Four countries make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland -- England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Residents of any of these countries may be called "British." Use
"English," "Scot" or "Scotsman," "Welsh" and "Irish" or "Northern
Irish" only when certain of a personís heritage. While the four
countries share many customs, each has its own set of cultural
In England, politeness, reserve, and restraint are admired. The
English are courteous, unassuming and unabrasive and are very proud
of their long and rich history.
Scots are passionate about their country, guarding its uniqueness
and refusing to go along with English ideas. While cool and aloof
externally, they are extremely sentimental about their family and
their country. Overall Scots are free of class consciousness and
social elitism, except in religion.
Generally, Protestants mix only with Protestants and Catholics
mix only with Catholics.
Scots have a keen, subtle sense of humor and value generosity,
Wales has been part of the United Kingdom for more than 400
years, but has kept its own language, literature and traditions.
Most residents of Wales are of Welsh or English heritage. Many
immigrants from former British colonies and other parts of U.K.
Welsh take great pride in their country and their heritage. The
Welsh love to sing and talk and spend much of their free time at
with their families.
Two-thirds of the Northern Irish have Scottish or English roots.
The others are of Irish descent. Irish value friendliness, sincerity
and nature. They dislike pretentious behavior and possess a strong
work ethic. Family ties are very important in Northern Ireland.
Meeting and Greeting
- The British are reserved, which may cause them to appear cool
and indifferent or overly formal. In fact, they are very friendly
and helpful to foreigners.
- Shake hands with everyone present -- men, women, and children
-- at business and social meetings. Shake hands again when
- Handshakes are light -- not firm.
- Women should extend their hand to men first.
- Use last names and appropriate titles until specifically
invited by your British hosts or colleagues to use their first
- The British are not back slappers or touchers and generally do
not display affection in public.
- Hugging, kissing and touching is usually reserved for family
members and very close friends.
- The British like a certain amount of personal space. Do not
stand too close to another person or put your arm around someone's
- Staring is considered rude.
- In Great Britain, punctuality is important for business
meetings. Be on time.
- Brits prefer a congenial business relationship, but tend to
get right down to business after a few moments of polite
- Business is best initiated through a well-connected third
- The Board of Directors is the source of power and the
principal decision making unit in a company. Formal approval of
the board is required for most decisions. Decisions may be slow in
- Expect formalities and protocol to be observed in business,
especially in London.
- Business organization traditionally is multi-layered with a
vertical chain of command. A network of committees, formal and
informal, exists in larger companies. Group consensus is preferred
to individual initiative.
- In older companies, business still centers around the "old boy
network" with prep schools, universities and family ties being of
great importance. Newer companies are more progressive.
- Meetings should be scheduled well in advance.
- Meetings generally have a concrete objective, such as: making
a decision, developing a plan or arriving at an agreement.
- Presentations should be detailed and subdued.
- Scots are known for being skilled businesspersons, priding
themselves for being internationalists. They also are suspicious
of "go-getters" and respect success only when it is achieved over
Dining and Entertainment
- Summon a waiter by raising your hand. Don't wave or shout.
- Most business entertaining is done restaurants or pubs over
lunch. The host, the one who extends the invitation, pays the
- A British business associate may invite you to watch cricket
or to the regatta. Both are prestigious events. Wear your tweed
sport coat or blue blazer.
- An invitation to someone's home is more common in England than
in the rest of Europe.
- Do not discuss business at dinner in someone's home unless the
host initiates the conversation.
- In England, when invited to someone's home, arrive at least
10-20 minutes after the stated time. Never arrive early. In
Scotland and Wales, arrive on time.
- A male guest of honor is seated at the head of the table or to
the right of the hostess. A female guest of honor is seated to the
right of the host.
- Wait for your host to begin eating before you eat.
- Host or hostess always initiates first toast, which is usually
only given at a formal dinner.
- At a formal dinner, do not smoke until after the toast to the
Queen or until otherwise indicated by the host.
- Keep your hands on the table at all times during the meal --
not in your lap. However, take care to keep your elbows off the
- When finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the
plate at the 5:25 position.
- You should leave a very small amount of food on your plate
when finished eating.
- The guest of honor should initiate leaving a party.
- When the host folds his napkin, this signals that the meal is
- Leave a dinner party shortly after dinner ends.
- Write a thank you note to the hostess.
- It is considered impolite to ask for a tour of your host's
- Entertain anyone who has entertained you, but don't try to
impress British guests with an extravagant dinner. The Brits
- People in the larger cities dress more formally, especially in
- Men and women wear wools and tweeds for casual occasions.
Slacks, sweaters and jackets are appropriate for men and women.
- Avoid striped ties that are copies of British regimentals.
- Men's clothing often expresses affiliation rather than style.
Ties are important symbols. School, army, university or club ties
- For business meetings, men should wear dark suits and ties.
Women should wear suits, dresses or skirts and blouses.
- Do not wear a blazer to work. A blazer is country or weekend
- For formal events men may wear black ties, business suits,
morning coats or tails. Inquire which is required. Women generally
wear cocktail suits or dresses.
- Gifts are normally not exchanged in business settings.
- When invited to someone's home, always bring a small gift for
the hostess. Give flowers, chocolates, wine, champagne or books.
Present the gift upon arrival.
- Gifts are opened upon receiving.
- It is polite to send flowers in advance of a dinner party. Do
not send white lilies, which denote death.
- Men should open doors for women and stand when a woman enters
- Always hold the door for a person following behind you.
- Honor rank when entering a room. Allow higher rank to enter
- Donít insult the royal family or show great interest in their
- Respect the British desire for privacy. Donít ask personal
questions, such as where a person lives or what a person does for
a profession or job. Donít talk about money.
- Do not violate a queue. It is considered very rude to push
ahead in a line.
- Do not shout or be loud in public places and donít use
excessive, demonstrative hand gestures when speaking.
- Staring is considered impolite.
- Do not be too casual, especially with the English language.
- The English avoid speaking in superlatives. "I am quite
pleased," means they are extremely happy.
- Never try to sound British or mimic their accent.
- Humor is ever-present in English life. It is often
self-deprecating, ribbing, sarcastic, sexist or racist. Try not to
- In Scotland, kilts are worn by men at formal occasions (i.e.,
black tie, weddings, etc.). Donít make jokes about or ask a Scot
what he wears under his kilt.
- In Northern Ireland, religion and politics have created
conflict in for many years. Avoid these discussing topics if
Especially for Women
- The 'Old Boy Network' is alive and well in the United Kingdom.
However, women are becoming more common in managerial positions in
the United Kingdom than in most EC countries, especially in
service industries and public sector jobs.
- Foreign women will have little difficulty conducting business
in Great Britain.
- Don't be insulted if someone calls you love, dearie, or
darling. These are commonly used and not considered rude.
- It is acceptable, but may be misconstrued, for a foreign woman
to invite an English man to dinner. It is best to stick with
- If a woman would like to pay for a meal, she should state this
at the outset.
- Crossing your legs at the ankles, not at the knees, is proper.