United Kingdom. Country Information

United Kingdom Country Information 2010 1 Table of Contents 1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………… ..... 3 2. Country and Facts…………………………...
Author: Jason Bradley
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United Kingdom Country Information



Table of Contents 1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………… ..... 3 2. Country and Facts……………………………………………………………………………..... 4 2.1 Geographical Data and Climate ................................................................ 4 2.2 Historical Overview.................................................................................... 6 2.3 Ethnic Composition, Religion and Languages ........................................ 9 2.4 Festivals and Celebrations....................................................................... 11 2.5 Places to See ............................................................................................. 12 3. Country and People………………………………………………………………………… ... 13 3.1 Education System..................................................................................... 13 3.2 Student Life .............................................................................................. 15 3.3 Food and Drinks....................................................................................... 19 3.4 Culture in Daily Life ................................................................................ 22 4. Practical Tips…………………………………………………………………………………..... 27


1. Introduction Great Britain is an extraordinarily multifaceted society… The British culture has historically been marked by openness to foreign influences. This very feature makes the country so special. Despite its relatively small size, the United Kingdom is one of the most culturally diverse countries on Earth, peopled by four main “native” nationalities, plus later arrivals from all over the world. Partly due to the fact that people of different origin, history, social class and ethnic belonging make part of it, the British culture is constantly undergoing certain transformations and is always open to new discoveries.

Great Britain is magnificent landscapes … Wild cliffs, picturesque hiking trails along coastlines, green high moors, mild valleys, lovely fishing villages and ancient costal resorts, green mosaic fields and narrow foliage tunnels keep romantic secrets since the Stone Age.

Great Britain is London… If you’re tired of London you’re tired of life… If you are looking for a place with an eccentric mix of five o’ clock tea, tweed, Brit-Pop and black humour, the UK is the right place for you to visit!

We wish you success with exploring this remarkable country and hope you find useful information in this country information brochure for your contacts and cooperation with British people. 3

2. Country and Facts 2.1 Geographical Data and Climate

Official name United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Common abbreviation UK

Capital London (population 7.1 million)

Surface area 244,820 sq. km

Geographical situation The UK is a country in north-western Europe. It is bordered to the south by the English Is Great Britain the same as the UK?

Channel; to the east by the North Sea; to the west by the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

No, Great Britain is very often, but incorrectly, used as a synonym for the sovereign state properly known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).

England (with the capital city of London), Wales (Cardiff),

The UK includes Great Britain AND Northern Ireland.

the four countries in the United Kingdom. The name

Scotland (Edinburgh) and Northern Ireland (Belfast) make part of the United Kingdom. Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, lies off the northwest coast of mainland Europe. England is the largest of "England" comes from the Angles. The Angles were a Germanic people who lived in lowland areas of Britain

about two thousand years ago after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.


Population Density Great Britain is heavily populated compared with many other countries: 380 people per sq. km, which is more than twice as densely as France, nine times as densely populated as the USA and a hundred times as densely populated as Australia.

Did you know that… Great Britain is only 35 km from France and is now linked by a tunnel under the English Channel (also known as Channel Tunnel, or Eurotunnel). It is a 50.5-kilometre undersea rail tunnel and the second longest tunnel in the world, after Japan's Seikan Tunnel.

It is worth noting, that the population is very unequally distributed over the four parts of the UK: England’s population makes up approx. 84% of the total population, Wales’ around 5%, Scotland’s roughly 8.5 %, and Northern Ireland’s (since 1921) less than 3%. According to the new report on population development, a movement of the UK’s population to the South East can be observed. While large cities in the

North and the Midlands like Glasgow, Birmingham and Liverpool are losing population, London and the South East are growing fast.

Climate Weather is often a talking-point in Britain. Many people say that "Britain does not have a climate. It just has weather". The changeability of the English weather can be explained by the combination of almost Arctic latitude combined with being an island and having the Gulf Stream bringing warm weather from the tropics on an intermittent basis. The overall climate in England is called temperate maritime. This means that it is mild with temperatures not much lower than 0ºC in winter and not much higher than 32ºC in summer. It also means that it is damp and subject to frequent changes.


Average Temperature and Precipitation for London Month



Mar Apr

May Jun

Ø Temp °C





13.1 16.2 18.9 18.5 16.0 12.8 8.9












Aug Sep





Nov Dec



Different parts of the British Isles receive different amounts of rainfall. More rain falls in the west and north, particular in Scotland, the Lake District and Wales, where hills and mountains increase the amount of precipitation. In some parts of Scotland it can rain or snow on as many as 300 days in a year. In East Anglia by contrast, there is a lot less rainfall, and during dry summers there can even occur precipitation deficits.

