Essay Topics British Culture Customs

With dictionary look up. Double click on any word for its definition.
This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!

British Cuisine!

Yes, we do have a wide and varied cuisine in Britain today, no more do we suffer under the image of grey boiled meat! After years of disparagement by various countries (especially the French) Britain now has an enviable culinary reputation. In fact some of the great chefs now come from Britain, I kid you not!

However Britain's culinary expertise is not new! In the past British cooking was amongst the best in the world. Mrs Beeton is still one of the renowned writers of cookery books, her creations have now gained international popularity, years after her death.

Traditional British cuisine is substantial, yet simple and wholesome. We have long believed in four meals a day. Our fare has been influenced by the traditions and tastes from different parts of the British empire: teas from Ceylon and chutney, kedgeree, and mulligatawny soup from India.

A brief history

British cuisine has always been multicultural, a pot pourri of eclectic styles. In ancient times influenced by the Romans and in medieval times the French. When the Frankish Normans invaded, they brought with them the spices of the east: cinnamon, saffron, mace, nutmeg, pepper, ginger. Sugar came to England at that time, and was considered a spice -- rare and expensive. Before the arrival of cane sugars, honey and fruit juices were the only sweeteners. The few Medieval cookery books that remain record dishes that use every spice in the larder, and chefs across Europe saw their task to be the almost alchemical transformation of raw ingredients into something entirely new (for centuries the English aristocracy ate French food) which they felt distinguished them from the peasants.

During Victorian times good old British stodge mixed with exotic spices from all over the Empire. And today despite being part of Europe we've kept up our links with the countries of the former British Empire, now united under the Commonwealth.

One of the benefits of having an empire is that we did learn quite a bit from the colonies. From East Asia (China) we adopted tea (and exported the habit to India), and from India we adopted curry-style spicing, we even developed a line of spicy sauces including ketchup, mint sauce, Worcestershire sauce and deviled sauce to indulge these tastes. Today it would be fair to say that curry has become a national dish.

Among English cakes and pastries, many are tied to the various religious holidays of the year. Hot Cross Buns are eaten on Good Friday, Simnel Cake is for Mothering Sunday, Plum Pudding for Christmas, and Twelfth Night Cake for Epiphany.

Unfortunately a great deal of damage was done to British cuisine during the two world wars. Britain is an island and supplies of many goods became short. The war effort used up goods and services and so less were left over for private people to consume. Ships importing food stuffs had to travel in convoys and so they could make fewer journeys. During the second world war food rationing began in January 1940 and was lifted only gradually after the war.

The British tradition of stews, pies and breads, according to the taste buds of the rest of the world, went into terminal decline. What was best in England was only that which showed the influence of France, and so English food let itself become a gastronomic joke and the French art of Nouvell Cuisine was adopted.

British Cuisine Today

In the late 1980's, British cuisine started to look for a new direction. Disenchanted with the overblown (and under-nourished) Nouvelle Cuisine, chefs began to look a little closer to home for inspiration. Calling on a rich (and largely ignored) tradition, and utilising many diverse and interesting ingredients, the basis was formed for what is now known as modern British food. Game has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity although it always had a central role in the British diet, which reflects both the abundant richness of the forests and streams and an old aristocratic prejudice against butchered meats.

In London especially, one can not only experiment with the best of British, but the best of the world as there are many distinct ethnic cuisines to sample, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Greek restaurants are amongst the most popular.

Although some traditional dishes such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pie, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart, spotted dick or fish and chips, remain popular, there has been a significant shift in eating habits in Britain. Rice and pasta have accounted for the decrease in potato consumption and the consumption of meat has also fallen. Vegetable and salad oils have largely replaced the use of butter.

Roast beef is still the national culinary pride. It is called a "joint," and is served at midday on Sunday with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, two vegetables, a good strong horseradish, gravy, and mustard.

Today there is more emphasis on fine, fresh ingredients in the better restaurants and markets in the UK offer food items from all over the world. Salmon, Dover sole, exotic fruit, Norwegian prawns and New Zealand lamb are choice items. Wild fowl and game are other specialties on offer.

In fact fish is still important to the English diet, we are after all an island surrounded by some of the richest fishing areas of the world. Many species swim in the cold offshore waters: sole, haddock, hake, plaice, cod (the most popular choice for fish and chips), turbot, halibut, mullet and John Dory. Oily fishes also abound (mackerel, pilchards, and herring) as do crustaceans like lobster and oysters. Eel, also common, is cooked into a wonderful pie with lemon, parsley, and shallots, all topped with puff pastry.

