British Culture and Social Norms

British culture has its roots in the United Kingdom‘s rich history, the people and the four countries — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — that it’s made up of each with their own unique traditions and customs.

British culture and social norms are very unique. One of the most important things to know before going to any country is what their cultural and social norms are. As an international student from another country, you may be clueless. This article introduces you to everything you need to know about the British culture.

Sure, you may have learned some facts about UK from television shows and the internet, you may have even visited the country before, but that’s a different experience than living in the country. No matter where you are in the UK, here are some of the social norms that you will learn from British people.

Things you need to know about the British people

  • The British are punctual. Being late is odd and, in some cases, considered to be rude. If you’re going to be late to something, contact those involved as soon as you know you will be late. Also, it is less rude to be late to a dinner party at someone’s home than it is to be late to a public meeting (such as dinner at a restaurant).
  • Never jump lines, known as “queues” in UK. In some countries jumping the queue may be acceptable, but in UK, people may not be very happy with you and will definitely let you know how unhappy they are about the situation. Standing patiently in the queue is a normal part of British culture.
  • In the UK, it’s acceptable to keep one arm’s length between yourself and those you are speaking with. Any closer is assumed to be aggressive and can be uncomfortable for those native to UK.
  • Please, thank you, and sorry are normal parts of everyday conversations and interactions. Some people are simply baffled by how polite British people are. As an international student, you may not be used to this, but you will probably get used to it quickly after your arrival!
  • When greeting a good friend or family member in UK, you do not simply shake their hand. Many times, especially if one of the people that are greeting or being greeted is female, you will frequently give and/or receive a small kiss on the cheek. If you are not a close friend or family member, then the physical touch is perceived as odd or uncomfortable (you may shake hands, but often a smile and a bow of the head is acceptable enough).
  • The British have a high amount of respect for older adults and the disabled. If you are on public transportation, you are expected to give up your seat if someone who is disabled or older comes onto the tram (or whatever vehicle you are in) and there is no other seat. If an older adult or someone who is disabled seems to be struggling with something, you are also expected to ask the person if they need your assistance.
  • British people rarely use superlatives and are not very animated when they speak. They value privacy over everything else, so be careful what you ask because you could be prying without meaning to.
  • British people often avoid extended eye contact. They find it uncomfortable and intimidating.
  • If you are invited to the home of a native British person, it is normal to bring along a gift, such as chocolate, wine, or flowers to say thank you.
  • If you go to a pub with your friends, it is common practice to buy a round of drinks for those who you came with.
  • The person who has invited you to dinner is typically the one who pays. Do not argue about whose responsibility it is, rather, invite them out to dinner at some point and pay for them to reciprocate.

These little cultural differences will be a regular part of adapting to life in UK, and so it’s important to learn them before you even arrive. You want to make sure that you don’t offend anyone as you’re getting used to life in UK.

If you don’t do these things naturally, the British will definitely know that you’re from out of town. This knowledge will help you get better adjusted to British norms before you start enjoying the rest of student life while attending university in UK.

The British Food

British Traditional Fish and chips with mashed peas, tartar sauce on crumpled paper.The British food is a blending of four different rich cultures of countries that comprise the UK. This explains why the British culinary traditions are such diverse.

Far from home one of the things you’ll often miss is your native cuisine, which you’re used to consuming it daily. In the UK you will still feel the same, however, the British food will undoubtedly be a perfect replacement for it. Among a wide variety of dishes, you will certainly find some that suit your taste.

One of the very first things you’ll encounter in a country’s culture it’s his traditional food. To avoid a culture shock in UK you would be grateful to have a basic guideline about the British food. There is more beyond Yorkshire Pudding and Roast beef that are usually associated with the UK cuisine.

Below we bring to you some of the most common typical British food which you wouldn’t like to miss trying at least once when going to UK.

Fish and chips

Perhaps the most typical British food. The history of this food in UK’s culture is so long. It is thought that once in the past an employer had to hire a doorman to control the queue of people waiting to buy Fish and chips. The plate contains a deep-fried fish and potato chips (fries for American readers). British people prefer the cod and Haddock over other sorts of fish. You can also prepare some boiled peas mixed with salt, pepper or other ingredients.