2.2 Historical Overview Not much has been scientifically discovered about the pre-Celtic period of British history (before 800 BC), although monuments such as Stonehenge clearly speak of developed civilization. Gales were the first Celtic tribes that have settled on the British Isles around 800-700 BC, followed later by Brythons – another tribe from which the country derives its name. The isles were conquered by the Romans in 43 AD and the occupation lasted for almost 400 years. The city of Bath still features Roman temples and baths.


The next invasion came from the continent in the middle of the 5th century, when the isles were conquered by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who later had to unite against the Scandinavian Vikings. The society gradually moved from tribal to feudal organisation, and it is was at this time that the English language came into being. In 1066 William “the Conqueror”, Duke of Normandy, took control of England following his victory at the Battle of Hastings. His coronation as “King of England” laid the foundation for the development of the English nobility as a class and early parliamentarianism.

Interesting to know… The United Kingdom of Great Britain was created in 1707 by the political union of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England (including the Principality of Wales). In 1800 a further treaty brought the Kingdom of Ireland into what became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until the year 1922 when the Republic of Ireland became independent, leaving only Northern Ireland as a part of the UK. Since then the official name is United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

During this period the language of the ruling class became French, which also had a significant influence on the development of modern English in terms of word borrowings. Having established themselves in England, the Normans also tried to invade Wales and Ireland with limited success. Scotland remained an independent kingdom, although its aristocracy was largely influenced by Norman culture. The French influence in England prevailed for a

Henry VIII became famous for introducing the Reformation to England and for having as many as six wives. There is a little verse to help you remember how he “lost” all of his wives: Divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived. (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour – Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr)

couple of centuries and eventually led to the claim of the French throne by the English dynasty, resulting in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England (1337-1453). Having finally been defeated, internal struggles for power (the Wars of the Roses) were ended by the assumption of power by the Tudors, whose dynasty produced such prominent figures as Henry VIII and Elisabeth I in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Elizabe-

than Era is often viewed as a golden age and associated with the names of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe as well as the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the 7

foundation of the first English colony in America, Virginia. She also was the first English queen to rule over Scotland and Ireland. The first half of the 17th century featured the

To carry coals to Newcastle...

plantation of Protestant Scots in Northern Ireland

is an idiom in British English that describes a pointless action. It refers to the city of Newcastle upon Tine in north-eastern England, one of Britain’s major coal mining centres. The phrase was recorded as early as 1661 when Thomas Fuller wrote: "To carry coals to Newcastle, that is to do what was done before; or to busy one's self in a needless employment."

(one of the main sources for conflict in Ireland from then on) and growing conflicts between the King and the bourgeoisie, which gradually led to civil war, Cromwell’s military rule and later on to the Glorious Revolution of 1689, which established the constitutional monarchy in Britain. From then on the rise of the Empire through in-

tensive commerce and colonization transformed Britain into a leading economic and military power on a global scale. This power was demonstrated in the Napoleonic wars, when France was defeated by a coalition of British and Continental troops at the Battle of Waterloo.

Remember, remember the fifth of November

The rise of the Industrial Revolution in the late

Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder, treason Should ever be forgot...

Britain an economic head start, and especially

This popular nursery rhyme refers to Guy Fawkes being caught while plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5th November 1605. The event is still commemorated today and the 5th November is also known as Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.


18th and early 19th century once again gave the English Midlands became known for their leading role in the development of new The




usually is associated with the height of Imperialism and Industrialization, accompanied by an impoverishment of the working classes. Victorian morals and living conditions are portrayed and often satirized in the novels of

one of the most prominent authors of the time, Charles Dickens. The 20th century brought two World Wars in which Britain fought and the decline of the Empire. During the First World War may British soldiers died on the Continent, a fact that is commemorated every year on 11th November (or Remembrance Sunday) by wearing paper poppies, a custom inspired by John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields”. The 8

period of the Second World War, during which England suffered severe bomb attacks, and its aftermath was shaped to a great extent by Winston Churchill, Prime Minister from 1940-45 and 1951-55. He also had to deal with growing nationalism and aspirations for independence in many parts of the Empire, for example India. In 1931 the British Commonwealth or Commonwealth of Nations was established and gradually almost all British dependencies were given up – Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 being one of the last. The foundation of the Republic of Ireland in 1921 and the partition of Ireland opened another battle field: the conflict between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists in Northern Ireland.

2.3 Ethnic Composition, Religion and Languages Four countries make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Residents of any of these countries may be called “British”. It is recommended to use “English”, “Scottish”, “Welsh”, “Irish” or “Northern Irish” only when certain of a person’s heritage. While the four countries share many customs, each has its own set of cultural nuances. There are now more than 2 million members of ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, representing approximately 7% of the population. Most of them are coming from Asia and the Caribbean. Today’s ethnic composition is a result of the substantial immigration of people from former British colonies in the Caribbean and South Asian sub-continent during the 1950s and 1960s. Being citizens of Commonwealth countries, they immigrated into Britain legally as British subjects. In addition, in the 1970s Britain admitted many refugee. Considerable numbers of Chinese, Italians, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Polish, 9

Australians, New Zealanders and people from the United States and Canada also reside in Britain. The largest ethnic minorities in Britain are those of Caribbean or African descent (more than 1 million people). The next largest ethnic groups are Indians (appr. 900,000 people), Pakistani and Bangladeshi (appr. 650,000 people). Because of unemployment and other social problems, the British government has curbed the influx of immigrants into the country. Lately, entry requirements have been tightened and stricter laws on immigration have been introduced. Immigrants who have managed to enter Britain illegally face deportation or forced repatriation if caught.