Regional Specialities

Despite recent setbacks beef is still big industry in England, and the Scottish Aberdeen Angus is one of our most famous beef-producing breeds. Dairy cattle are also farmed extensively -- England is famous for its creams and butters and for its sturdy and delicious cheeses: Stilton, Cheshire and its rare cousin blue Cheshire, double Gloucester, red Leicester, sage Derby, and of course cheddar.

Some of our more interesting dishes include:-

Beefsteak, Oyster, and Kidney Pudding: Oysters may seem unlikely in this meat pudding, but their great abundance in the Victorian age and earlier eras inspired cooks to find ways to incorporate them creatively in many different recipes. This steamed pudding combines the meats with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and Worcestershire, then wraps the whole in a suet pastry.

Black Pudding: invented in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis black pudding is often served as part of a traditional full English breakfast.

Black Pudding Recipe

Cock-a-Leekie : This Scottish specialty can be classified as a soup or a stew. It combines beef, chicken, leeks, and prunes to unusual and spectacular ends.

Crown Roast Lamb: The crown roast encircles a stuffing of apples, bread crumbs, onion, celery, and lemon.

Eccles Cake : Puff pastry stuffed with a spicy currant filling.

Hasty Pudding: A simple and quick (thus the name) steamed pudding of milk, flour, butter, eggs, and cinnamon.

Irish Stew: An Irish stew always has a common base of lamb, potatoes, and onion. It could contain any number of other ingredients, depending on the cook.

Likky Pie Leeks: pork, and cream baked in puff pastry.

Mincemeat: Beef suet is used to bind chopped nuts, apples, spices, brown sugar, and brandy into a filling for pies or pasties - not to be confused with minced meat!.

Mulligatawny Soup: What this soup is depends on who is cooking it. Originally a south Indian dish (the name means pepper water in tamil), it has been adopted and extensively adapted by the British. Mullitgatawny contains chicken or meat or vegetable stock mixed with yogurt or cheese or coconut milk and is seasoned with curry and various other spices. It is sometimes served with a separate bowl of rice.

Syllabub: In the seventeenth century, a milkmaid would send a stream of new, warm milk directly from a cow into a bowl of spiced cider or ale. A light curd would form on top with a lovely whey underneath. This, according to Elizabeth David, was the original syllabub. Today's syllabub is more solid (its origins can also be traced to the seventeenth century, albeit to the upper classes) and mixes sherry and/or brandy, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and double cream into a custard-like dessert or an eggnog-like beverage, depending upon the cook.

Trifle: Layers of alcohol-soaked sponge cake alternate with fruit, custard and whipped cream, some people add jelly, but that's for kids.

Welsh Faggots: Pig's liver is made into meatballs with onion, beef suet, bread crumbs, and sometimes a chopped apple. Faggots used to be made to use up the odd parts of a pig after it had been slaughtered.

Welsh Rabbit (or Rarebit): Cheese is grated and melted with milk or ale. Pepper, salt, butter, and mustard are then added. The mix is spread over toast and baked until "the cheese bubbles and becomes brown in appetizing-looking splashes" (Jane Grigson in English Food, London: Penguin, 1977).

Westmoreland Pepper Cake: Fruitcake that gets a distinctive kick from lots of black pepper. Other ingredients include honey, cloves, ginger, and walnuts.

Pies, Puddings, Buns and Cakes

Pies and puddings are related phenomena in British culinary history. Originally, both solved the problem of preparing dinners made with less expensive meats. Pies covered a stew or other ingredients with a crust; puddings were made from butcher's scraps tucked into a sheep's stomach, then steamed or boiled. Pies have remained pies, although, in addition to savory pies, there now exist sweet variations, which tend to have two crusts or a bottom crust only.

Pie crusts can be made from a short dough or puff pastry. Snacks and bar food (Britain's fifth food group) are often in pie form: pasties (pronounced with a short "a" like "had") are filled turnovers.

Over time, however, in a confusing development, pudding has become a more general term for a sweet or savory steamed mixture -- as well as a word that describes desserts in general. For example, black pudding is actually made with pig's blood. Whereas plum pudding is a Christmas treat consisting of a steamed cake of beef suet (the white fat around the kidney and loins) and dried and candied fruits soaked in brandy. And, of course, one can't forget rice pudding.

