many laws criminalise activities associated with it.
Brothels of any kind are illegal under the 1956 Sexual Offences Act, and it's against the law to loiter or solicit sex on the street. 'Kerb-crawling' driving close to a pavement in order to ask prostitutes for sex is also banned, and is actively monitored for by police patrols in many towns and cities across the country.
It should be noted that although exchanging money for sex is not in itself prohibited, many legal grey-areas do exist in this department, and the attitude towards the trade is generally not as liberal as in many other European countries. You should also keep in mind that anyone who does offer sex for money will not be regulated so you act on your own risk of getting transmitted infections and diseases.
A lot of customs and respect in the UK come from recent changes, in particular the 'Sexual Revolution' which changed opinions towards sexuality, and the European Union, which led to an increase in non-British Europeans living in the UK. This have influenced and integrated into 'traditional British values' which has resulted in old taboos being broken, and new taboos created.
Same-sex displays of affection are tolerated by most people apart from in some rural areas and in poorer parts of many cities see Stay Safe above. On the respect side, if you see a pair of same-sex couple displaying affection, do not stare at them like animals in a zoo. Most British people are liberal and tolerant, some even accepting. A majority of people in Britain support same-sex marriage and LGBT rights although not all so don't relay on being safe everywhere see safety.
'No blacks, no Irish, no dogs' is a famous phrase from the past, when racism in the UK was widespread. Nowadays, the opposite is true - any form of racism is seen as not only backward, but against British values and offensive. At the moment, the debate on EU immigration is hot, but even so, any sentences aimed towards a particular race, even if non-derogatory are seen as taboo, and UK politicians that do so are usually seen are racist. It is also important, that if at any point you experience any form of racism, to tell the police. Racism and discrimination are generally against the law, and your rights will be protected.
Ever since the Magna Carta was signed, the power of the King / Queen has been declining. Nowadays, the Queen is merely a figurehead, with very little to no power. While it is technically illegal to deface pictures of the Queen, including on back notes, laws are now rarely enforced as shown by the album artwork of 'God Save the Queen' by the Sex Pistols - at the time, the artwork was very taboo, nowadays it is widespread on posters and memorabilia. Criticism of the Royal Family will be seen as impolite from a foreigner, but most British people say whatever they like about them, so if someone you are talking to criticises them, feel free to join in - everyone is entitled to their opinion! Especially on TV, where comedians can be very, very blunt, with satire towards the Royals. However, many British people are still very fond of the Royal Family especially the Queen and critising or ridiculing them will offend some people, though they'd be unlikely to get outwardly angry towards you.
The UK has a colourful past and, while the British are rightly proud of many parts of their history, other aspects are regarded with shame. As a foreigner, try not to criticise too strongly the bad things that Britain and its empire did in the past, as this could upset or annoy those you are speaking to. Avoid mentioning topics that include: racism, homophobia and human rights abuses in either the UK or the British Empire, and above all avoid mentioning "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.
Remember that the Good Friday Agreement ending Northern Ireland's "Troubles" was signed in only 1998, making it recent and very taboo.
One thing noticeably different to other countries is the relation with World Wars One and Two. British people are fairly open talking about them - just be prepared for controversial viewpoints, or criticism of your country. This includes every other nationality - not just countries that were part of the Axis. Due to the Iraq War, many British people are critical of Americans, and also of Europeans due to a general sense of the UK 'saving the rest of Europe' and recent discontent with the European Union. However, do ask questions if you're interested - WWI and WWII are a large part of British history education, so many people talk about it in the media and in private.
For obvious reasons, never refer to the Falkland Islands as the "Malvinas", or as Argentinian. While most people aren't too opinionated about whether the Falklands should be British or not shown by the fact several referenda have been held, as opposed to Catalan independence, which has been denied any referendum by Spain, almost all British people resent Argentina's claims due to the Falklands War.
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the services you need police, fire, ambulance, coastguard, mountain rescue or cave rescue. You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming or even any SIM card inserted. It is a very serious offence to call this number without due cause.
Non-urgent calls to the police should be made on 101 if you are in England or Wales and are charged at 15 pence per call. If you need non-urgent medical help call 111 This number is gradually replacing 0845 46 47.
When calling the UK from overseas, dial your international access code 00 from most of Europe, 011 from the US and Canada or '+' from any mobile phone followed by the UK's country code 44 and then the UK area code and subscriber number. If the number you are calling is shown with a leading 0 at the beginning of the area code, the 0 must be omitted when calling from abroad.
To phone another country from the UK, dial 00 followed by the overseas country code, area code and subscriber number.
When calling a UK landline number from any other UK number, dial the area code beginning with the leading 0 and the subscriber number. If calling from a landline to another landline within the same area code the area code can usually be omitted.
For calls to UK mobile telephones from anywhere within the UK all of the digits have to be dialled by all callers. The same is true when you are doing the opposite.
When the building you're in has its own internal phone system, the number for an outside line is usually "9" not "0", as in many other countries, which in the UK usually connects you to the operator or reception desk.
