British etiquette rules to know before visiting the UK

By Lindsay Dodgson, INSIDER
  • It's important to understand some of the etiquette of any country you visit.
  • The UK is no different.
  • Here are 11 tips you should know before visiting the UK, using Expedia's etiquette guide and pointers from the INSIDER London office.
Thinking of visiting the UK any time soon? If you are, there are some things you ought to know — just like anywhere else in the world you might be travelling to.

The travel experts at Expedia created an interactive guide focusing on etiquette around the world, and the UK is one of the countries featured.

In it, you'll find handy pointers such as how you should "avoid sleeping with your feet towards the family altar" in Thailand, or the fact that "most South Africans avoid eye contact when dining."

In the UK, it's best to familiarise yourself with our queueing habits and pub culture.

"The best way to experience a foreign country is to do what the locals do and submerge yourself in the culture," Mina Wu, the content manager at Expedia told INSIDER.

"Added to which, local residents have access to all the fun places that don't make it into the guidebooks. By taking the time to learn about the dos and don'ts of etiquette, you'll expand your horizons, be welcomed as a guest and get the maximum enjoyment from your trip."

Here are 11 etiquette rules you need to know before visiting the UK, according to the Expedia guide plus extra tips from the INSIDER London office.


Punctuality is important

According to Expedia, punctuality is important in the UK. If you are invited to somebody's house, you're generally expected to arrive on time, but "you have a 10-15 minute grace period if you are running late."


You may or may not have to remove your shoes

You should ask if you should remove your shoes when entering a British home, according to Expedia. British people like entertaining others in their homes, but some of them like you to leave your shoes at the door, while others don't mind you wearing them around the house.


Avoid asking personal questions

British people love a debate, but you should avoid asking personal questions related to salary or religious and political affiliations if you've just been invited to someone's house.


Know how to reply to 'How do you do?'

If someone asks you "How do you do?" the correct response isn't "fine, thanks," according to one INSIDER employee. Instead, you should ask "How do you do?" back — then it's on the first person to answer. It's not a common question to encounter, but it's important you know how to respond if you are asked.


There are some rules to know before sitting down for dinner

According to Expedia, it's not uncommon at dinner to remain standing until you are invited to sit down. This is less common if you know the other person well, and the meal is casual. You should also keep your elbows off the table, but again, this depends on the situation.

A fairly universal rule in the UK is to lay your knife and fork together at the clock position of 6.30 to signal you're finished.


You buy rounds at the pub

The Expedia guide says: "Be sure to pay for a round of drinks for everyone in your group when you're at a pub." You don't have to force everyone to stay for another drink, but pub culture is big in the UK, so you probably won't have to. If someone gets you a drink, you should reciprocate. It's unusual for someone to buy only their own drinks in a bar or pub.


Don't be rude to the staff

Don't wave your hand or call out to get the attention of a waiter in a restaurant, Expedia says. This is considered rude. Tipping isn't compulsory in the UK, but it is considered rude not to leave anything. The norm is 10-12.5% of the bill. But British people don't tend to tip bar staff.


Let people off the train before you get on

This is famously a problem on the tube in London, but the same rule goes for every train and bus in the UK. You should let people off before you try and get on, otherwise everything turns into a crowded mess. And you don't want angry Brits grumbling at you for not knowing the rules.


No butting in line, or 'skipping the queue'

People in the UK don't exactly love to queue, but we respect the queue. It's incredibly rude to butt in or skip in front of people.

"When I first went to the US so many Americans skipped the queue in front of me," one INSIDER employee said. "I didn't know how to react so I spent half an hour just queuing in that store."


Expect some small talk where business is involved

You should expect some small talk before discussing business, Expedia says. Once you get down to talking numbers, be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures, the guide says, because "the Brits value facts when making decisions."

You should avoid hard selling tactics and confrontation, as these won't go down well. And you should maintain personal space when talking to someone. And don't be late.


When people say 'sorry' they don't always mean it

People in the UK apologise a lot, but it doesn't actually mean we're sorry half the time. People say sorry when they get in someone's way in the street, and have even been known to apologise to inanimate objects they walk into. It just comes with the territory, so it's considered polite to apologise if you brush against someone or walk into them, even if it's not your fault.
Features, UK, Britain, Royal Family, Etiquette, Travel, manners, Lindsay Dodgson

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Travel Magazine: British etiquette rules to know before visiting the UK
British etiquette rules to know before visiting the UK
If you're visiting the UK any time soon, there are some things you ought to know.
Travel Magazine
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