Religion The Church of England or Anglican Church is the official church of the United Kingdom. It originated in the English Reformation of the 16th century. At first glance, Britain appears to be a county of great religious unity, which is overwhelmingly Protestant. But at a closer look one is astonished to find a great variety of denominations: •

Anglican Church as the “established” High Church of England;

Presbyterian Church as the “established” Low Church of Scotland;

Methodist Church in Wales;

Protestant majority and a substantial Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland

Anglicanism was instituted in England in the 16th century, when Henry VIII fell out with the Roman (Catholic) Church. Even though the monarch is the head of the Anglican Church and is traditionally crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abby, Anglicism is not an official state religion. While the main denomination in Scotland and Northern Ireland is Presbyterianism, many citizens of the UK are members of other Protestant Nonconformist denominations. Due to the large number of immigrants there are also significant Muslim and Hindu mi-


norities. However, the only real exception to peaceful religious coexistence is the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Languages English is the official language of the UK. It is also considered to be the international lan-

“Shwmae?” in Welsh means “How are you?”

guage of the world and is spoken, either as a first or second language, by 1.5 billion people. The Brits love their language - you will never see as many people doing crosswords as in the UK - and they firmly believe theirs is the only pure English.

There are three other languages that are used widely in certain parts of the UK: Welsh in Wales, Gaelic in Scotland and Irish in Northern Ireland. If you live in Wales, your children will be obliged to learn Welsh at school. This is not the case in Scotland or Northern Ireland, where Gaelic and Irish are optional subjects at school.

2.4 Festivals and Celebrations Some public holidays within the UK differ depending on the region with Northern Ireland

Interesting to know …

enjoying the largest number of days off.

Public holidays in the UK are also called bank holidays due to historic reasons: those are the days when banks are closed, and thus there is no other businesses operating. If a bank holiday falls on a weekend, the day off is transferred to the next weekday, then called “bank holiday in lieu”.

Public Holidays 1 January – New Year's Day 17 March – St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland) Good Friday Easter Monday Early May Bank Holiday 26 May – Spring Bank Holiday 12 July – Orangeman's Day (Northern Ireland) 25 August – Summer Bank Holiday 30 November – St. Andrew's Day (Scotland)


25 December – Christmas Day 26 December – Boxing Day

Celebrations and festivals End of March: Oxford/Cambridge University Boat Race May: Chelsea Flower Show June: Derby Stakes in Epsom (hats for ladies are a must) Mid June: Trooping the Colour, official celebration of the Queen’s birthday June: Glastonbury Music Festival End of August: Caribbean carnival in Notting Hill November 5th: Guy Fawkes Night Second Sunday of November: Remembrance Sunday

2.5 Places to See 

Loch Ness & the Scottish Highlands (awesome landscapes)

Edinburgh (history, culture and festivals)

York (a lot of history)

The Lake District (great for hiking)

Birmingham (great for shopping)

Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford upon Avon (picturesque and quaint)

Oxford & Windsor (history and education)

London (well, everything really)

Canterbury (home of the Anglican Church)

Brighton & the Southern Coast (grandeur past its prime, still worth a visit)

Bath, Bristol & Cardiff (old, modern and lively) 12

Devon & Cornwall (lovely landscape and beaches, charming villages)

3. Country and People 3.1 Education System In the UK, schooling starts at the age of five and is compulsory until sixteen, when most people complete their GSCE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or Scottish Standard Grade. Optional two more years of secondary education lead to the so-called Alevels (Advanced-level examinations), that give access to university. There are more than 300 institutions of higher education in the UK, whose entry requirements vary widely. For undergraduate courses, UK and EU students have to apply through UCAS (University and College Admissions System); applications for postgraduate study are usually handled by the university itself. There is a very broad range of subjects available.

Courses and degrees Most undergraduate courses take three years and lead to a Bachelor’s degree (e.g. BA = Bachelor of Arts / BSc = Bachelor of Science). Scottish honours degrees take four years to complete. So-called Sandwich degrees include one-year of work experience and thus also take four years. Post-graduate studies can lead to various qualifications: Generally, Master’s degrees are divided into taught and research courses and take one to two years, while postgraduate certificate or diploma courses are always taught and completed in one year. Doctorate or PhD studies are mostly research-based and usually take about three to four years.