Amongst cakes, buns and pastries local delicacies include Bath Buns, Chelsea Buns, Eccles Cakes, and Banbury Cakes.

The Great British Breakfast!

"And then to breakfast, with what appetite you have." Shakespeare

The great British breakfast is famous (or notorious) throughout the world! Actually nowadays it is a bit of a myth, today many British people are more likely to have a bowl of cornflakes or a cup of coffee with a cigarette than to indulge in the wonders of this feast!

However that is not to say that the traditional breakfast is dead, far from it, it's just not often eaten every day of the week. Speaking as a true Brit I occassionally push the boat out and treat myself to the full monty (not to be confused with the film of the same name).

The typical English breakfast is a 19th century invention, when the majority of English people adopted the copious meal of porridge, fish, bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade, that has now appeared on English breakfast tables for 100 years.

The annual consumption in the United Kindgom is 450,000 tonnes of bacon, 5,000 tonnes of sausages and millions of eggs, so you can see the Great British Breakfast is very much alive and well. It has retained its popularity as one of the country's favourite meals, and survived a whole series of eating trends and food fads.

Mrs Beeton would have recommended a large list of foods for breakfast such as, bread, rolls, toast, toasted teacakes, Sally Lunns; eggs cooked in various ways; fish, baked halibut steaks, fried whiting, broiled fresh herrings, soused herrings, fishcakes, broiled kippers, 'Findon' haddock, sprats fried in butter, fish kedgeree, fried salmon, salmon pie, baked lobster, codfish pie, cod's steak, croquettes of cod's roe, herrings stuffed with fish. Fruit such as stewed figs, stewed prunes, and fresh fruits in season. Game and pheasant legs, brawn, devilled drumsticks, and meat dishes both hot and cold, such as collared tongue, kidneys on toast, sausages with fried bread, pig's cheek, Melton pork pie, ham, galantine, spiced brisket, pressed beef...

So what does the great British breakfast consist of nowadays?

Simpsons in the Strand, a well know (and expensive) restaurant, serves breakfast daily. Their full English breakfast consists of the following:-

The GREAT BRITISH BREAKFAST at £13.95 includes:- Toast with jam or marmalade, pastries, fresh orange juice, freshly brewed coffee, a choice of cereals, porridge, stewed fruit or half a grapefruit, The Simpson’s Cumberland sausage, scrambled egg, streaky and back bacon, black pudding, grilled mushrooms and tomato and a daily newspaper (not for consumption).

In addition to the GREAT BRITISH BREAKFAST, for serious breakfast eaters, Simpson's offers THE TEN DEADLY SINS - at £15.95 per person this includes: Toast with jam or marmalade, pastries, fresh orange juice, freshly brewed coffee Choice of cereals, porridge, stewed fruit or half a grapefruit The Simpson’s Cumberland sausage, fried egg, streaky and back bacon, black pudding, lamb’s kidneys, fried bread, liver, bubble & squeak, baked beans, grilled mushrooms and tomato.

Guests may also choose from an à la carte selection of classic breakfast dishes such as: Smoked Haddock Kedgeree; Poached Finan Haddock; Quail’s eggs with haddock; Smoked Salmon with Scrambled Eggs; Grilled sirloin steak with grilled mushrooms and tomato and welsh rarebit. There is also a selection of plain, cheese, bacon, herb, mushroom and smoked salmon omelettes.

The Sunday Roast

Every Sunday thousands of British families sit down together to eat a veritable feast of roasted meat served with roast potatoes, vegetables and other accompaniments. It is a tradition with a long pedigree, so read on...

How it all began

In medieval times the village serfs served the squire for six days a week. Sundays however were a day of rest, and after the morning church service, serfs would assemble in a field and practice their battle techniques.

They were rewarded with mugs of ale and a feast of oxen roasted on a spit.


The tradition has survived because the meat can be put in the oven to roast before the family goes to church and be ready to eat when they return.