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations, airports, etc. Payphones usually take cash minimum 40p - BT, although some private payphones may charge more; change is not given, but you can choose to use the excess on the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and may even allow you to send emails and surf the web. Phonecards have been phased out, though various pre-paid phonecards can be purchased from newsagents for cheap international calls. Some BT payphones now accept Euros.
A simpler and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct-dial service, these offer vastly reduced call rates over the standard providers and don't require you to purchase a card or sign up for an account. You simply dial an access number which is usually a more expensive revenue-share 084x or 087x or premium rate 09xx number.
Whether you are calling someone who is inside or outside the UK, it may be important to find out if the phone number being called corresponds to a landline or mobile phone as most operators have different rates for each.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are:
There are also a range of smaller operators who piggyback their network off the four main networks above e.g. Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, Sainsbury, TalkTalk, Natterbox, Vectone, etc.
All have 3G and 4G services as well as GPRS excluding 3. GPRS and 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte. GPRS Voice, Text, Basic Internet coverage is sparse in mountainous areas but reaches 99% of homes, 3G signal MMS, Video, Internet etc has similar huge gaps outside of urban areas dependent on network and may also be difficult to get indoors. T-Mobile and Orange are both now run by Everything Everywhere (http://everythingeverywhe...) and share each others signal. A 4G service has just started in a small number of the largest cities. OpenSignal provide independent United Kingdom coverage maps comparing network quality and data speeds.
There is no charge for calls that you receive on your handset except for those roaming; charges are only for calls that you initiate.
Pay as you go prepaid plans are available. Credit the phone with a top-up card or cash payment via a top-up terminal in a shop or at an ATM; there is no formal, paper term contract. Some operators also offer packages which mix texts, phone calls and/or data at affordable rates and some offer unlimited data e.g. 3. These packages can come with your initial top-up or be deducted from your balance. These are usually more ideal if you intend to stay in the UK for a short period of time; getting pay monthly plans will save you more if you will reside in the UK for a longer time.
If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible handset most dual- and tri-band phones are GSM-compatible you can purchase a SIM card from electrical or phone outlets, in supermarkets, or online i.e. although giffgaff themselves only send sims to UK addresses. Be aware prices do vary considerably – from £5 (with £10 call credit from Tesco on-line available in Tesco supermarkets to £30 with £2.50 credit from Vodafone available at all mobile phone shops. Often bargain handset-and-SIM deals can be found, if you don't have an unlocked handset - at the time of writing you can get a very basic mobile with SIM for £18 from Tesco, though this will be a locked phone and won't work with other SIM cards.
Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when you call, where from and where to. Calls from hotel rooms can be spectacularly expensive because of hotel surcharges; check before you use and consider using the lobby payphones instead. Calls from payphones and wired, or landline, phones to mobile phones are expensive too; if you have the choice call the other party's landline. Beware of premium rate calls 070, 084n, 087n and 09nn, which can be very expensive, especially from mobiles. Text messaging from mobiles costs around 10 pence per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45 pence 20 pence on some networks.
If you expect to frequently call abroad from your mobile phone, consider getting a sim from a virtual carrier. Carriers such as Vectone One, Lebara and Lycamobile offer deeply discounted rates to call or text phone numbers in other countries.
Calls between landlines are charged at national or geographic rate by most providers. Many mobile and landline packages provide inclusive minutes to call 01, 02 and 03 numbers either off-peak or at any time. Calls to the crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and the Isle of Man may be charged at a higher rate.
If the originating and destination area codes are the same then the area code can be omitted when calling from a landline. Note that local calls are charged at the same rate as other geographic phone calls, and are not automatically free unless the user has an appropriate contract with the phone provider. Non-geographic 08xx numbers used to be cheaper than their geographic counterparts, but this has effectively changed as an increasing number of calls are made using mobile phones, where such non-geographic numbers are charged higher and are rarely included in mobile phone plans. The following table relates the first few digits dialled to call types, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls above:
|Digits dialled||Call Type|
|00||International call to outside the UK|
|01||Call to a landline at geographic rate.|
|02n||Call to a landline at geographic rate.|
|03nn||A non-geographic number charged at the same rate as 01 or 02.|
|0500||Free call from landlines, mobiles and public payphones.|
|070||Call to a personal number. These are very expensive.|
|073nn to 075nn||Call to a mobile telephone.|
|076||Call to a pager. These are usually expensive.|
|077nn to 079nn||Call to a mobile telephone.|
|0800, 0808||Free call from landlines, mobiles and public payphones.|
|0844, 0843, 0842||Variable rate from 1p to 10p/min from landlines, plus your phone providers' access charge (https://planet-numbers.co...)|
|0845||From 1p to 7p/min from landlines and mobiles, plus your phone providers' access charge (https://planet-numbers.co...).|
|0870||From 6p to 13p/min from landlines and mobiles, plus your phone providers' access charge (https://planet-numbers.co...)|
|0871, 0872, 0873||Variable rate from 10p to 13p/min from landlines and mobiles, plus your phone providers' access charge (https://planet-numbers.co...)|
|09nn||Calls at a premium rate – anything from 13p up to £1.50/minute. plus your phone providers' access charge (https://planet-numbers.co...)|
Where a call is chargeable, calling from a mobile telephone will usually cost more than calling the same number from a landline.