Teaching methods The distinction between taught and research-based courses is an important one, as it determines the type of your studies to a great extent. Taught courses (almost all undergraduate and diploma courses and some Master’s degree courses) involve a lot of lectures and class-room work and the performance is evaluated by continuous assessment and exams. In these courses, the final thesis / dissertation often is the first and last research project. Consequently, this type of course work might be similar to what you are used to from school, with set tasks and limited freedom to pursue one’s own interests. Research-based courses on the other hand require very good self-management, as they mainly consist of an independent research project and academic tutoring. With most taught courses, you will choose your modules and receive or create a timetable at the start of the academic year. Each module can include several teaching methods, such as lectures, tutorials, seminars or project work. In seminars and tutorials you will be required to participate actively in discussions and give presentations.

Academic year At most educational institutions the academic year is split into three terms (roughly SeptDec / Jan-March / April-June), though some might also use the semester system. The exact term/semester dates vary regionally and locally. There are usually one or two week breaks for Christmas and Easter and about three months summer holidays. At the start of the academic year many universities organize a fresher’s week, providing orientation for new students. Participation is highly recommended as this also is a great opportunity to meet people and make friends. Exams are usually taken at the end of each term / semester and are sometimes preceded by a reading or study week.


Grading system The UK grading system is using percentage scores. Technically, the best score you can receive is 100%, but in reality anything above 70% is considered excellent and more than 80% are rarely received even by outstanding students. To pass an exam (or assignment) you usually need at least 40%. Degrees are graded according to the average score you received during the course. The following grades are possible: first-class honours (a first), upper second-class honours (a 2.1/2.i), lower second-class honours (a 2.2/2.ii), third-class honours (a third), ordinary.

3.2 Student Life

Accommodation Most universities have an accommodation office to assist you with finding a place to live. Generally, you can choose between university accommodation (halls of residence) and private accommodation (hostels, lodgings, shared houses or flats). All types of accommodation are usually rented fully furnished if not specified otherwise. The type of furnishing and facilities can vary though, be prepared for a rather low standard of accommodation (compared to most Western countries). Halls of residence are a good point to start with, as you can usually secure a room through the accommodation office in advance and most universities have a special contingent for international students. There are usually single and double (shared) bedrooms available and kitchen and bathroom facilities are shared between a number of people, which makes them a good place to meet fellow students. Some universities also offer separate accommodation for postgraduate and mature students which might be interesting if you don’t fancy sharing with first-years living on their own for the first time. The drawbacks of university accommodation are that you sometimes have to comply with curfews or may not have guests overnight. 15

Private accommodation on offer ranges from lodgings, i.e. a rented room in someone else’s house, to private student hostels similar to halls of residence to a house or flat shared with other students or young professionals. As accommodation is rather expensive in the UK (prices vary regionally though), most students can’t afford to rent their own apartment. When looking for lodgings or a room in a shared house always check whether the bills (heating, electricity, TV license, council tax, etc.) are included in the rent.

Campus Life Most universities in the UK do not only provide study facilities like libraries and public computer rooms for their students but also a range of sports facilities as well as bars, restaurants and shops. Some of the recreational facilities might also be run by the Students’ Union (SU), a student body providing services to students and representing their interests. The SU usually has an office on campus and is good point of contact for all questions regarding student life. SU membership cards are available to all students and entitle the holder to many discounts. Clubs and societies provide a great opportunity to meet people and pursue hobbies. There usually is a wide choice of clubs and societies you can join, ranging from all sorts of sports clubs to music, arts and craft societies to political interest groups. Most universities also have an international students’ society.

Going out When eating out in the UK, there usually is a wide choice of international food available, Indian, Chinese and Italian food being among the most popular varieties. However, eating out in the UK is rather expensive by international standards, so many students prefer to cook their own food and only go out for drinks (which is expensive, too). Another option is slightly cheaper take-away food.


Bars, pubs and clubs Britain offers many options for young people willing to drink alcohol and party – only those, however, who are above 18, the legal drinking age. Large cities usually have bars and clubs for every taste whereas in small towns or villages your choice might be limited to the local pub. Generally, (moderate) drinking is accepted in Britain, though (rude) drunk behaviour in public can lead to temporary arrest by the police. The pub (short for “public house”) is an integral part of British life. In Britain, a pub can be a meeting place, an entertainment centre, and a great place to socialize. The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that 80% of adults consider themselves “pub goers”, and over 15 million – nearly a third of the adult population – drink at a pub at least once a week.

Pub etiquette Unless you enjoy being openly laughed at, never, go into a British pub and ask for “a beer”. The beer comes in several types, mostly very different to each other. Ask for a specific type, or use a brand name. For a taste of beer that is very popular and distinctively British, try a pint of bitter. Named after its bitter taste, this brownish-red ale is strongly flavoured with hops and has a wide range of strengths, flavours and aromas thanks to the variety of brewing techniques used in different regions. Some pubs offer a long list of bitters, usually including guest beers which they only keep for a few days.


