After taking us all over the world in his Travel Etiquette Series, this week Adam Barralet takes us to the United Kingdom to talk table manners. From initial greetings to proper dinner etiquette, he shares with us the do’s and don’ts when it comes to interacting with the locals:
Welcome to the United Kingdom, a country saturated with multiculturism. Whereas other countries usually have one set way of greeting, the lines have blurred over the last few decades in the UK. Generally a firm handshake with a smile and eye contact is your best choice. Be sure not to hold eye contact for too long as to make someone feel uncomfortable. In more casual situations locals may prefer a kiss on each cheek or a casual acknowledging wave. Because there is no longer a norm, sometimes greetings can seem a little awkward with everyone guessing what is appropriate.
One mentality that still lingers in the UK is the class system, thus when introducing people, introduce the younger or lower status person to the older or higher status person, not the other way around. If both individuals are about the same, introduce the person you know better to the other.
This mentality can also been seen in conversation. Initially conversation should start with the typical topics such as the weather or “Have you travelled far to get here”? However as the conversation progresses you may find subtle questions aimed at establishing where you sit in the pecking order. As obvious displays of status are considered vulgar, more subtle questioning may be used, such as “Do you travel much for work?” This is considered much more appropriate than clumsily asking. “What do you do for work”?
When it comes to dinning out, the first thing you should do when you sit down is place your napkin across you lap. Do not tuck it into your pants and shirt. (You don’t need a bib-that’s for babies!) At formal dinners, the table settings can be a little overwhelming. Your entire cutlery will be on the table before you are seated. As general rule, work from the outside in and keep your knife and fork in your hands the whole time. Your glasses will be to the right and your bread plate is to the left. The correct way to eat bread is to break a bite-size piece of above your bread plate, butter that piece and place it in your mouth.
Soup is another common entree (meaning first course not main in the UK) that can be tricky to eat correctly. Spoon soup away from yourself while eating and tip the bowl away from you to spoon up the last few drops. Never put the whole spoon in your mouth unless the soup is chunky, it’s not a good view for the person across from you. Don’t make loud slurping sounds and when the soup is hot, stir it rather than blowing it. When you have finished, do not put the soup spoon on the table or in the bowl. It is to be rested on the soup plate underneath the bowl.
Unlike many European cultures, the British enjoy entertaining people in their homes. Of course many at-home dinner parties will be more relaxed than these formal protocols discussed, but if you are invited to someone’s place for dinner ensure you bring a gift of wine, flowers or chocolates. Punctuality is important for all engagements in the UK and you should never be more than 15 minutes late.
Although in the past few decades, people from varied backgrounds have had greater access to higher education, wealth distribution is changing and more upward/downward mobility is occurring, the British class system is still very much intact although in a more subconscious way. The playing field is levelling but the British still seem to pigeon-hole people according to class. However no matter where you may believe you sit in the pecking order, your confidence and how you hold and present your self is vital.
Other tips from our readers:
-Just be yourself – we’ll appreciate that you’re not from the UK, and would enjoy the varied etiquette you bring to our country while you visit 🙂 And remember, there is so much more to the UK than just London and Scotland! – James
-If there is a 30% chance of rain, bring your umbrella because it WILL rain at some point – aside from that, the weather is pretty well the same! DON’T say pants in reference to jeans…pants means your underwear. I keep getting that one wrong and get some odd looks LOL – Lyndsi
-Not saying pants in reference to “pants”, and not using the term “fanny pack” — firstly, they call it a “bum bag” and secondly, fanny is a totally different slang over there! (I found this out during prep for 80s night…) – Lindsay
For more information about the United Kingdom check out our travel guide or feel free to call one of our travel agents at 1-866-502-4605. To read more from Adam check out his Etiquette Series or follow him on Twitter.