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Cultural transition

Like any visitor to a new country, you will have to adjust to the way of life in the UK and get used to British culture. Compared to your home country, you may notice differences in things like timekeeping, the way British people behave and what’s considered rude and polite. You’ll find more information about this in ME@BU, along with lots of other useful information and activities to help you prepare for becoming a BU student. These will help you consider your own cultural identity and personal values.

Some insights into UK culture

Stereotyping

When discussing different cultures it is important to be aware of stereotyping. By a ‘stereotype’ we mean a generalisation – for example, the assumption that British people are cold, reserved, proud and drink a lot of beer! Britain is a very diverse society and so it is difficult to provide a clear definition of ‘Britishness’. Stereotypes can be a useful form of shorthand when trying to predict behaviour or adapt to a situation but many people do not conform to their national stereotype.

  • Do not assume too much
  • Ask questions
  • Observe
  • And remember that culture is relative; for example, how extrovert somebody appears to be will depend upon how extrovert you are yourself.

Clothing

Most people in the UK dress in casual clothes. Despite the cold weather, you might be surprised to see many students walking around in the evening in very light clothing, particularly if they plan to go to a nightclub later.

Social roles

Some people’s behaviour may confuse, surprise or offend you. For example, you may find some people appear cold and distant, or always in a hurry. The relationship you have with your tutors and lecturers might be more formal or less formal than you are used to. In the UK we often address our tutors by their given names. You may also find the relationships between men and women different. 

Rules of behaviour

Every culture has unspoken rules about the way people treat each other. For example, there may be differences in the way people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is observed. British people are often very punctual, and in business and academic life time-keeping is important. In the UK it is also very important to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ often (even if you don’t mean it!).

If you’re interested in finding out more, register for one of our British Culture workshops on Friday 11 Sep or Friday 18 Sep.

English slang

People will sometimes use informal (colloquial) words or expressions that are unfamiliar to you and that are not always easy to find in a dictionary. Here is just a small selection of phrases for you to learn:

Cheers! – Thank you (We also sometimes say ‘cheers!’ when we have an alcoholic drink)

Mate – Friend

Bloke – Man

What do you reckon? – What do you think?

Alright? – Hi, how are you? (but people often just mean ‘hi’ and don’t wait for the answer)

Quid – £1

Your round – Your turn to buy the drinks (in a pub)

Loo ​– Toilet

Food and eating

Because the UK is a multicultural society, there are many different varieties of food on offer in supermarkets and restaurants.

It’s much easier to find a Chinese, Italian or Indian restaurant than one that serves traditional British food!

If you want to try proper English food, you could try a carvery restaurant or traditional pub or hotel.

Typical British foods

  • Cooked breakfast (often called ‘a full English’): sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, mushrooms and fried bread. Most people in the UK will only eat this kind of breakfast at the weekend as a special treat. More usually we eat toast with butter and jam, or cereal with milk.
  • Fish and chips: fish deep-fried in batter, served with thick potato chips and usually garnished with salt and vinegar. A popular side dish is ‘mushy peas’. Why not ask your British neighbours or some British friends on your course if there is a particular fish and chip shop that they could recommend to you?
  • Roast dinner: oven roasted meat (beef, pork, lamb or chicken) with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy.
  • Sausages and mash: usually pork sausages with puréed potato and meat gravy
  • Baked beans on toast: haricot beans in tomato sauce on buttered, toasted bread
  • Marmite: a savoury yeast spread to put on toast and butter – the advert says you either love it or hate it... and it’s true (most international students hate it!)
  • Cream tea: tea with milk, scones (a type of sweet bread) with jam (normally strawberry) and thick cream (normally clotted).

Restaurants

There are lots of ways to get discounts in restaurants and takeaways, using your Student card, Totum card, or downloading apps like Unidays, Student Beans and Taste Card. Talk to your British friends for more tips.

Thinking about culture

  • Think of five adjectives that you think best and least describe your culture, whether this be ethnic/religious group or national identity
  • Think of several things that you think your culture may be considered good or bad at
  • Identify some common cultural characteristics by asking yourself some of the following questions. How do people from your culture:
    • Greet each other in formal and informal situations? Do you kiss? Shake hands?
    • View the role of women in society? Are they considered as equal to men?
    • Consider the concept of age? Is age considered in a positive or negative light?
    • View authority in the workplace, at home and in society in general?
    • Dress in formal and informal situations? Is dress a symbol of status?
    • Consider personal space? Do you like to be close to people when talking or do you like to keep your distance?
    • Feel about time-keeping and punctuality? Is it considered acceptable to arrive late for a meeting?
  • Is the way that you perceive your culture similar to the way you think others perceive your culture?

How well do you know yourself? Without thinking too much, quickly write down answers to the following questions:

  • What is it about the way you were brought up (raised) that has had the most impact on your character and personality?
  • What characteristic do you most dislike in other people?
  • What food do you think you will most miss when you come to the UK?
  • Which aspects of your character will people in the UK be most suspicious of?
  • Which aspects of your culture do you value the most?
  • Which aspects of your character will help you the most when you come to the UK?
  • Which aspects of UK culture will you appreciate the most?

Go back and check your answers after a few months of living in the UK. Have any of your answers changed?