If you want something more familiar, pubs invariably offer lager – the type of clear, light, sparkling beer found in most countries. Lager was almost non-existent in Britain until the 1960s, except in Scotland, but it now accounts for around half of the beer sold. Black beer is usually associated with Ireland (Guinness is on tap in nearly every pub). There is also cider, made from fermented apple juice (and not to be confused with the unfermented American drink of the same name), which is very popular in south-western England. Scotland has its own categories of ale: a bitter-like beer known as heavy and light, comparable to English and Welsh mild. Draught beer is served in pints or half pints. Bottled beer, including foreign brands, is easily available. When ordering beer, ask for “a pint of...”, “a half of...” or “a bottle of...”. Alcopops, spirits and limited ranges of wines are generally served in pubs. Low-alcohol beers are usually on offer, but a popular alternative is “shandy”, a 50:50 mix of draught beer and lemonade. Soft drinks are always available, such as fruit juices, mineral water, coffee, tea and the usual well-known sodas. To order a drink you must walk up to the bar – tables are not waited at. Drinks must be paid for as soon as they have been served and it is common to take turns at buying “rounds” rather than paying for each drink individually when going out in a group. Tipping is not expected. In fact, it's almost unheard of. But if you're buying a large round, or staying in the same pub for quite a while, you could buy the barman or barmaid a drink while you're ordering (the code for this is “...and one for yourself”). This isn't mandatory by any means, but it isn't unusual either. Since 2007 smoking is banned in all public spaces, including restaurants, pubs, bars, and night clubs. That’s why many pubs and clubs now have outdoor areas designated for smoking.


3.3 Food and Drinks

British Meals Typical components of the English breakfast are toasted bread spread with butter, jam, marmalade or honey, followed by fried bread, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, eggs and tomatoes, served with hot tea, with milk added. However, with today’s fast lifestyle and an increasing awareness of healthy eating this traditional breakfast now is usually eaten at the weekend only. A typical modern breakfast comprises: fruit juice, toast and jam, packet cereal (cornflakes or similar), and tea. The terms used to describe the other meals of the day can be quite confusing, as dinner, supper and tea can mean very different things indeed when used by different people. For example, what you call your evening meal depends on the region you come from and the class you belong to. “Dinner” is probably the most common term now in use, but actually signifies middle class origins. Working class members and people from Scotland tend to have a full warm meal called “tea” in the evening. If you distinguish between “dinner” as a formal evening meal and “supper” as your family evening meal that probably means upper class origins. While dinner can sometimes also mean a midday meal, supper can also refer to a light late night snack and tea can mean afternoon tea (see below). However, lunch is generally accepted to mean something to eat between 12am and 2pm. It often consists of sandwiches but some people might also have a full-cooked meal.

A tea drinking nation There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Henry James


Britain is a tea-drinking nation. Every day British people drink 165 million cups of tea and each year around 144 thousand tons of tea are imported. Tea in Britain is traditionally brewed in a warmed china teapot, adding one spoonful of tea per person and one for the pot. Most British people like their tea strong and dark, usually with a lot of milk.

Tea history The British Isles have a long-standing tea tradition, and many tourists to the UK make a traditional tea part of their trip. It was the Portuguese and Dutch traders who first imported tea to Europe, with regular shipments by 1610. England was a latecomer to the tea trade, as the East India Company did not capitalize on tea's popularity until the mid-18th century. Curiously, it was the London coffee houses that were responsible for introducing tea to England. Soon, tea gained great popularity in the coffee houses, and by 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold it. By 1750 tea had become the favourite drink of Britain's lower classes. Afternoon tea is said to have been introduced by one person - Anna, VII Duchess of Bedford. In the early 1800's she launched

George Orwell’s Tea Rules 1. Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China 2. Use a teapot, preferably ceramic 3. Warm the pot over direct heat 4. Tea should be strong - six spoons of leaves per litre 5. Let the leaves move around the pot no bags or strainers 6. Take the pot to the boiling kettle 7. Stir or shake the pot 8. Drink out of a tall, mug-shaped tea cup 9. Don't add creamy milk 10. Add milk to the tea, not vice versa 11. No sugar!

the idea of having tea in the late afternoon to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which in fashionable circles might not be served until 8 o'clock at night. This fashionable custom soon developed into “high tea” among the working classes, where this late afternoon repast became the main meal of the day. High tea is a substitute for both afternoon tea and the evening meal. It is sometimes called Meat Tea". Usually some sort of meat dish is served with tea. The term "High Tea" originated from the meal being served at the high table.


Tea ceremony Small cakes, finger sandwiches, scones, and crumpets are generally served along with the traditional tea in the afternoon. The tea is typically served in very fine china. It became quite a pleasant pastime among the upper classes during the Victorian period to get together and enjoy food and conversation. Tea ceremony was for showing off more than anything else. This type of tea is known as the Low tea.