Typical meats for roasting are joints of beef, pork, lamb or a whole chicken. More rarely duck, goose, gammon, turkey or game are eaten. The more popular roasts are often served with traditional accompaniments, these are:

roast beef - served with Yorkshire pudding; and horseradish sauce or English mustard as relishes.
roast pork - served with crackling (the crispy skin of the pork) and sage and onion stuffing; apple sauce and English mustard as relishes
roast lamb - served with sage and onion stuffing and mint sauce as a relish
roast chicken - served with pigs in blankets, chipolata sausages and stuffing, and bread sauce or cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly

Any self respecting Sunday roast should be served with a gravy made from the meat juices.


Bangers and Mash

You might see this on offer in a pub or cafe. Simply put, bangers are sausages, and mash is potato that's been boiled and then mashed up (usually with butter). The sausage used in bangers and mash can be made of pork or beef with apple or tomato seasoning; often a Lincolnshire, or Cumberland sausage is used.

The dish is usually served with a rich onion gravy. Although sometimes stated that the term "bangers" has its origins in World War II, the term was actually in use at least as far back as 1919.


Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and squeak (sometimes just called bubble) is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a Sunday roast dinner. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. It is usually served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles, but you can eat it on its own. Traditionally the meat was added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays the vegetarian version is more common. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potato until the mixture is well-cooked and browned.

There are various theories as to the origin of its name, one of them being that it is a description of the action and sound made during the cooking process.

You can even by pre-p repared frozen and tinned versions, but they're pretty disgusting.


Fish and Chips

Fish and chips is the traditional take-away food of England, long before McDonalds we had the fish and chip shop. Fresh cod is the most common fish for our traditional fish and chips, other types of fish used include haddock, huss, and plaice.

The fresh fish is dipped in flour and then dipped in batter and deep fried, it is then served with chips (fresh not frozen) and usually you will be asked if you want salt and vinegar added. Sometimes people will order curry sauce (yellow sauce that tastes nothing like real curry), mushy peas (well it's green anyway) or pickled eggs (yes pickled).

Traditionally fish and chips were served up wrapped in old newspaper. Nowadays (thanks to hygiene laws) they are wrapped in greaseproof paper and sometimes paper that has been specially printed to look like newspaper. You often get a small wooden or plastic fork to eat them with too, although it is quite ok to use your fingers.


Steaks - an American tradition?

When you think about steak America always seems to come to mind, with cowboys and Texan cattle millionaires. However in the past steaks were so British that our elite troops were referred to as beefeaters, you can still see them in their traditional costume at the Tower of London.

The term Porterhouse for a special large kind of steak cuts has nothing to do with porters or luggage carriers but originates from British pubs where a special brand of dark beer, Porter beer, was served, and where a snack consisted of a steak some 2 lbs (about 900 grams) by weight - a single portion for a single man.


British Cheese

Cheese is made from the curdled milk of various animals: most commonly cows but often goats, sheep and even reindeer, and buffalo. Rennet is often used to induce milk to coagulate, although some cheeses are curdled with acids like vinegar or lemon juice or with extracts of vegetable rennet.

Britain started producing cheese thousands of years ago. However, it was in Roman times that the cheese-making process was originally honed and the techniques developed. In the Middle Ages, the gauntlet was passed to the monasteries that flourished following the Norman invasion. It is to these innovative monks that we are indebted for so many of the now classic types of cheese that are produced in Britain.

The tradition of making cheese nearly died out during WWII, when due to rationing only one type of cheese could be manufactured - the unappealingly named 'National Cheese'.

The discovery and revival of old recipes and the development of new types of cheese has seen the British cheese industry flourish in recent years and diversify in a way not seen since the 17th century.

I have written a quick guide to British cheeses here.


The Humble Sandwich - yes that's ours too!

Where would British be without the cheese sandwich? The origin of the sandwich is as British as it could be. The name refers to the Earl of Sandwich who lived 1718 to 1792. The British have always been keen on betting and gambling, but the Earl of Sandwich overdid it even by our standards. During his gambling days, taking meals was considered by him as highly unwelcome interruptions. He therefore invented a kind of meal not requiring him to exchange the gambling table for the dining table: sandwiches.


Indian Cuisine in the UK

The word curry, meaning 'to spice' has been used since the medieval period. Nowadays, a night out in the pub, followed by a curry, is a tradition in many cities. Ever since the Victorian era, during the British Raj, Britain has been "borrowing" Indian dishes, and then creating Anglo-Indian cuisine to suit the British palate. Back then we came up with kedgeree, coronation chicken and mulligatawny soup, all traditional Anglo-Indian dishes, but they are not that popular today. More recently many varieties of Indian curry of which chicken tikka masala and balti are the best known have been popularised. In fact chicken tikka masala is now considered one of Britain's most popular dishes, you can even buy chicken tikka masala flavoured crisps.

