UK etiquette

Customers inside the Crown Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland

When you first move to the UK, you might feel like a ‘fish out of water’ (a phrase that means you feel lost and confused). It can take time to get used to the local culture, but people in the UK are very friendly. Hopefully, you will soon settle in.

These tips should help, and you can find more advice in Student tips – Etiquette.

  • Timekeeping
    Being late for a class or a meeting is seen as bad manners here. If you are going to be late for a meeting, let the person you are meeting know if possible. Always aim to arrive 5 minutes early for classes so you can get seated before the lesson begins.

  • Queuing
    In the UK we queue for everything: for trains and buses, in shops, for toilets and sometimes even to enter rooms for classes or meetings. Queuing is seen as being polite and respectful. If there’s a queue… join it!

  • Tipping
    It is considered polite to leave restaurant waiters and waitresses, hairdressers and taxi drivers a small tip (amount of money) of around 10% if you were happy with their service. For example, if your meal cost £30, leave £2–£3 as a tip. Many restaurants add this to your bill automatically – if it says ‘Service included’, there is no need to add a tip.

  • Small talk
    When you first meet someone it is sometimes considered impolite to ask people personal details about their age, their political beliefs and how much money they earn. It’s best to avoid these subjects until you are friends. Until then, you’ll find students often talk about the local area, activities at your school or university, and the weather!

  • Parties
    Parties in the UK usually start at around 7, 8 or 9 p.m. It is normal for guests to bring a bottle of drink with them – for example a bottle of fruit juice, lemonade, wine or some cans of beer. You might see on an invite ‘BYOB’ (bring your own bottle). Even if it doesn’t state this, it is considered polite to bring one anyway.

  • Pubs
    Must pubs in the UK don’t have table service, which means you will order your own drinks at the bar. If you’re ordering food, tell them your table number and the food will be brought to you. If you’re with a group, it is polite to 'buy rounds' – take it in turns to buy drinks for everyone in the group.

  • Please, thank you and sorry
    People in the UK use the words ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ a lot! And if you bump into someone it is normal to say ‘sorry’, even if it isn’t your fault! If in doubt, be extra polite.

Thanks very much to the University of South Wales for their contribution to this article.