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
- And remember that culture is relative; for example, how extrovert somebody appears to be will depend upon how extrovert you are yourself.
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.
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!). For some country facts and hints about culture and behaviour, please visit www.peoplegoingglobal.com.
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