While the US and the UK share many of the same cultural aspects, there are some major components that set the two counties apart. Some things that are considered the norm within the US are fairly different within the UK. Not knowing a few of the main differences can lure the erstwhile traveller into some fairly embarrassing situations. This little guide will focus on some of the general differences to insure your trip to the UK doesn’t leave you in situations where you may become red faced.
One major difference between the US and UK comes in the form of the correct protocol when buying a drink in a pub or bar. In the US, it is customary to be a little less polite with the “please” and “thank you”‘s, but to make up for it by providing the bar tender with a nice tip for their services. In the UK however, this is not the case. The UK bar tender does not require a financial tip for serving the customer a drink, but would prefer a polite ending to an order. This is to say that manners are everything, so a “please” and a “thank you” is very much in order. UK bar tenders are not used to being tipped for their services, so this is not a requirement. Although, I am more than sure that telling them to keep the £1 change you might be due will go a long way to insure that you will be served first next time you’re at the bar.
General tips for restaurant service within the UK are not of a set amount. While in the US, it is customary to provide a 10% tip for the quality of service based on the price of a meal, in the UK it is not. It is always good etiquette to give your waiter a nice tip at the end of the meal, but the amount is up to your discretion. On the whole, for a meal over £20 it is good practise to leave a tip of between £3 to £4 to show your appreciation for a job well done.
When ordering food in the UK, there are certain things to keep in mind to insure you get what you want. Remember that chips in the US are crisps in the UK, and french fries are what the British call chips. If you go into a supermarket and ask where the chip section is, you might very well find yourself being pointed in the direction of the frozen goods and french fries. Additionally, remember that eggs in the UK are served in three ways; boiled, scrambled and fried. Never confuse a British waiter by ordering anything over-easy or broiled as they are likely to have no clue what you’re talking about. Confuse a waiter about what it is you are ordering and who knows what will end up on your plate. Remember also that using the incorrect terminology and getting the wrong food will be at your peril. You will have to pay for your mistake as the fault will be yours!
In recent years, the UK has added a 24 hour drinking law applicable to pubs within the UK. While this is in effect, it does not mean that every pub within the UK will be open around the clock, nor does it give the traveller an excuse to sit drinking all day and night. Some pubs still prefer to stick to the traditional drinking hours, closing the bars at 11 pm. If this is the case, you have until 11.30 pm to finish your drink and to make your way home. If you are in a pub that maintains the traditional hours, do not demand that they stay open until you are ready to leave just because the law says they can, if they desire, stay open for 24 hours. Doing this will see you kicked out onto the street pretty quickly.
Additionally, the UK has implemented a no smoking policy to all pubs and restaurants within the UK. This means that you are not permitted to smoke anywhere within a pub or restaurant. Most establishments will have a sectioned area outside for smokers to frequent. However, if they do not or if you feel it’s too cold to go outside, do not think about lighting up inside the pub. Doing this will see you getting a fine and being kicked out very quickly indeed.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about visiting the UK is that manners are of the up most importance to the British people. If you wish to have good quality of service, remember to always say please and thank you. British people don’t care for brashness or impoliteness, so be sure to modify your behavior when talking. More so than in any other country, it’s almost an unwritten law in the UK to be polite at all times. Do keep this in mind.
Visiting the UK is a very enjoyable experience. Being polite and knowing a little of the cultural differences will insure that your vacation will be one to remember.