British Etiquette – a students guide.

Etiquette is very important to culture and society across the globe. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Etiquette as “The customary code of polite behaviour in society or amongst members of a particular profession or group”. Historically British people have placed a great deal of importance on manners as this is seen as a sign of respect. Understanding how to behave and interact socially in different situations and environments is key. In practice, etiquette in the UK has changed over time and has become far less rigid, however there are some very common mannerisms and behaviours that are very important and should be adhered to when possible.

Meeting and Greeting

The most common way of formally greeting a person for the first time is a verbal greeting such as “pleased to meet you” or “how do you do?” alongside a physical greeting of a handshake, accompanied with direct eye contact and a smile. This method of greeting is also used when addressing authority figures.

Body language is very important, as it can say so much without you even speaking to a person. When formally greeting someone you should stand in front of them with open body language and be friendly. Crossing your arms and looking away from the person is not ideal, as it suggests that you do not wish to interact with that person. Eye contact is important but should not be prolonged as this may make the person feel uncomfortable.

When meeting friends, it is becoming increasingly common to greet each other with a hug and/or a kiss on one or both cheeks. Some are more comfortable with a wave and a smile, and a friendly spoken greeting, such as ‘Hiya’. Body language is important but is far more relaxed and informal amongst friends.

Punctuality and Preparation

When meeting someone, it is very important that you are dressed appropriately and are punctual. It is considered rude to arrive late. If you are meeting a with an authority figure, or have an appointment, it is good practice to arrive 5-10 minutes early. If attending a dinner party, it is best practice not to arrive too early as the host may not be ready.

Please, Thank you and Sorry

When out and about it is really important to remember to say please and thank you. When you are asking for something, whatever it may be, it is polite and respectful to say please. You should also remember to always thank somebody if they have done, or are doing, something for you. This applies to friends, authority figures or somebody that you are paying to provide a product or service.

British people also tend to use the word “sorry” on a regular basis. If you are sorry to hear something, or if you have done something that perhaps you shouldn’t, it is important to say sorry. It only takes a moment but means a lot to the person who it is directed towards.

Table manners

In the UK we normally eat with a knife and fork. The fork is traditionally held in the left hand, and the knife in the right. It is respectful to keep your elbows off the table and to wait for everyone to be seated and served before starting your meal. It is also good practice not to talk until you have finished your mouth full, and not to lift and drink from a bowl. When you have finished your meal your used cutlery should be placed together in the centre of the plate or bowl. Cutlery left apart, or either side of the plate, tends to suggest you have not finished your meal, but are taking a short break from holding your cutlery.


The British are very good at queuing and it has become something of a tradition. If waiting for something to open, or a product to launch, it is becoming increasingly common to find Brits pitching up and queuing for their turn. Queues are everywhere, from waiting to pay for your shopping or waiting for your turn on a ride at a theme park. It is considered rude to enter a queue part way through and you should endeavour to find the end of the queue before joining.

Awkward moments

When meeting someone that you don’t know very well you may find yourself sitting in an awkward silence. The British don’t cope well with this, and it is often that the subject of weather will then become a discussion point. The British are all generally very good at moaning about the weather! It is not however, considered polite to talk about someone’s age, weight, income, religion or political views.

British icons

As with all countries, the UK has some very well known people, traditions and iconic landmarks. Our monarchy is also very different to other countries and is often admired and respected by visitors. We are renowned for our foods such as fish and chips, roast dinners and our great afternoon tea. London is also very iconic, with many landmarks including Big Ben, the House of Commons, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London to name but a few. We are also renowned for our love of animals, and having a family pet is very common.


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