Cultural British Stereotypes and How to Deal With Them
All over the globe people tend to have similar preconceived notions of what a standard British civilian looks, walks, talks and acts like. Some of the British stereotypes, I can confirm, are quite accurate whilst others can be pretty hilarious but also a little unfair.
Every culture has their own stereotypes and of course it’s unfair to judge and categorise everyone from Britain into certain categories, but it’s also quite nice to prepare yourself for how a typical British person behaves so that you know not only what you’re in for, but also how to respectfully behave when you’re surrounded by the British culture.
Here’s a guide to the most common cultural British stereotypes, both fact and fiction.
Stiff upper lip
This term comes from the idea that an emotional or upset person has a quivering upper lip, so a stiff upper lip refers to the concept that the British are quite reserved and keep their emotions and feelings to themselves. Whilst the times are changing and this is becoming less and less true, compared to other cultures around the world, the British are still quite closed off emotionally and it really takes a lot of time, trust and hard work to be able to break down those walls.
Irony and heavy sarcasm are the bedrock of British humour. Being able to tell when your British friends are being sarcastic from when they’re trying to have a serious conversation takes some serious skill and even after years of living in the U.K, it’s likely that you’ll still often get it wrong. At least there are a lot of hilarious and sometimes awkward conversations to be had in the meantime though…
The British are undoubtedly the best queuers in the world. They have it nailed down to a respectable art form and few things offend Brits more than seeing someone jump the queue they’re standing in. It’s all about fairness and waiting your turn, which leads us on to…
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Whilst the Brits are not quite as chivalrous as some of their European neighbours, their polite manners are indeed very likeable. You will rarely be kept waiting for an ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’, ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.
Hate of confrontation
British folk spend a lot of time and effort avoiding any possible awkward or confronting moments in social situations, most probably due to the previous point on manners and politeness. Because of this, they have mastered the art of small talk, something you’ll probably want to practice yourself.
Talking about the weather
It’s possibly the most spoken of topic in the country. If you ever find yourself in an awkward situation or have absolutely nothing to say, fear no more as you can get at least 10 minutes worth of quality conversation out of the current weather patterns. Keep an eye on the daily forecast for emergency conversations.
The British have a need to apologise for absolutely any situation, saying ‘Sorry, I don’t smoke’ when asked for a lighter being a classic example. There are also so many different uses for the word ‘sorry’ in the U.K that apart from the obvious meaning of ‘I apologise’, sorry can also refer to “Hello”, “I didn’t hear you”, “I heard you but I’m annoyed at what you said”, or “You’re in my way”. It’s easy to get caught in the Sorry trap so be sure to keep a strong head and think before you start throwing the word around yourself, or you may slowly drive yourself mad or self-combust in a passive aggressive fit.
The Brits are often, somewhat unfairly, accused of being huge complainers. When you set aside weather and football conversations, complaining is actually down to a minimum and in fact, like every other culture in the world, there are equally as many enthusiastic and positive Brits as there are negative and whiney ones. It completely depends on the person that you talk to.
The drinking culture in the U.K is huge and most social occasions are centred around alcoholic beverages. The Brits are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to pubs and with the long winters and wet summers, it’s easy to see why this is such a popular pastime.
Britain is the nation of tea drinkers. In many workplaces it’s considered outrageous to get up and make yourself a cup of tea without offering a round to everyone within earreach. Tea drinking is serious business in Britain and it won’t take long for you to work out how to brew the perfect cuppa with just the right amount of water to milk ratio.
We’ve all seen an article, news story, film or documentary about football hooligans in the U.K before and probably vowed to never attend a football match again. Whilst this is a very popular sport in Britain, these days it’s mostly quite tame, although you do still get the outsiders who are always ready to cause some trouble. If you’re not going to the games, keep on top of your football stats if you want to earn some bonus conversation points down and the pub.
Terrible food and wine
The traditional British dishes of fish and chips or bangers and mash don’t really stand out as some of the best in the way of culinary sophistication. However, the British food scene is picking up spectacularly and London is really leading the charge. In fact, 2 London restaurants made the Top 10 in the world list in 2014, so there is definitely big progress in the foodie world. When it comes to wine, however, you’ll just have to rely on the imports.
The posh British life
When many foreigners picture a British person, they see posh accents, large manor homes, top hats and tails. “Why golly gosh, this is absolute utter incongruous pish posh my dear boy!” That’s only for the very wealthy aristocrats who live in West London and were raised by nannies. Wait, is that just more stereotyping?
So are the stereotypes true?
Stereotype is the perfect word for it. Yes, you’ll come across a lot of these personalities and probably quite often, but there are also so many people who don’t fit into these categories, just like everywhere in the world.
It’s not that these are the majority, but those Brits who fit the stereotypes tend to be the extreme ones and thus they’ll be the ones that you’ll probably notice most.
How do you deal with stereotypes?
If you can’t beat them, join them. If you want to move to the UK, it will take some adjustment no matter where you’re from. Embrace the cultural differences and make the most of them.
You don’t need to be judgmental, that’s the beauty of being a true expat – you are lucky enough to be able to completely immerse yourself in a new culture, learn everything about it and take the best bits and apply them to your own way of living. Plus, it’s always nice to pick up some polite British manners and let’s be honest, we could all learn to queue a little better.
When all else fails, discuss the weather over a hot cup of tea.
Enjoy this post? Take a look at our stereotypes showdown: London vs New York for more harmless banter.