The British Etiquette Guide for International Students

November 2, 2016

Every culture benefits from uniquely quirky conventions and stringent social expectations: it’s what makes us interesting. Britain, in particular, has always had the reputation for impeccably good manners and politeness. At a glance, British etiquette may seem impenetrable, but don’t feel daunted: our bite-size etiquette guide will have you walking and talking like a Brit in no time.


First things first, here are a few essentials on how to greet someone correctly:

A Stranger

– Make eye contact.Offer a firm handshake (this applies when meeting both men and women).

– Say ‘how do you do?’ If you are asked this first, respond with ‘how do you do’.

– Introduce people who have not yet met so that everyone can become well-acquainted.

When saying farewell, shake the person’s hand once again and say either ‘lovely to meet you’ (if it has genuinely been a pleasure to meet them) or simply ‘goodbye’.

A Close Friend or Relative

– Give them a kiss on the cheek or a hug.


During your visit to Britain, you will notice a lot of queues. Pushing and barging your way to the front of this orderly line is discouraged, instead join the back of the queue and wait until it is your turn to be served.


Although sometimes being late is unavoidable, it is always best to aim to arrive for an appointment, whether it’s a social gathering or a formal meeting, at least 5 minutes early. If you are expecting to be late, or need to rearrange it is polite to contact the host a reasonable time beforehand to let them know so that they can alter their plans.


Dining is perhaps the area in which British etiquette comes into play the most. However, follow the rules of thumb below and you won’t go far wrong:

– If you cannot eat a certain type of food or have any special dietary requirements, tell your host several days before the dinner party so that they have ample time to prepare.

– If you are invited to a dinner party, it is customary, though not essential, to bring a gift of chocolates, flowers or wine.

– Wait to be told where to sit before being seated, your host may want you to sit somewhere in particular.

– Do not lean your elbows on the table- it’s a sign of bad table manners.

– Knives and forks are usually used instead of hands or other implements.

– Start with utensils on the outside and work inwards.

– If you are hosting, offer your guests a drink upon arrival and always serve the women first.

– Wait until everyone has been served before you tuck into your food.

– Avoid chewing with your mouth open, making slurping noises or attempting to make conversation while your mouth is full.

Words and Phrases

In Britain, politeness is key. We, therefore, advise adding the phrases ‘thank you’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘please’, and ‘excuse me’ to your British vocabulary. Use these phrases as often as you like as it is always better to be overly-courteous than to be considered rude.


Unlike in the USA, tipping in the UK is not considered mandatory. Instead, it is up to your discretion to decide whether the service you have experienced is worth a gratuity.

Extra Golden Nuggets

– Avoid asking people personal questions such as their age, relationship status, weight and financial standing. A safe topic of conversation, however, is the weather (most Brits love a good moan about the weather).

– Remember to always take your hat off indoors.

– Personal space is important. Unless you know someone intimately, try and leave a bit of space between you and the other person.

– Depending on what part of Britain you are in, you may find yourself being called names such as ‘mate’, ‘chuck’ or ‘love’. These are terms of endearment so don’t be offended by these colloquial expressions.

– Cover your mouth when burping, yawning or coughing.

– Open doors especially for women and allow them to go through before you.

– Always give up your seat on public transport for those less able to stand.