11 Common Mistakes When Visiting The United Kingdom
Try to avoid these 11 common mistakes when visiting the United Kingdom. Every country or area has their own unique cultural norms that tourists should try to be aware of.
Don’t get me wrong, cultural mishaps happen. They can sometimes be awkward and cause a bit of embarrassment and confusion, and usually stop there. Sometimes, they can go a bit further and cause offence or even cause you some serious trouble. Either way, it’s best to prevent these from happening in the first place.
Before you plan a trip to the UK, it’s good to get to know the culture. You may want to watch out for what you SAY to British people. But the British can also be pretty sensitive and easy to offend… More than Americans, at least. So you might want to watch out for what you DO in the UK too. Or, rather, what you SHOULDN’T do in the UK.
1. Don’t Call Everyone “English”
Before you go to the UK, it’s so important to understand that the UK is the United Kingdom We’re a country of four countries. But don’t worry about understanding this system too much, because very few brits will be able to explain it anyway. Basically, we’re one country, but also we’re not. So.
The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland*. English people, the people of England, probably won’t take much offence if you call them “British” or “English”. English is in fact the right way to call this population.
Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Irish people, however, will be pretty offended. They’re very proud of their heritage and often get frustrated at people thinking that the UK is just England. Scotland also had an independence vote a few years ago, and although this didn’t pass, they are considering having another one (post-Brexit). So feelings of independence are on the rise again.
Definitely bear this one in mind!
Bonus Fact: *Great Britain is the island of Great Britain, which is England, Scotland, Wales. (No Northern Ireland). Not many Brits will be able to tell you this. (A more detailed explanation here)
(Like I said, we don’t understand it either.)
2. Don’t Disrespect Our Queueing System
We LOVE queueing.
There is not much more in life that pleases a Brit like a good queue.
Step in line and wait patiently. Don’t get too close to the person in front (we’re not a fan of contact with strangers). And don’t jump the queue!
If you do jump the queue, you probably won’t be met with angry shouting Brits. Instead, there will be a line full of passive aggressive Brits muttering under their breath.
We don’t like to make a fuss or show our emotions publicly. Which brings me to the next point…
3. Don’t Make A Fuss Publicly
British people LOVE to complain. But there is an art to how a Brit might complain. The weather might be awful, the trains are late, and the government is rubbish. You’ll never hear the end of this.
But food in the restaurant not good? Waited too long for your coffee? Hair in the soup?
These things are bad not because having a hair in your food isn’t great, but because it puts us in an awful position. We hate making a scene and also hate making people feel bad – and now we have to do both… But will we?
Well, this is a personal choice, but either way, British people in comparison to our friends in mainland Europe just don’t like to complain to strangers in public places too much.
I’ve personally had some really bad food and haven’t said a thing. You just suck it up and then never go back there.
Definitely not the best system, and probably something we could do with changing. Either way, bear in mind and be polite when making a complaint because we might not be used to receiving this. And likewise, if you’re eating with a group of Brits and want to make a complaint, be aware of how it may affect your buddies at the same table. Perhaps consult them first and ask if they’d be offended!
4. Don’t Forget Your Manners
Speaking of remaining polite, this is very important in the UK. There is never enough pleases, sorry-s, or thank you-s. From getting off the bus and thanking the bus driver when you get off, to asking someone to please pass the salt.
We really appreciate these three little words and they really go a long way.
5. Don’t Touch Us
One thing I really don’t like about British culture is how closed off we are, compared to pretty much every other country I’ve ever been to.
I first learned the art of touching someone’s arm to seem friendly when I met a girl from Kyrgyzstan. We had just met and already she was chatting away and getting my attention or emphasizing something by touching me. My first reflex was to pull away – but after a time I realized the value in this and how it’s not all that bad.
Either way, most Brits don’t see it this way and really like to have their personal space un-invaded.
6. Don’t Stand On The Left on Escalators
Like queueing, this is a rule that we just really like to follow. It makes sense for those in a rush there is an area they can walk up or down. And like queueing, if you stand on the other side, no one will say anything. But everyone will hate you.
7. Don’t Just Go To London
We have SO much more to offer in the UK.
No one is going to respect you if you go to the UK and just stay in London. Get on a train and head out to the countryside for a day, or if you have time head up north and see what some other cities have on offer!
Don’t get shocked when they pass you Scottish money
Don’t sit inside on a sunny day
8. Don’t Be Late
Really, we don’t like that. At best, make sure to arrive a couple of minutes too early. But not too early – because that would make us feel bad for you having to wait.
9. Don’t Mention Brexit
We’re all pretty sore about this still. And most have very strong opinions on remain or leave. If you ask about Brexit, you’re basically starting a massive political debate that you don’t know which side you’ll be talking with.
Unless you’re up for a heated political debate that may involve different opinions from everyone in the group if you’re with multiple people, just don’t mention it.
Don’t underestimate our drinking abilities (and try to compete because we love a competition).
10. Don’t Tell Us How You Really Are
“Hi, how are you?!”
“Oh, not so great actually, I…”
When we ask “How are you?” We are pretty much just saying hello. We definitely don’t want to know how you are.
Culturally acceptable answers to this questions are;
“Not bad, how are you?”
“Fine thanks, how are you?”
If someone really wants to know how you are, they will repeat this question and put the emphasis on ‘how are you?’
11. Don’t Forget Your Umbrella and Bikini
The British weather never fails to surprise, and walking out on a scorching hot sunny morning could very quickly turn into a rainy, cold afternoon. So before you get too excited, make sure you have a variety of clothing in your bag for pretty much all occasions.
(In all seriousness, an umbrella and/or coat is a must.)
Common Mistakes When Visiting The United Kingdom – Final Thoughts
Of course, everyone makes mistakes and Brits are very accommodating when it comes to cultural faux-pas. But noting these things to not do in the UK will definitely help you get more involved in the culture and the people! So be sure to avoid these common mistakes when visiting the United Kingdom.