The Do’s & Don’ts in London
The books for this week were very interesting and informative and surely assigned so we could get acquainted with the location of our next advance. Since I am extremely good at putting my foot in my mouth (or both feet for that matter) at the most inopportune times, the Do’s and Don’ts sections in both books caught my attention and tickled my funny bone for multiple reasons (you will see). Terry Tan wrote CultureShock! Great Britain, and Orin Hargraves wrote CultureShock! London, both Survival Guides to Customs and Etiquette. I thought it would be interesting to go through some of the do’s and don’ts and give my two cents based on my last visit to London.
Since some of the Do’s and Don’ts from each book are similar, I will combine them for you in a nice summarized list (you’re welcome).
Do shake hands when greeting someone, male or female. Among the more genteel and upper classes, people of opposite sex and female to female greet each other with a peck on the cheek; continental kiss on both cheeks. This is optional and generally observed if you know the person you are greeting. I did notice most people were very eager to shake my hand and I have even observed our lead mentor, Dr. Jason Clark, give a couple pecks on the cheek when greeting people. I would leave this practice to the locals.
Do use the appropriate honorific (aka: title) when addressing someone older and those whose position demand respect. I definitely noticed the respect given to titles and the common use of those titles when introducing people. Not sure if you noticed in our last book that one of the editors was referred to as “The Very Reverend Professor Doctor Ian Markham.”
Do talk about things in general, like the weather, as this is a great icebreaker among the more conservative British. This is related to one of the don’ts about not asking personal questions when first meeting someone. It seems that Brits are very good at keeping things on the surface.
Do give way to older people and pregnant women when boarding public transport or offer your seat. For the more infirm or handicapped, offer your assistance after asking if they would like to be helped. Do not assume that they will accept help without being asked. It does seem like Brits are more polite to older people and pregnant women than us Americans. I also liked how they encourage you to ask to help and not just assume.
Do make telephone calls before 10:00 pm—it is considered impolite and intrusive to do so after this watershed time. This does seem like a reasonable request, but I cracked up over them calling this a “watershed” time.
Do learn to be patient and join the queue for all services, even if it’s a corner shop. Trades people will only serve customers one at a time, no matter how small the transaction. This means get used to waiting in line without pushing your way to the front or cutting like Americans are accustomed to doing.
Do offer a little something extra if the service is above par, although this is generally included in taxi fares and gratuities are included in restaurant bills. Good thing to be aware of when you go to a restaurant, there were more than one time that our server received a double tip because I didn’t notice the tip already being included.
Do inform your immediate neighbours if you are going to have a party with dance or disco music. I got a kick out of this one…I guess if you are going to have a party with rap music you are okay.
Do hold a teacup by the handle and not cup it when drinking at a friend’s house. Heaven forbid you do not hold the teacup by the handle, especially during high tea. And you might as well flip your pinkie finger up while you are at it.
Do press the stop buzzer on buses before your destination, and then only once. I guess this means that you can’t obnoxiously keep pulling the stop chain like I have been known to do.
Do offer thanks when helped with directions by strangers. Most British people are extremely helpful when asked for help, especially in provincial areas. City folk are invariably in a rush and do not always have time to help. So basically, if you need directions in the country you are good, but in the city you are out of luck. I have to say, people did seem to be in quite a hurry in London.
Do say “Sorry” and then continue on your way when you have a walking collision with someone, even if you think it was their fault. This is what both parties always do. This idea of a walking collision sounds brutal and will hopefully be avoided, and I have to say, I was bumped a few times without a peep from the other person. I like how it says, “This is what both parties always do.”
Do show up a little bit past the stated time when you are invited to a party or other gathering in someone’s home. So basically they are telling us to always be fashionably late.
Don’t ask personal questions when meeting someone for the first time. Such as reference to one’s marital status, income and even a person’s residential whereabouts. This is considered very rude and intrusive. Like I said above, keep things on the surface without getting too personal and you will be fine.