Traditional food When thinking about British cuisine, images of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding first come to mind. The traditional British meal still consists of meat and two veg. (i.e. meat, potatoes and another vegetable). "Pie and Mash" is another very traditional London meal. Minced beef pies and mashed potatoes come with a delicious, although not eye-appealing, greenish, non-alcoholic sauce known as liquor. "Shepherds' Pie" (made with minced lamb) and "Cottage Pie" (made with minced beef) are also typical British specialties. A trip to London wouldn't be complete without a mouthful of "Toad-in-the-Hole." This dish consists of sausages covered in batter before they are roasted in the oven.

Fish and chips “Fish and chips” is the classic English take-away food and by many people considered the national food of England. It became popular in the 1860's when railways began to bring fresh fish straight from the east coast over night. Don't be surprised if you recognize a headline when you get your meal; many pubs wrap "fish and chips" in newspaper for their customers. This traditional food is usually eaten quickly at “take-away” restaurants.


3.4 Culture in Daily Life

Communication styles There are some basic values you will come across when analysing British, and especially English, communication styles. They are respect for privacy, modesty, courtesy and selfdiscipline. Self-discipline is exemplarily expressed in the idiom “to keep a stiff upper lip”, which means not to show any emotions, especially not to show anger or make a scene. However, this underlying value often also accounts for the impression of a lack of enthusiasm or even disinterest that many foreigners have when communicating with British people. This does not have to be the case – there is just very little emotion in English communication in general. Courtesy often expresses itself in a certain indirectness of communication. Phrases like “I don’t suppose you could...” or “I wonder whether it would be possible to...” usually indicate at least a firm suggestion, if not an actual demand. On the other hand a very direct order as in “You have to copy these files for me” would be considered very rude, even between superior and subordinate. When in Britain, always remember your “please” and “thank you”. The same holds true for criticism, which rarely is expressed directly. For instance, when giving feedback on an idea, an expression like “I’m not sure” or “well, that’s interesting, but have you considered...” would usually be enough to signify sincere doubt. On the other hand an approving “pretty good” or “not bad” can definitely be considered praise, as British people – in contrast to most Americans – tend not to get too excited about good ideas or achievements. Besides the above-mentioned value of self-discipline, this is an example of British understatement which also manifests itself in expressions like “We have a slight problem here” to describe major trouble. In combination with modesty, understatement first and foremost means not to boast. Talking about one’s own achievements or expertise would be considered arrogant and 22

inappropriate in most situations. In this context “I do a bit of sport” could well mean “I came second in the last Olympics”.

Small talk and weather speak When starting a conversation with a stranger in Britain, basically two rules have to be obeyed: friendliness and respect for privacy. This means, that it is not uncommon to have a friendly chat with people one comes into contact with – however, one also needs to keep a certain distance. That’s why nobody expects you to tell how you really feel when asked “How are you?”. The correct answer will almost always be “Fine, thanks. How are you?” as it is usually no more than a greeting and a way of creating a friendly atmosphere. As a general rule, small talk is very important in Britain. Getting down to business straight away might be considered impolite and small talk serves the purpose of forging a social connection. However, there are also implicit rules of how personal a conversation may get. Even a person’s profession or marriage status is often considered too private to be inquired after bluntly. Suitable topics to start off a conversation with fellow students, colleagues or neighbours could for example be sports, holidays, food, hobbies or the weather. “It’s cold today, isn’t it?” could serve both as an icebreaker or a filler when conversation on other matters fails. Remember never to contradict anybody making a remark about the weather as this is – again – not an invitation to give your personal opinion but a ritualised way of being friendly.

Humour and irony The English are world-(in)famous for their sense of humour and indeed you will probably be unable to escape it while living in Britain. British humour tends to be subtle, rather dry, quiet and not very intrusive and often serves to break the ice, relax the atmosphere or to wrap criticism. 23

Frequent types of humour in Britain are black humour, satire, irony, nonsense and the absurd. It’s almost always heavily context-related and can sometimes seem a bit harsh to foreigners, however, it should not be taken too serious – it’s meant to be funny after all. If you come from a culture where irony is unknown, you will have to learn to distinguish between serious and ironic statements by taking the tone of voice, mimic and context into account. As a foreigner you are free to use humour yourself, but you should refrain from making jokes about Britain. They do have a great sense of humour, but it should be left to the British themselves to joke about their own country.

Perception of hierarchy Both at university and in business, hierarchies seem to be less important than in many other countries. Lecturers are usually very approachable and try to build a personal relationship with their students, supporting them in their development rather than ordering them to do things. As there are heavy tuition fees in the UK, university staff (including lecturers) generally is committed to offering good service and support to students. Relations are also less formal – some lecturers and tutors might offer you to call them by their first name and even if you call them by their last name they will hardly ever insist on the use of academic titles such as doctor or professor. However, in return lecturers usually expect attendance, commitment and active participation – the relationship often is characterized by a strong sense of mutual obligation and repeated absence or refusal of coursework is not appreciated. Status symbols usually tell less about professional achievements than about membership of a specific class. Class-consciousness is widespread and many British will secretly judge people by the way they speak, the things they buy, and the manners they have.