The future

The food industry in Britain is now undergoing major changes. From a resurgence of interest in organic food to the other extreme - genetically modified (GM) food. GM food has so incensed the general public that there have been mass demonstrations against it all over the country.

Genetically modified food

Enough sites found for GM farm trials (13 March 2000)

taken from

Farm-scale trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops look set to go ahead after enough sites were found to carry out the experiments, following a meeting of the Scientific Steering Committee, an independent group overseeing the trials.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: 'The outcome of the meeting was that there are sufficient sites to allow trials to go ahead. They will be advising ministers next week and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.'

It had been reported last month that the trial site organisers were 'struggling' to find enough farmers to take part. Ministers were said to want about 75 farm-scale trials of GM crops this year to test whether they damage the environment. They need to choose from a pool of 150 farms for the first phase of the three-year scientific experiment.

Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: 'If these trials go ahead it will be a potential tragedy for the environment. Britain will be bombarded with GM pollen without any regard for wildlife, people, or GM-free farmers. The whole process has been nothing short of genetic tyranny with an almost complete absence of public consultation.'

A Friends of the Earth spokesman urged farmers who had volunteered for the trials to 'think again'. He said: 'Farmers who have signed up for these very large trials should realise that they have also signed up to a packet of potential problems. Issues such as liability for cross-pollination of neighbouring crops and contamination of honey have not been resolved. The main beneficiaries of GM crops could well be lawyers rather farmers.'


Some Interesting Websites for Foodies!

You can find some traditional British recipes from the English magazine on the recipes page. All tried and tested by yours truly.

Another interesting site can be found at // including a great information section.

One of the staples in the English person's diet is cheese, if you don't believe me just watch Wallace and Grommit. This great site is all about cheese: All about cheese

Iceland - no not the country! Learn all about frozen food here.

Find out all about the rules, regulations and government bodies in control of food in the UK at:

Interesting Food facts

Hello and Welcome to our Guide to British Culture, Customs, Business Practices & Etiquette

In a country which has four national football teams, where the favourite national dish is an Indian curry and the people happily drive on the wrong side of the road, you would be forgiven for getting a little confused about the United Kingdom.

That is why we have published our free guide to the UK!

Valuable for anyone researching British culture, customs, language, society, manners, etiquette, values, business norms and essentially wanting to understand the people better.

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Whether visiting the UK on business, for tourism or even hosting British colleagues or clients in your own country, this guide will help you understand your Brit counterparts, improve communication and get the relationship off to the right start.

How do we know all this information? Well, we are experts in cultural awareness training courses on UK culture! That's how.



  • Location:  Western Europe
  • Capital:  London
  • Flag: The national flag for the UK is known at The Union Jack and represents the three older nations of Great Britain with the red cross of St George (patron saint of England), the white saltire cross of St. Andrew (patron saint of Scotland), and the red saltire of St. Patrick (patron saint of Ireland -  Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom)
  • National anthem: God Save the Queen is the patriotic song dedicated to the reigning monarch of The United Kingdom
  • Nationality: English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh (or just British which covers all of them)
  • Ethnic Make-Up: white 87.2%, black/African/Caribbean/black British 3%, Asian British: Indian 2.3%, Asian/Asian British: Pakistani 1.9%, mixed 2%, other 3.7% (2011 census)
  • Population: 65,511,098 – 2017
  • Population growth rate: 0.8% annual change (2015)
  • Climate: Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast.
  • Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) Britain operates daylight saving time (DST) which begins on last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October and puts the clock ahead of GMT by one hour
  • Currency: Pound Sterling, known as the Pound or Great British Pound (GBP)
  • Government: parliamentary constitutional monarchy


[The Public House, known as 'The Pub', is a cornerstone of British life with every village, town and city having a 'local' at which they eat and drink.]



The United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Historically the country was a forerunner in the developing world and, at its peak during the 19th Century, had an empire that stretched across the globe.

They have led the way in science, literature and industry. However, the influence and power of Great Britain began to erode in the first half of the 20th Century with two world wars. This had its consequences in the gradual breakup of the Empire during the second half of the century since when, the UK has re modelled itself into a leading, wealthy European nation.