Don’t blunder into the private areas of a home you are visiting without first asking. Like asking to use a toilet. You probably shouldn’t be blundering into any part of someone else’s home.
Don’t shy away if a hostess wants to greet you with a peck on the cheek. Gently tilt your face forward to make it smooth and comfortable. So not only can you not shy away, you need to tilt your face to make it “smooth and comfortable.” I will be watching for everyone to do this.
Don’t belch or make unpleasant noises after a meal whether in a restaurant or someone else’s home. This clarifies things if you thought belching was a way to indicate you enjoyed the meal (different country).
Don’t swear in front of ladies or any other guests. It is very bad form. Not sure if this is followed today, but I do agree that it is bad form.
Don’t speak loudly on your mobile, especially on trains and buses, public places or confined offices. I think we all wish this was followed in every public place, talk about bad form!
Don’t cross roads except at designated zebra crossings. Jaywalking is illegal. By the way, these are not crossings for the horse-like animal with black stripes, they are for us humans.
Don’t flash your headlights for any reason other than when it is extremely necessary, like warning another driver in heavy fog or bad weather. I guess Brits don’t flash their lights at people who are driving too slow. Once again, they are more polite than we are.
Don’t remain stationary on the left side of a moving escalator; do so on the right or you are likely to be shoved aside during peak travelling hours. You have been warned, if you don’t keep moving you will be shoved aside.
Don’t step out of your house in pyjamas or any other nightwear. This is considered very vulgar. Street wear in Britain does not generally stretch to flip flips and shorts, except during the warmest summer months. This was very helpful to be informed about, I definitely don’t want to inadvertently be vulgar, and I’m hoping it will be warm enough in September to safely wear flip flips (not flip flops) and shorts.
Don’t have your mobile switched on in a concert hall or auditorium, or eat potato chips as the sound of crackling paper can be irritating in an acoustically controlled hall. The phone part seems like a no-brainer, but I like how they covered the loud potato chip bag as well.
Don’t stand too close in talking to a person you don’t know very well. British people like to have their personal space. This can be hard to honor sometimes in the crowded subway system, but remembering your personal bubble is a good idea.
Don’t smack your lips or make other noises when you eat; this is considered rude and uncultivated. I have to say; my wife has complained about this with me at times so I will need to make sure I pay attention in order to stay “cultivated” with my eating.
Hope you enjoyed this helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts for our trip to London, and I appreciate you putting up with my cheesy commentary as well.
Terry Tan, CultureShock! Great Britain, (Marshall Cavendish, Kindle Edition), 4839-4910.
Orin Hargraves, CultureShock! London, (Marshall Cavendish, Kindle Edition), 4279-4306.
16 responses to “The Do’s & Don’ts in London”
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Nice synopsis, Jake! I’m just getting into these books today, but I see you’ve already gleaned a lot of good stuff 🙂
Thanks Dave, glad I could give you a fun synopsis and set you up for success in London. 🙂
Great post, Jake!
You’ve got this! I think we’ve all been through similar experiences where we empty our words and wish that we could take everything back. I remember being in a business meeting and we all were asked to speak about our childhood and our earliest experience with leadership. I recounted a story about my parents putting me to work when I was 7-years old helping them rebuild their back deck. I made a joke and called it “slave labor”. I wanted to crawl under the table, especially when I saw the surprised looks on those in the room who were African American. I glossed over the topic and changed it quickly, but I definitely tempered my speech that night. Lol
What were the biggest culture shocks that you experienced in South Africa and Hong Kong? What do you think will be the biggest shock for you in London and Oxford?
Thanks Colleen, that was a funny story about your own foot eating experience. Yes, I have learned things the hard way but I like to think I have become better because of it. Probably the biggest culture shock in Cape Town was the fact that residual apartheid was still evident, and Hong Kong was the sheer number of people in such a small space. Since I went to London and Oxford with my wife a couple years ago, I think the biggest shock for me was the much older history and of course the unique accent. Looking forward to going again in the fall.
