If you’re planning a trip to good ole’ Britain for the upcoming Olympics or for business – learning a few British etiquette tips will help you embrace British culture whether you’re greeting someone at the stadium or meeting a new client over afternoon tea.
Here’s a selection of the “best of Britishness,” when it comes to British etiquette, courtesy of The Chicago Tribune:
Britain is still a comparatively non-tactile society and, like much of the world, a firm handshake, using the right hand, is the common form of face-to-face greeting for most social situations. Handshakes are brief, lasting just a few seconds, and should be accompanied with direct eye contact. Do not complicate the greeting with other forms of touching – hands on the back, double-handed handshakes etc.
Social kissing is, however, becoming increasingly popular in Britain, but it is by no means an accepted norm. As a general rule, don’t kiss colleagues or people you don’t know. Do kiss close friends. Usually it’s right cheek first, but prepare to change direction at the last minute, and generally opt for just one kiss. Just holding cheek against cheek feels insincere, but there is a fine line between an acceptable peck and an overly affectionate smacker. 2. Introductions
The traditional British greeting on introduction is ‘How do you do?’. The appropriate response – however strange it may seem – is to reiterate the phrase ‘How do you do?’. In situations where this exchange may seem too formal, a friendly ‘Hello’ will usually do. At an even more informal level, if someone says ‘Hi, how are you?’ the response should be positive and upbeat: ‘Fine thanks, and you?’.
If you are introducing other people, there are a few rules to be observed. Men should be introduced to women, juniors to elders. Introduce individuals to the group first and then the group to the individual. Unless the occasion is formal there’s no need to mention surnames.
Self-deprecation is a trait that permeates British culture. The British have a horror of what they call ‘blowing your own trumpet’, and are deeply averse to earnestness, pomposity and self-importance. Statements that, in another culture, would simply be attributed as confident expressions of self-esteem, are misinterpreted in Britain as boastful and self-aggrandizing. If you want to avoid being misunderstood, learn to downplay your attributes and resort wherever possible to understatement. People will read between the lines and admire your modesty.
3. Saying Sorry
For many British people, apologizing is a default reaction to life’s little irritants. This highly illogical response is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. If someone barges into you, treads on your toe, or spills your drink, it is quite normal to mutter “sorry”.
Obviously this is not a normal apology – a heartfelt mea culpa for a blunder. In fact, the British apology is a strange, strangled version of the outraged “do you mind?” of more confrontational cultures. British people are well aware of this enigmatic agenda. When they commit an offence and are met with the requisite “sorry”, they are quite likely to respond in kind, which can lead to a surreal escalation of apologies.
When you see a taxi with its light on, i.e. available for hire, simply lift your arm and lean out from the pavement slightly to get the taxi driver’s attention. Refrain from shouting ‘Taxi’ or waving frantically. Tell the driver your destination through the front window before getting in the back. In London-style taxis men should allow women to get in first and take the banquette seat while they should take the fold-down seats if necessary. At your destination get out and pay the driver through the front window. The going rate for tipping is 10 per cent.
English people are notorious for their endless fascination with the weather; it is a topic that is deployed nationwide as an ice-breaker. When two strangers meet, in a queue for example, it is virtually de rigueur to enjoy a short conversation about the weather. English weather is, above all, unpredictable. Sunshine, showers, wind and rain sweep across the country with extraordinary rapidity, providing an ever-changing outlook. With the weather as a topic, conversation is never going to falter.
British love nothing better than ‘putting their feet up’ and enjoying a ‘cuppa’ and the quiet gentility of the English tea ceremony is seen as a reflection of the reserved national character. If a waiter places a teapot on the table without pouring the tea the person nearest the pot should pour for everyone. The tea should be poured first and any milk or sugar added afterwards. Once you have stirred your tea remove the spoon from the cup and place it on the saucer. When drinking tea hold the handle of the teacup between your thumb and forefinger. Don’t hold your little finger in the air.
Understanding proper British dining etiquette when it comes to sharing high tea with a client, may help you clinch a sale. Our International Etiquette Euro-DINING Guide is an easy-to-download excellent resource that you can read on the plane to Europe.
British business etiquette along with international etiquette is important to be aware of today, especially for the travelling executive.
To learn more about British etiquette and international business etiquette training, contact Diane Craig, an expert etiquette coach who has experience training everyone from politicians and dignitaries to leading executives and corporate employees.