The UK is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which was created on 24th October 1945 and a founding member of NATO and the commonwealth. The UK takes a global stance in foreign policy.

Until June 2016, the UK played an active part in the European Parliament after joining in 1973 although they chose not to enter into the Economic and Monetary Union. Following a national referendum on June 23rd 2016, the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU (known as Brexit) although this will not be complete for some years.  It is largely thought the vote to leave was driven by perceived ‘bureaucracy’ in Brussels, the centre of the European Parliament and concerns regarding immigration.



English is the main language spoken by approximately 98% of the population in the UK with numerous dialects. Accents can vary tremendously from south to north, even occasionally confusing Brits themselves.

There are some regional language speakers including Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Welsh. The latter is one of the most widely spoken regional languages.

As a multi-national country, the UK has a number of other languages spoken across the country. The second most spoken, non-native language in the UK is Polish. The next commonly spoken languages come from India and Pakistan: Punjabi, Bengali and Gujarati. These are followed by Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese and French.


WARNING!Remember this is only a very basic level introduction to UK culture and the people; it can not account for the diversity within British society and is not meant in any way to stereotype all British people you may meet!



Religion & Beliefs

  • The official state-sanctioned religion in the UK is the Church of England which is of the Christian Protestant faith. However, there has been a huge decline in the role of the Church in Britain since the middle of the last Century with less than half the population attending Church services or believing in God.
  • It is estimated that a third of the population have no religious connection. Thirty percent of the UK population affiliates to the official Church of England while ten percent identify with the Roman Catholic religion. Those who affiliate to the Christian religion outside of Protestantism and Catholicism accept other Protestant denominations: Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist.
  • Whilst Christianity is the dominant religion in the UK, minority religions include Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism.  

Major Celebrations/Secular Celebrations

  • Major celebrations in the UK calendar include: Christmas Day (25th December), Boxing Day (26th December), New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the Queen’s Birthday on the second Saturday in June.
  • Other celebrations are known as Bank Holidays: May Day, celebrated on 1st May, the Spring Bank Holiday on the last weekend of May and the Summer Bank Holiday on the last weekend of August. Bank Holidays take place at the weekend with most other businesses and institutions closed on the following Monday.


The Family

  • Until the middle of the 20th Century, marriage was the standard for British families which comprised two parents with the father as the head of the household. However, in the last few decades, there has been a rise in single parent families and many more couples are choosing to co-habit rather than to marry.  Half a century ago, living together would have been socially unacceptable and was known as ‘living in sin’.  
  • Divorce at one time was also unthinkable but in the last few decades it has become more acceptable.
  • Marriage too is changing with same sex couples now permitted to marry in law or enter into Civil Partnerships. Although in the last few decades, there has been some reported instability in family life regarding single motherhood and marital breakdown family relationships continue to be close with two thirds of the population living in close proximity to immediate family and extended family.
  • There remains a commitment for younger family to take care of elderly relatives.
  • Mobility in the workforce has changed in the last decade so that many younger people live some distance from close family but kinship relationships continue to be close with regular communication and family reunions.   


Social Stratification

  • Historically, a class system has operated in the UK with the ‘Upper Class’ and ‘Aristocracy’ at the top of the pecking order. These are high ranking nobility who hold hereditary titles, wealth and privilege.
  • The next strata are known as the ‘middle class’ and the ‘working class’.
  • Traditionally the working classes defined themselves as hard working and with no social privilege, born into a family dependent upon unskilled labour. Historically, the working classes were unlikely to have access to higher education.
  • Those who affiliate to the middle classes have been viewed as ‘white collar’ workers living in privately owned suburban homes and to have access to higher education.  
  • However, in the past few decades, people from varied backgrounds have had greater access to higher education and business opportunities which is levelling wealth distribution and allowing for upward mobility. Hence the middle class and the working class at have become more homogeneous although there is still very much an elite and privileged class in Britain.