When I think of all the British slang I’ve been reviewing this week in preparation for our 2019 Advance in London, I think of you! You will be our LGP8 “Chap” for sure. Let’s see what you have to say about the Do’s and Don’ts.
The kiss on the cheek, used in many multicultural contexts is best left for other culture to initiate for sure. I’m glad they don’t do the hand holding, that has made me feel a little uncomfortable in other countries. That is just “wonky.”
I did notice the “very reverend” comment in last week’s citations and wondered where that title came from.
I doubt the “que” etiquette will be followed in London as much as the authors say with the increasingly diverse demographics being represented. I remember in Hong Kong waiting at the crosswalks with the Hongkongers seeing the crosswalk etiquette violated regularly by many locals who just seemed not to care and crossed against the Don’t Walk type of indications.
The “sorry” comment is still followed in many of the post-colonial countries we served in Africa. There have been so much cultural changes in London that the customary “sorry” in public, especially shopping centers, may have dropped off their approved slang guide. Add the iGeneration and the increased heads down time on the smartphone to the mix and it is easy to see how many cultures just stop talking.
In closing, I think you have many super-spy traits portrayed in famous British character-typed actors. I wonder if we will say, “Bob’s your uncle” when you make one of your Elite-8 comic remarks?
See you in London!
Thanks Mike, glad you confer with my assessment of the culture in London. I also agree that the current generation is so stuck in their phones that they have lost the social intelligence and courtesies of years past. I hope I can bring some joy to the advance without putting my foot in my mouth too much.
Standing Firm my friend. Also wondering if you got my message that we will be in Boise in Aug. and would love to connect.
Excellent post jake. As someone who read the wrong book this week (classic kyle move) this was a very helpful cheat sheet. Thanks. Ill probably pull this up on the plane before we land too. lol
Thanks Kyle, glad you enjoyed my little cheat sheet lol, and so sorry you read the wrong book, how frustrating, but I heard you weren’t the only one. Hope all is well my friend.
Jake, thank you for your excellent summary! I have to admit I was a laughing a bit at some of your commentary – for me I’m a bit worried about meeting a local and getting too personal. You know me..I’m all in in every conversation! I need to practice surface level speak lol!
Thanks Jean, I was actually laughing my head off at some of these Do’s and Don’ts and had to give a little light-heartedness to my blog. I agree that you will have to be careful not to offend the Londoners with your deep personal questions. lol You will definitely need to learn to stick to the weather or something. Looking forward to fun times together.
I was so disappointed that the zebra crossings weren’t for zebras. No really, most of these do’s and don’ts seem to be a great way for most of us to live our lives. Although, the belching thing in some parts of the world is completely opposite, or if you have three teenage boys…
Thanks Jason for humoring me with continuing the fun I had with this blog. I too was disappointed we wouldn’t be seeing zebas cross the street, but oh well. I’m sure your boys are declaring how much they are enjoying the meal every time they belch. lol
Yup the do’s and don’ts caught my eye as well. Great to be aware of those things but also recognize that lots of times it’s easy to just carry on as we normally would and forget the impression we may be making. I think it is more likely in England where the culture has greater apparent similarities than out last two trips. I’ll help you you out if you help me.
Thanks Dan, I will take you up on that offer to help each other out with our cultural sensitivities, but I agree with you that it should be easier than our last two locations. Looking forward to playing with our cohort again soon.
I take it all back. You ARE a man of some depth. Watch out for the cheek kissing though:
One kiss: mostly acceptable, but can be a bit creepy in England – two keeps it on the level with unfamiliar people.
Two Kisses: Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Brazil (though, like France, the number can differ by region), and some Middle Eastern countries (though not between opposite sexes)
Three Kisses: Belgium, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt, and Russia (where it’s accompanied by a bear hug).
So looking forward to seeing how well you great me and how many I get!
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