The basics
THE UK: Essentials - Must read

Essentials: Culture in the UK

Learn about British culture, including how to dress, greet others and behave on campus...

UK culture
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Arriving in the UK may come as quite a shock as people can behave very differently to what you are used to. The British are known as being particularly dry and hard to read but you should know that they are a friendly bunch deep down. Read our guide to prepare yourself and you'll get on "like a house on fire", as the British phrase goes.

Culture shock is entirely normal, so try and speak to people you know who have lived in or visited the UK, as they will be able to help with any questions you may have and you can hear about their own experiences.

 

Campus life

Campus life tends to be fairly relaxed and informal, and most members of staff welcome and encourage students to come and chat with them; whether about their subject or course or anything else they have concerns about. Of course, you'll always have those professors who are more formal and won't be as social - don't worry, you'll pick them out easily enough. Make sure to take advantage of the support offered; all universities will have a Student Union and International Student Support Service of some form too.

Find out more about campus culture in the UK in 'The British higher education system...simplified'

 

Greetings and socialising

If you are greeting someone, particularly when meeting them for the first time, a light handshake is the common form of greeting (a more firmer handshake for more formal scenarios). A lot of young men go for a hand clasp and pull in for a hug, while girls will stick to just the hug. British people can sometimes come across as a little stiff or formal, and so although it is important to make eye contact (though prolonged eye contact can make people feel uncomfortable, especially on public transport).

It is considered impolite to ask someone their age or about their income; so when meeting someone for the first time, try and stick to simple small talk about how they are and what they have been doing (often you’ll hear British people commenting on the weather!). Although the British may appear rather reserved at first, you will soon come to realise just how welcoming and hospitable they really are.

Improve your social skills with new people with our guide, 'How to start conversations with strangers'

 

Dining

Table manners in Britain are continental. The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right. Once you have finished eating, you lay your knife and fork side by side on the right side of the plate to show your host you have finished. However due to an ever-expanding range of national dishes from other countries as new ethnicities move to the country, you'll never be stuck for something to eat or a reminder of home.

However, don't expect every dinner to be a posh three course affair like you may have seen in Downton Abbey. For example, many dishes from around the world are to be eaten with hands; and as long as you're not overtly rude, you'll be a welcome dinner guest.

 

Sports

Sport are a huge part of life in the UK, and this has flourished after the huge success of the London 2012 Games. Most people have a football team they support with Saturdays from August to May seeing fans travel in packs to stadiums, pubs and eachother's houses to watch games. You then also have rugby, horse-racing, boxing, cricket and athletics which have strong followings, nationally-known heroes and a rich history behind them.

Britons love to be active, and there are plenty of beautiful parks to run in. Universities often have a lot of sports societies you can join, with choices ranging from football and netball to more uncommon sports such as capoeira and belly dancing. Not only are these all really great ways to keep fit but they are excellent social opportunities to make new friends. If you are looking for an adventure while improving your fitness, you could even head to some of the beautiful mountains in the UK such as Mount Snowdon in North Wales for a hiking trip.

 

Arts & theatre

Theatre and the performing arts are also hugely popular in the UK, with London’s glittering West End staging numerous dance shows, musicals and plays which are known the world over. Shows often tour around the country, and most places will have one or more local theatres nearby where you can go to watch a performance. The scene also lends itself to talented writers and directors putting together works on a small scale with assistance from different arts councils and bodies to nurture local talent. The other benefit of seeing these live is that you can take in the wonderful architecture of the theatres themselves, some of which survived the wars!

Read more about the UK's love affair with the theatre, 'The UK, London and theatre'

 

Dress

You may be surprised when you see the clothes that are worn at universities. Students tend to opt for comfort and choices that are weather-appropriate, which tend to be fairly relaxed and informal. You'll want to invest in a good jacket so you get to campus dry, rather than sit in wet clothes for the duration of your lecture.

If you are attending an interview, whether as part of your admissions process or for a part-time or full-time job, it is customary to dress smartly in a suit or blouse.

 

 

Start your journey to studying in the UK - browse popular and highly ranked institutions, read guides and search for courses in the UK.

 

Read more:

'The British higher education system...simplified'

'Tuition fees in the UK'

'Applying to study in the UK'

'Applying for a UK student visa'

'Student accommodation in the UK'

 

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About Author

UK culture

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.

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