Gender Roles

  • Until the middle of the 20th Century, gender roles were very much male dominated. The man was the head of the household. Many jobs were male oriented such as bus, train and lorry driving in working class culture and men were deemed more able to deal with finance working in banks and financial organisations.
  • Although women were accepted in the military and the police force, their roles tended to be passive in contrast to their male counterparts. However, in the 1970s national debate began to materialise championing the employment rights of women in society. In the following decade, the ‘Feminist’ movement reflected the mood of women in the workforce and the part they played in the developing economy. The discussion regarding women during this period concentrated upon life balance between the workforce and family.
  • It is estimated that more than fifty percent of women in the UK work, albeit half of those are part-time workers, much of this being in the service industry. Despite the changes made in the last few decades relating to women in the workforce and education there is still much debate regarding gender division in respect to status in the work-place and pay levels. In addition, three quarters of women who are working on a full-time basis, believe the household chores and evening meal should be shared. However, more than half of those women say they take on all responsibility for the running of the family home while working full time.



  • The mother is typically the primary carer of new born babies and small children.  Employment law enables them to take a year off work following childbirth to care for their new-born baby.
  • Upon a mother’s return to work, although grandparents increasingly fill the gap to help care for their grandchildren, many others place their child in a nursery.
  • Gender led toys and family life often mean that gender roles are formed at a fairly early age.  There is a popular expectation that girls will dress in pink, wear nice dresses and play with dolls while boys are often encouraged to dress in blue and play with toys such as tractors and cars.



  • The Gross National Income in the UK increased from 492534 GBP million in the latter part of 2016 to 494149 GDP million in the first part of 2017. In January 2017, the UK national debt stood at over a trillion GBP which is equivalent to 86.5% of GDP.
  • The UK imports a quarter of its food from the EU but with the collapse in the value of the Pound against the Dollar following the vote for Britain to leave the European Union, prices are set to rise dramatically. In 2015, Britain exported £18 billion worth of food and drink whilst spending around £38 billion on importing food and drink.  



  • Even if British food has not got an exceptional reputation in the world, there are some traditional foods in the United Kingdom and traditional British beers. The English breakfast and fish and chips are the most iconic dishes in the UK.
  • Traditional British foods typically centre around the concept of ‘meat and two veg’, which means in essence that the dish will contain a type of meat (usually beef, pork, lamb or chicken), two types of vegetable (typically root vegetables) and potatoes.  
  • Furthermore, as it is a multicultural country, you can now enjoy food from all parts of the world in the UK. Curry is now the nation’s favourite dish, being brought over from the Indian sub-continent with migrants.


Arts, Humanities & Popular Culture

  • The British people have traditionally enjoyed social interaction relating to popular culture throughout the centuries.
  • The theatres have long been well supported with entertainment ranging from music to drama and to comedy. In the 19th Century, the Music Hall was the mainstay of entertainment offering all manner of acts from singing to acrobatics.
  • The cinema is very popular as are the numerous social clubs across the country. Music too plays an important role in popular culture and has been the forerunner in exports.
  • The UK is home to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Adele, and many other artists who have made it to the world stage. Jungle, Dubstep, Grime and other modern forms of dance music also originate from the UK.
  • Traditionally music and social gatherings have been the cement in isolated communities over the centuries with dancing and singing. The Scottish and Irish Ceilidh is a traditional social gathering involving Gaelic folk music and dancing either in a house or larger venue. The Welsh people are known for their singing voices and the Welsh Men’s Choir is renowned World Wide.
  • Art and literature has also played a focal part in the history of UK culture. There are many art galleries throughout the country and Britain is known for its history of authors such as Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, Agatha Christie and Jane Austen.


[Curry, not fish and chips, is now the UK's favourite food]




Naming conventions

  • In the UK, the first name is also known as ‘the Christian name’, although this has little to do with religion today. This is traditionally followed by a middle name and then the family name which in the UK is known as the surname.
  • In previous centuries children tended to be named after a member of the family or a religious figure. Catholic families, in particular, tend to name their children after saints.
  • In modern times, children are often given names that are liked by the parents and which have no particular significance regarding family or religion. Some children are named after famous football stars, singers or film actors.
  • Traditionally when couples marry the woman takes her husband’s name as her surname but some couple now choose to amalgamate their names which is referred to as a double-barrelled name.  


Meeting & Greeting

  • Although the British may appear on the surface to be reserved and perhaps even aloof, they are in fact friendly people and welcoming to foreign visitors.
  • The etiquette when greeting is to shake hands with all those present, even children.
  • At social or business meetings, it is polite to also shake hands upon leaving. Hand-shakes should not be too hearty, just a light friendly touch.
  • Last names should be used with the appropriate title unless specifically invited to use the first name.