Time management As a general rule, punctuality is common and expected. If you have an appointment somewhere, be on time; if you are meeting with friends or are invited to somebody’s house arrive ten minutes after the appointed time at the latest. Deadlines are to be taken serious. Failure to meet the deadline for an essay usually results in penalties or the essay might not be accepted at all. Application deadlines are usually disqualifying, too. If you are going to have trouble meeting a deadline because of illness or circumstances out of your power, always notify the person / department in charge in advance.

Pragmatism In general, British people have a rather pragmatic approach to tasks and problem-solving. Also, they don’t usually feel the need to make detailed plans allowing for all possibilities before starting out. For example there probably won’t be long discussions about whether or not to establish a cleaning rota in a shared house – the initiative would probably only be taken in case someone felt a rota was needed.

Gender roles Most British women are pretty emancipated and there are a high number of women in managerial positions in the UK, compared to other European countries. Nonetheless it is common for British men to be “gentlemen” and open doors, carry bags, etc. for women. It is acceptable in the UK for women to invite a man to a meal or drink; however, this is likely to be understood as a sign of interest in more than friendship. If no such sign is intended, try to go out in groups. If a woman would like to pay for a meal or to go Dutch, she should state this at the outset.


Attitude to foreigners As in every country there are certain stereotypes of other nations in existence, that you might be confronted with. Also, it cannot be completely ruled out that you might encounter racism in some individuals. However, the UK is an ethnically diverse country and has strong anti-discrimination laws in place. If you feel you have been discriminated against, contact your local authorities.

Dos and Don’ts DO… … Stand in line! Forming orderly queues and waiting patiently for one’s turn is considered appropriate behaviour. It is usual to queue wherever required, and expected that you will take your place in line and do not jump the queue. ... Take your hat off when you go indoors (men)! It is impolite for men to wear hats indoors especially in churches. It is becoming more common to see men wearing hats indoors. However, this is still seen as being impolite, especially to the older generations. ... Always hold the door for a person following behind you and open doors for other people! Men should open doors for women and stand up when a woman enters a room. Respect the rank of a person when entering a room. Allow a highly ranked person to enter first. ... Say "Excuse me, please"! British people are generally very polite and using phrases like this is vital when approaching someone. ... Shake hands when you are first introduced to someone! However, handshakes are common only when meeting for the first time, they are not the regular way to greet people. ... Open gifts upon receiving and give flowers, chocolates, wine, champagne or books when invited to a party or someone’s home! Present the gift upon arrival. It is polite to send flowers in advance of a dinner party.


DON’T… ... Greet people with a kiss! Hugging, kissing and touching are usually reserved for family members and very close friends. It is not common to display affection in public. ... Give white lilies! These flowers are associated with funerals. ... Stand too close to another person or put your arm around someone's shoulder! The British like a certain amount of personal space. ... Jump a queue! It is considered very rude to push ahead or go to the front of a line. ... Be too loud in public places or use excessive hand gestures while speaking! British people don’t like public displays of emotion and might be embarrassed by it. ... Be insulted if someone calls you “love”, “dear”, or “darling” (women)! These forms of address are commonly used even by strangers and not considered rude or too personal. ... Try to sound British! When you imitate the accent to sound “more British”, people might think that you are making fun of them. Speak naturally and you will probably pick up part of the accent over time anyway. ... Discuss the religious conflict in Northern Ireland with strangers or mere acquaintances! If you do want to discuss politics, wait until you get to know people better.

4. Practical Tips

Transport system Trains Britain’s train network is well developed and there are frequent connections between major cities as well as a large number of local services. There is, however, no national rail company, train services are operated by regional providers. When going from or via London, be aware that there is no “central station” in London – the station you have to use depends on where you want to go and you might have to use the Tube to get from you station of arrival to your station of departure. 27

Tickets are available from train stations and the internet – as a general rule, the further in advance you buy your ticket the cheaper it is. Students should consider getting a young person’s railcard which gives discounts on most tickets.

Coaches National Express operates an extensive network of coach services throughout the UK and there are also many regional and local operators, so that you can reach even remote destinations by coach. Fares tend to be lower than train fares, but travel times are usually longer. Look out for special offers and discounts!

London Underground The “Tube”, as the London Underground is usually called, is one of the most important means of transport in London. Pick up a route map and information on fares when you use the Tube for the first time. If you are going to live in London, get an Oyster Card.

Taxis Catching a taxi is probably the most convenient but also the most expensive way to get from A to B. It’s a good idea to ask the driver how much the ride will cost before you start out and then decide whether you can spare the cash.