Sunday Roast with Yorkshire pudding

One cannot talk about the British food without mentioning the Sunday Roast with Yorkshire pudding. Usually served on Sundays afternoons, however, you can eat during the week also. You can ask for a roast dinner with a chicken, turkey or whatever, but you definitely should not miss the Yorkshire pudding. Commonly the Yorkshire pudding is accompanied with beef.

Eccles cake

Delicious round small cakes containing currants. It’s named after a town in Manchester with the same name. Across UK you can find different versions of this delicious food because it’s not strictly associated with a particular place.

Black pudding

Onions, pork fat, oatmeal and blood are mixed together to create a delicious food. Often called as a superfood because it’s rich in protein, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Moreover is almost free of carbohydrates, so it won’t digress you from your diet.


The Laverbread is another British food typically found in Wales. To prepare it the seaweed is boiled then chopped and mashed, rolled in oatmeal and then fried. This food is often referred as a Welsh caviar.

Scotch eggs

Scotch eggs are a dish containing a mix eggs covered with sausage meat breadcrumbs and fried.

Shepherd pie

The Shepherd pie is usually cooked with meat (beef or lamb more often) and mashed with rind of potato. The name of this food appeared for the first time in 1877.

Full English breakfast

The typical English breakfast is rich with ingredients including bacon, sausages, eggs, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes and tea or coffee.

British languages

English, as you may have guessed it, is the official language and the main language spoken in the UK. From over 65 million citizens that live in the country, roughly 98% of them speak English as their first language. But, there are also other native languages spoken across the country that have evolved during the history of UK.

Other than English, in the UK these are official native languages:

  • Welsh in Wales
  • Gaelic and Scots in Scotland
  • Irish and Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland
  • Cornish in Cornwall, England

Note that each of these languages comes with their own dialects and accents all across the UK. Therefore, the linguistic diversity in UK is pretty large.

Compared to the English these languages are less widely spoken. Some of them are even at risk of slipping toward complete extinction. For example, in Wales, a long time ago, the majority of native citizens spoke Welsh, but these days the official estimation show that only 20% of Wales citizens speak Welsh. Moreover, the number of them is continually declining. In the past, there have been many laws aiming to promote and protect this language from disappearing.

Scottish is a Celtic language mainly spoken in the North of the country. It is estimated that there are around 1.5 million Scottish speakers making it the second most spoken language in UK. Despite being treated as a different language to the English there are some who argue that the Scottish language is only a version of English.

The Cornish language is another language spoken by a still smaller group of people in UK, mostly in England. It belongs to the Celtic branch of British languages. According to different studies, the number of Cornish fluent speakers is around 3,000. Historically, it is believed that this language was once part of the Welsh language before starting to differentiate itself centuries ago. These days, its similarities with the Welsh language are minor.

As a politically and economically strong country, the UK has always been a hub for immigration. People who come to live in UK continue to communicate with each other on their native language. Thus, there are many other languages spoken in the UK by different smaller minorities. In London, for example, is thought that there are around 300 languages spoken.

Clothing in UK

As for the clothing, the UK’s wearing trends are closely similar to fashion trends in western societies. At the same time, their sentiments for their typical clothing elements are highly expressed in their daily dressing styles.

Across the UK there are many variations depending on several factors. Young people, mainly follow the most actual global fashion trends. Their clothing contains Jeans, T-shirts, jackets, and sneakers. Those who work in an office usually wear on elegant business suits. Elders’ clothing styles, mostly contain British traditional garments.

A typical element of their clothing is the tweed jacket. Although this jacket has almost identical shape and design of a suit jacket it is meant to be less formal and keep you warm without needing to match it with trousers.

In the UK the weather is pretty unpredictable. Depending on the weather Brits choose to dress differently. When there’s winter weather they usually wear heavy overcoats or anoraks, while when it rains Britons wear raincoats and umbrellas.

The same clothing styles are found all across the UK. Scotland is mainly known for its famous national attire, the kilt. This type is an everyday clothing and often is regarded as the highlands dress regarding the Scottish land where the Kilt has originated.

The main element of this outfit, as the name suggests, is the kilt and other garments are belt and buckle, Jacobite shirt, kilt hose and kilt pin. Nowadays there are many variations of the same Scottish national dress because people added different accessories depending on their choice.

