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.