Communication style

  • The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication.
  • Many older businesspeople or those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of established protocol.
  • Most British are masters of understatement and do not use effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to use ‘qualifiers’ such as 'perhaps', ‘possibly’ or 'it could be'.
  • When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest. If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved.
  • Written communication follows strict rules of protocol. How a letter is closed varies depending upon how well the writer knows the recipient.
  • Written communication is always addressed using the person's title and their surname. First names are not generally used in written communication, unless you know the person well.
  • E-mail is now much more widespread, however the communication style remains more formal, at least initially, than in many other countries. Most British will not use slang or abbreviations and will think negatively if your communication appears overly familiar.


Gift Giving

  • It is customary to take a small gift for the host if invited to their home. This is usually either a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolates. Some people may send flowers in advance of a dinner party but it is equally acceptable to take them on the day. Gifts are opened on receipt.
  • It is not usual for gifts to be exchanged in a business setting.


Dining & Food

  • Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
  • The fork is held tines down so food is scooped on to the back of the fork. This is a skill that takes time to master.
  • Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.
  • If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork together at the clock position of 6.30.
  • Toasts are given at formal meals when the host will raise a glass (usually wine but a soft drink is acceptable) and will invite the guests to commemorate a person or event. The guests then raise their glass and repeat the toast before taking a sip of their drink.
  • When in a pub, it is common practice to pay for a round of drinks for everyone in your group.
  • If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the invitation usually pays. It is important to arrive on time. Do not argue about the check; simply reciprocate at a later time.
  • Do not wave your hand or call out to summons a waiter if in a restaurant.


Visiting a home

  • Unlike many European cultures, the British enjoy entertaining people in their homes.
  • Although the British value punctuality, you may arrive 10-15 minutes later than invited to dinner.
  • It is not always required to remove your shoes when entering a British home, but it is recommended that you ask upon entry whether or not shoes can be worn.



  • Do not rest your elbows on the table.
  • Do not stare.
  • Do not be overly familiar with people you do not know well.
  • Do not ask personal questions such as how much someone earns, who they voted for etc.
  • Do not speak too loudly or cut into a conversation.


[Politics can be a divisive issue in the UK especially since Brexit.

It can be a bit of a taboo, especially with strangers and people you do not know well.]



What to wear?

  • Although the rules on business wear have changed in the last decade and some professions are less formal, more conservative businesses still expect men to wear a suit and tie and women to dress smartly.
  • This may involve a smart, unfussy dress and shoes but it is also acceptable for women to wear trousers, a smart blouse and jacket.



  • In addition to formal professional titles, (such as doctor or professor), it is polite to refer to men with ‘Mr’ and women as ‘Mrs’ (if married) or ‘Miss’ (if unmarried).
  • Formal titles should be used in business unless otherwise stated.  


Business cards

  • These are usually given at the end of a meeting.
  • There is no ceremony as to business card giving in the UK.
  • Do not be surprised if someone writes on your business card.



  • Meetings always have a clearly defined purpose, which may include an agenda.
  • There will be a brief amount of small talk before getting down to the business at hand
  • If you make a presentation, avoid making exaggerated claims. Make brief eye contact with the team members to encourage a feeling of inclusion.
  • Make certain your presentation and any materials provided appear professional and well thought out.
  • Be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. The British rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions.
  • Maintain a few feet of personal space.
  • Always be on time to a meeting if not a bit early.
  • If you have hosted the meeting then you should send an email summarizing what was decided and the next steps to be taken.



  • Major decisions are made from the top and will be passed down the chain of management.
  • Any hard selling or confrontation is ill-advised.



  • The style of management in the UK has been changing over the past few decades from what may be perceived to be stuffy, conservative values to a more open and progressive approach recognising the significant role played by the employees.     
  • Where meetings are concerned, it is important to treat all people with respect and deference and that time should not be wasted.
  • Always arrive promptly prepared for the discussions on the content of the business at hand.
  • Although some organisations will appear to be hierarchical people within the company, whatever their position, play an important role in the decision-making process for the greater good of the company.
  • Employees expect to be consulted on issues that affect their working environment and morale.
  • Read more about British management styles.


[View of Canary Wharf in East London, one of the city's main business districts.]


Thank you for reading our guide to the UK. We hope you found it useful. If you have anything to add to our country profile please contact us as we are keen to ensure accuracy.


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