Culture

We have one of the most densely populated countries of Europe, with the southern parts of the country reaching the highest density figures of Europe as a whole.

The official name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK is a nation of cultural and ethnic diversity consisting of four countries each with a clear identity: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Combine this with a thoroughly multicultural society and the UK appears to blend its rich cultural heritage with a modern and innovative outlook. Knowledge and an appreciation of the basic cultural, ethical and business values of the UK is crucial to any organisation wanting to conduct business in such a varied yet traditional environment.

The capital and largest city, London, is in the southeast and is situated at both sides of the River Thames. Greater London has a total land area of 1,580 square kilometres with a population of 6.6 million inhabitants. It is divided into 32 boroughs.

England's weather remains the most frequent topic of conversation. Although England does have a reputation for wet weather all year round, it doesn't rain every day all year around. However it is impossible to guarantee good or bad weather in any given month - so be prepared for anything.

Communication

The British, in particular the English, are renowned for their politeness and courtesy. This is a key element of British culture and is a fundamental aspect of British communication style. When doing business in the UK you generally find that direct questions often receive evasive responses and conversations may be ambiguous and full of subtleties. Innuendo and “reading between the lines” is preferred and the American directness can sometimes be mistaken for rudeness. Consequently, it is important to pay attention to tone of voice and facial expression, as this may be an indication of what is really meant.

Another vital element to communication in all aspects of British life and culture is the renowned British sense of humour. The importance of humour in all situations, including business contexts, cannot be overestimated. Humour is frequently used as a defence mechanism, often in the form of self-deprecation or irony. It can be highly implicit and in this sense is related to the British indirect communication style. Americans in particular, who are used to a more open approach, can often miss the point or meaning of comments veiled in irony.

Allied to this is the traditional British portrayal of reserve and restraint when faced with difficult situations. (Often referred to as the “stiff upper lip”). In British culture, open displays of emotion, positive or negative are rare and should be avoided. During meetings, this means your British colleagues will approach business with an air of formality and detachment.

Etiquette

Formal business attire is the norm when meeting in an office environment, including tie and jacket. You will be expected to shake hands upon introduction. It is normal in business meetings to exchange pleasantries on a non business level at the start and end of the meeting rather than cutting straight to business. However you should respect personal space and avoid asking direct personal questions or over familiarity. Use of first names in business circles is fairly common but not as universal as it is for example in the States so when meeting very senior management it is often wise not to use first names until invited to do so.

Although UK management generally form good mentoring relationships with subordinates it is still important in the UK to defer to rank. (Unlike the American ethos of respecting everyone as an equal).

Decision Making

The British may appear more cautious than Americans and less willing to embrace new ideas and practices. There is a tendency to cling to tradition with no preconceived notion that new is necessarily better. Decision making is structured and often slower than in the States, with major decisions generally made at board level. There is also more of a leaning towards qualitative assessment rather than pure facts and figures in the decision process.

Although moving towards US practice, the UK is still far less predisposed to defer to Lawyers and less inclined to litigation.

Best time to visit

The summer months are when most ‘Brits’ take their holidays, with schools breaking up for the whole month of August. The summer months tend to have the best weather but crowds at tourist attractions tend to peak during July and August.

  • From March until May spring will have arrived, there is a good chance of fine weather. Some tourist attractions do not open until Easter weekend.
  • June through September is the peak summer period. Gardens will be in full bloom, the evenings long and the warm days just right for wandering around.
  • October and November are the months when autumn sets in. The leaves on the trees change to all shades of brown and orange.
  • December through to February is the winter period.

Cuisine

The Full English breakfast remains an enduring tradition for many, despite the increasing popularity of the continental-style breakfast, or no breakfast at all, for busy workers. 

Fish and chips is the traditional English meal, but has since been overtaken by curry. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is still a traditional Sunday lunch.  

Tea and beer are typical and rather iconic drinks in England, particularly the former. The word ‘pub’ is short for public house. Pubs are an important part of British life. People talk, eat, drink, meet their friends and relax there.

Most pubs belong to a brewery (a company which makes beer) but sell many different kinds of beer, some on tap (from a big container under the bar) and some in bottles. The most popular kind of British beer is bitter, which is dark and served at room temperature (not hot, not cold). British beer is brewed from malt and hops.

Equally popular is lager, which is lighter in colour and served cold. Guinness, a very dark, creamy kind of beer called a stout, tends to be made in Ireland and is infamous all over Britain.

In the West of England, cider made from apples, is very popular. Like wine, it is described as sweet or dry, but is drunk in beer glasses and can be stronger than beer. Beers are served in "pints" for a large glass and "halves" for a smaller one.

Healthcare

The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly funded healthcare system in England. The NHS provides healthcare to anyone normally resident in the UK with most services free at the point of use for the patient though there are charges associated with eye tests, dental care, prescriptions, and many aspects of personal care. The NHS is largely funded from general taxation (including a proportion from National Insurance contributions).Emergency services, including for overseas visitors is generally free of charge. 

Worldliness

Britons generally know much more about the US than Americans know about the UK - the geography, the cities, sports teams and politics. Britain is a small country and its citizens are well travelled by comparison to the average American. This is partly due to compulsory 4 -5 weeks paid vacation in the UK as compared to 2 weeks in the States. Less commendable however are British language skills compared to European counterparts. Business meetings will almost certainly be conducted in English regardless of the nationality of those involved.

Public Conveniences

In the UK public conveniences are referred to by a number of names. The most common names (polite ones) heard in the street are toilets, ladies and gents. We don't use the word bathroom for toilet. The word bathroom to us means a room with a bath. Nor do we use the word restroom as a matter of course. If you do ask for a restroom people may just look confused.