Driving If you want to drive a car in the UK, you need to be at least 17 years old and hold a valid driving license. Your international license is usually valid for 12 months – check with local authorities for details and also check whether you have valid insurance. Remember to drive on the left hand side of the road, fasten your seatbelt and obey speed limits! Distances and speed limits are given in miles and miles per hour. 28

Bicycles In many places, especially smaller towns, biking can be a good way to get around. Bicycles are available from specialised stores, or you could ask around whether anybody wants to sell a used bike. In some cases, you might even be able to borrow one from your landlord.

Electricity The voltage used in Britain is 240 Volts AC at 50HZ. Most power sockets are designed for standard 3-pin square plugs. Electrical appliances in Britain generally use the British standard plug with 3 square pins. Plug socket adaptors and power transformers are widely available. They can be purchased at most airports, electrical shops and hardware stores. Note: There is a different electric socket type in Great Britain than in continental Europe.

Water The quality of tap water in Britain is very high. You can usually drink from all taps that supply water to kitchen areas. Water faucets are often separate for cold and hot water, which might cause some inconveniences in the beginning.

Mobile phones and public payphones Mobile phones are very popular in the UK and widely available. There are several operating companies, such as O2, Orange, TMobile, Three and Virgin. SIM cards are usually quite cheap, 29

prices of mobile phones and tariffs vary greatly. To avoid signing long-term contracts, it is recommended to choose a pay-as-you-go plan, which means that you buy credit in advance and top up when you’ve used it up. This allows you to control costs efficiently. Topup cards are available from your mobile phone company’s shops, newsagents and supermarkets. Wherever you find yourself in the UK, you will never be too far away from a public payphone, and these days they can often offer a lot more than simple telephoning services including email, mobile phone text messaging, and internet services. There are coin-operated and card-operated payphones. Coin-operated ones usually accept 10p, 20p, 50p & £1 coins. Some payphones accept £2 coins. Calls are charged to the nearest 10p. Only unused coins are returned so you should avoid using 50p, £1 or £2 coins for short calls. Phone cards are available from newsagents, post offices and supermarkets and come in values of £2, £5, £10 and £20.

Urgent Medical Assistance Dial 112 or 999 for emergency services, i.e. to call an ambulance, the police or the fire brigade. In case of an emergency, do not worry about insurance issues and head directly to the nearest hospital with a casualty / A&E (Accident and Emergency) department. If you are physically able, you should get yourself to the casualty department of your nearest hospital. Most of these departments are open 24 hours. Regardless of nationality and ability to pay, emergency patients are treated free of charge in Great Britain. Only if you are hospitalized for more than one night and you are a national of a country without a reciprocal health agreement with the UK, you would later be asked to pay for treatment. You will not be refused emergency medical treatment under any circumstances.


Listings for dentists that provide emergency dental treatment are available in Yellow Pages (under Dental Surgeons). Unlike doctors, dentists are under no obligation to treat anyone, even in an emergency.

Tipping and service charges Tipping is not always appropriate in the UK. If you feel the service was good and you want to show your appreciation, here is a guide to customary practice: Restaurants Many restaurant bills include a service charge; make sure you check the bill to avoid tipping twice. Where a service charge is not included, it is customary to leave a tip of 10-15% of the bill. Some restaurants now include a suggested tip in the bill total. Taxis 10-15% of the fare Credit cards All credit cards that bear the Visa, MasterCard or American Express logo are widely accepted in Britain. If your card does not bear one of these logos, you should ask the retailer in advance whether you can use it, or check whether your card’s logo is displayed in the payment area. You should be aware that retailers can charge more for goods and services bought by credit card, but they must display a clear indication if any price increase applies.

Opening hours Opening hours for businesses and services can vary hugely as there are no legal restrictions. Use this guide as a very general outline for what to expect. Also note that most British businesses do not close for lunch.


09:00-17:00 09:00-12:30 Saturday (limited branches)



Post offices

09:00-17:00 09:00-12:30 Saturday (main offices only)


High street shops

10:00-18:30* Monday-Saturday 11:00-17:00* Sunday *Larger shopping areas and centres may stay open later, sometimes up to 22:00, especially during busy periods like Christmas. 09:00-22:00 Monday-Sunday, some even open 24/7


Be aware that some supermarkets may not be allowed to sell alcohol after 11pm.


11:00-23:00* Monday-Saturday 11:00-22:30* Sunday *Pubs in Britain have had the right to apply for a 24-hour drinking licence, so you will frequently find pubs open well after 23:00.


10:00-04:00* *Nightclub closing times can vary greatly, some close around 02:00, while some stay open all night.

Useful websites http://www.britishcouncil.org/ http://www.educationuk.org/ http://www.visitbritain.com/ http://www.transportdirect.info/ http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/LivingintheUK/index.htm http://www.livinginlondon.net/