Music in UK

The beatlesThere are many stereotypes surrounding the Brits, but they are very cheerful people and love to have fun. Not surprisingly, they gave the world a number of famous and unforgettable artists whose impact has greatly shaped this industry. Also, music concerts are a common thing in the UK. Some of the biggest music events are organized in the UK.

The music in UK has a long and rich history. British artists have firmly impacted the European and global history of music. In medieval times the British composers gave a major contribution to continental music movements. Some of the most known British composers in classical music include Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Hubert Parry, Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

At modern times the British music is one of the most developed and most influential in the world. Probably the most famous British music band ever, the Beatles, was founded in 1960 in Liverpool and is regarded by many to be the most influential music group that ever existed. Some of the best artists of today’s music industry are from the UK.

The UK is also where some of the most trendy music genres originated and today they have mastered them. Blues-rock, heavy metal, punk rock, hard rock, British folk-rock, folk punk, acid jazz, Britpop, grime, Dubstep and many more are some of the music genres that were first performed by UK musicians or were largely influenced by them.

Architecture in UK

The British architecture is unique with its own styles and forms. Their architectural structure depicts specific traits from different periods of history, from the 5th century of Roman conquering, throughout the Dark Ages and Renaissance whose impact is still present in the British architectural heritage.

There are castles, monuments, and other architectural buildings all across the country and many of them are nowadays transformed into touristic attractions. These objects combine perfectly with the latest trend in modern architecture.

During the sixth century, there were many Anglo-Saxon churches built in the UK. With the invasion of Normans, there was a large number of Norman style castles during the 11th century. There is the Carrickfergus castle built during the 12th century on the shores of Belfast Lough. In the capital of UK, London there is the first Romanesque building in England, the Westminster Abbey.

Between the 12th and 16th century, it was time for the Gothic style to make its impact on British architecture. Although initially copied from France, the British gothic cathedrals developed their unique features. For example, there was the Canterbury Cathedral, built in 1174, followed by the Wells Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral.

On both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border, there are still a number of stone castles left from the lasting Scottish Independence War during the 14th century. Many engineering inventions made later on Renaissance caused the emerging on many new artistic building styles.

Old castles share also a proportion of architectural heritage in the UK. Among many of them, some of the most beautiful and most visited by tourists are the Windsor Castle, the Edinburgh Castle, Leeds Castle, Alnwick Castle, Cardiff Castle, Bodiam Castle, Stirling Castle, Caernarfon Castle, Warwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle etc.

Sport in UK

Sports are a very popular activity among Brits. Clearly, the Football (or Soccer as referred by Americans) is the British top favorite sport. This normally would be expected because the UK is where the modern Football has begun.

The second most favorite sports of Brits is Rugby. A long time ago this sport was associated with the elite, but later it became widespread. Today, there are two leagues of Rugby in UK.
Brits also like swimming, Cricket, Tennis, Boxing and so on.

Did you know that although most people wrongly think that Tennis table originates from Asian countries, the game was first invented in UK?

Art in UK

Art is an important part of the British history and culture. Many British artists created irreplaceable artwork whose appealing influenced many artists from all around the globe.

Traces of British art development take us back to the pre-historical periods. The Stonehenge, built around 2600 BC, is clearly the oldest British artwork we know until now. The influence of Roman conquer and other preceding historical ages are still present in UK. Old churches and cathedrals have the same illuminated manuscript and sculpture as when they were built centuries ago.

Throughout the history of art, the UK produced some of the greatest artists ever. Names like William Blake, J.M.W.Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and so forth made a strong basis for artists that would come later.

Before 18th century also saw a number of brilliant British artists best represented by the names of Hans Holbein, Anthony van Dyck, Niccolas Hilliard, Robert Peake, William Larkin, William Dobson and John Michael Wright.

During the second part of the 18th century, the art movements that took place in the UK resulted in the expansion of the distinguished artists like Sir Joshua Reynold, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough and Joseph Wright of Derby.

Artists like Joseph Wright, James Wright, Samuel Palmer, Richard Parkes Bonnington and so on, were some of the best during the 19th century or the Romantic period as it is known. During the 20th century artists like John Singer Sargent, Jack Butler Yeats, Sir Jacob Epstein, David Bomberg, Lawrence Atkinson, Dora Carrington and others climbed the elite of artists in UK.