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UK Cultural Habits and Taboos

UK Cultural Habits and Taboos

Meeting and Greeting

  1. A handshake is a common form of greeting. There are no issues over gender in the UK when shaking hands. People shake upon meeting and leaving.
  2. Most people use the titles of Mr (‘Mister’), Mrs (‘Missus’) or Miss and their surname. The title Dr (‘Doctor’) is also fairly common for medical and academic (PhD) doctors.
  3. If someone has been knighted, they are called 'Sir' followed by their first name and surname (Sir John Smith) or 'Sir' followed simply by their first name.


Different from the US where some workers rely heavily on tips (gratuity), the National Minimum Wage per hour in the UK covers all jobs. Therefore, as a student, do not feel bad or guilty when you do not want (or don’t have enough money) to offer a tip.

  1. Restaurant or café - A tip of at least 10% is common. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill, in which case an additional tip is unnecessary.
  2. Pubs - Do not tip to have a pint of beer poured in a pub. If you really want to tip the staff, buy them a drink by saying "and one for yourself." They will add the cost of their drink to your bill.
  3. Hotel - A small tip of 1 or 2 pounds is appropriate if a staff member renders a service such as carrying your bags or hailing a taxi. It is more polite if you do not show the money when you are giving it - put it in your hand, say "Thank you", shake the person's hand and press the money into the person's palm.
  4. Taxi - A tip of 10% is standard.

Gift Giving

It is better to give a small and interesting gift in the UK, as large and expensive gifts could be mistaken for bribery. Especially when you want to give a gift to a professor or a lecturer, be careful of the cost!

  1. Buying a round of drinks at a pub is a common way of celebrating someone’s birthday.
  2. Unlike many European cultures, the British enjoy entertaining people in their homes. If invited to someone's home, it is normal to bring the host/hostess a small gift, such as a box of good chocolates, a good bottle of wine or flowers.
  3. Champagne is always appreciated. Liquor or spirits, on the other hand, are a matter of personal taste and are best not given as a present.
  4. When giving flowers, bear the following things in mind. Red roses usually signify romantic intentions. White lilies or white chrysanthemums are often associated with funerals. You are usually safe when it comes to bringing a mixed bouquet, or if you already know the recipient’s flower preferences.
  5. Whenever you have been a guest in someone's home, it’s considered a polite and kind gesture to send a handwritten thank you note.

Other Taboos

  1. If you go shopping in the UK, one of the first taboos you may notice is a British aversion to bargaining. The British consider bargaining to be a very distasteful thing, and British people rarely bargain. They will buy a product if they think the price is reasonable. However, if you buy in bulk or are purchasing an item from an individual seller (for example, a used car), you can negotiate and agree on a price with the seller.
  2. British people don't like to talk about salary or age.
  3. The British have the habit of queuing. Jumping the queue is not looked upon kindly in the UK, so make sure to wait your turn.