- CELL PHONES. Just as in America, conducting a loud cell phone conversation in public is the height of rudeness. A loud conversation in Britain may be even more offensive than in the States because the British are generally more reserved than we are.
- FAMILIARITY. Americans often show great familiarity with strangers, engaging in back slapping, patting of the arm, and hugging. The British do not appreciate these familiarities. When you greet someone, a handshake and smile are sufficient.
- HATS. In public, indoors, women may leave their hat on, men remove theirs.
- KISSING. As in the States, greeting someone you know well with a light peck on the cheek is fine but practiced more in larger cities than elsewhere. Either one kiss (right cheek) or two (right, left) is the norm. Do not greet strangers or people you do not know well with a kiss.
- PLEASE/THANK YOU. Using these niceties is a must. You can’t overuse them.
- QUEUING. Politely join a British queue without elbowing others to get ahead of them. And don’t think you’re going to slyly slip in front of others by being nonchalant—it won’t work. (I’m looking at you, fellow New Yorkers.) If we try any of these stunts, the British will glare and abruptly point us to the back of the line.
- SELF-DEPRECIATION. The British use self-depreciation all the time. If you accept it as such, you’ll likely offend those using it. E.g., if a Brit says, “Oh, I’m not much of a gardener,” he does not mean that he’s a poor gardener. In fact, he may be saying that he’s an excellent gardener. So don’t start pumping him up, trying to make him feel better—he’ll be offended you think he has no gardening skills. This national trait of the British can be difficult for us boastful Americans to internalize. But even here in American, someone “tooting their own horn” can be a turnoff . . . but in Britain, the offense is graver.
- SORRY. The British say “sorry” wherever something untoward happens (e.g., when people inadvertently bump, spill a drink, etc.). The British say “sorry” whether the incident is their fault or not—and it is not an admission of guilt. Whether you triggered the mishap or not, you, too, are expected to say that you’re sorry. Not doing so will be considered very rude, indeed.
- SPEECH. Americans are often viewed as being loud, not just by the British but by many others in the world, too. Please, let's tone it down, fellow Americans. Unless someone seems to be struggling to hear us, there’s no need to speak loudly.
- TABOO TOPICS. Politics: Truly, it's best to avoid this topic. Britain has sharp political divides just like we do between conservatives and liberals, so don't assume that any Brit you may be speaking to sees the world as you do. And don't assume that because the U.S. and British governments have a history of working together that the people of Britain feel boundless adoration toward the U.S. (If only!) Really, the best advice I can give Americans visiting Britain is to simply shut thy trap about politics. Religion: The British are far less inclined than some Americans are to talk about religion in casual conversation. And just like in the States, a conversation about religion can go sour when others hold beliefs different from our own. In Britain (or anywhere else on the planet, I dare say), avoid talking about religion unless your mind is a vessel wanting to fill itself with the wisdom of other cultures. Money: In America, some may ask “How much did that cost?” or exclaim, “I paid (x-amount) for these!” but such talk about money while in Britain will be less well received. The British will view such bragging and ostentatious displays of wealth as vulgar. Safe topics: The weather, the traffic, or general, noncontroversial news.
- TIPPING. 10 – 15% is customary in restaurants, hair salons, and taxis. Check your restaurant bill to see if gratuity has already been added. Tip doormen and bellboys who help with your luggage a pound or two per suitcase—and leave a few pounds upon checkout for the chambermaid.
- TITLES. Not all title holders in Britain use their titles in social settings, so play it by ear. If the situation is very informal and the person is introduced to you by his or her first name, than using the first name is fine. If the event is more formal, the use of “Lady” and/or “Lord” may be in order. Americans are often squeamish with using such designations, but if you want to appear polite, do so.
- TOILET. If you’re in public when nature calls, ask for directions to the “loo.” “Loo” or “Ladies”/”Gents” are the common, polite terms used in Britain for what we call a “bathroom” or “restroom” in the States. “Toilet” is more international and may be used too, but it sounds (just like here in the States) a bit more course. Also note: If you use a hotel or restaurant loo with an attendant present, a small tip is expected.
In the video below, British etiquette expert William Hanson give suggestions to those visiting the UK.
In the video below, study-abroad students discuss the stereotypes of Americans. A great reality check!
A bit of humor in this video! Stephen Colbert turns the tables and shows at least one American's stereotype about the British. (Aside: New York Anglophiles, you will undoubtedly recognize where this video was shot. At Tea & Sympathy in the West Village, of course!)