Most expats moving to the United Kingdom have a pretty easy time adjusting to the culture. Larger cities such as London and Manchester are incredibly diverse and have a multitude of cultures. Every type of cuisine, obscure grocery item and cultural accessory are readily available.

If you're moving outside cosmopolitan locations, you'll experience more of traditional middle-class Britain, with a fairly standard set of values and traditions familiar to anyone from a Western background. English, of course, is spoken widely, although strong regional accents may sometimes convince you otherwise.

Traditionally, the British are polite, reserved and circumspect – although there is a diversity of classes and cultures, and few stereotypes hold up particularly well in personal experience. It's better to think of the UK as a whole world and adopt an accordingly open mindset.


Regional identities in the United Kingdom

While there aren't significant differences in everyday modes of social behaviour from one part of the UK to another, some aspects of culture are quite symbolic of national or local differences. Factors such as support for the monarchy, political affiliation and the fiercely tribal support of football teams are some of the most obvious expressions of contemporary localism. Religious adherence and ethnic differentiation are also significant.

Although most expats move to the capital, London, you should be aware of these geographical distinctions and the strong sense of identity and nationalism felt by the populations of each country. To understand the importance of this, some geographical, political and historical background is needed.

From a geographical standpoint, the British Isles consist of Great Britain (the countries of England, Wales and Scotland) and the island of Ireland (with the countries of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). The United Kingdom is a political entity consisting of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Notably, the Republic of Ireland is an independent country, meaning it is not part of the UK even though it is in the British Isles.

Although Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share a landmass, they have a tumultuous history, and it's crucial that expats recognise and respect this. The two countries are sharply divided by different politics, cultures and religions – so you might cause offence if you get them confused or imply they're the same.

Those from England, Wales and Scotland can usually safely be referred to as 'British', although many prefer the specific demonyms of 'English', 'Welsh' and 'Scottish'.

Those from Northern Ireland might identify as 'Northern Irish', 'British' or sometimes just 'Irish'. Each label implies a particular political stance and affiliation, so preferences vary widely, and it's best not to make assumptions.

Nationals of the Republic of Ireland are called 'Irish'. You should avoid terms such as 'British' or 'southern Irish', as some see these terms as diminishing the national identity and independence of the Republic from the United Kingdom.


Communication in the United Kingdom

Historically, the British have been known for their stiff upper lip and the 'Blitz spirit' demonstrated during World War II. This grin-and-bear-it attitude in the face of hardship and adversity is still sometimes apparent today.

You may also find that people in the UK seem more distant and reserved than those from North America and parts of Europe. They like their personal space and prefer to maintain a little distance between themselves and the person they are speaking to.

The British value their privacy, and you shouldn't expect a tour of the home when visiting a British friend. They expect others to respect their privacy, which extends to personal questions. As well as avoiding discussions on someone's financial situation or relationships, you should be careful in asking a British person where they are from, as this can potentially be considered an attempt to place the person on the social or class scale.


Cultural etiquette in the United Kingdom

The UK is a multicultural society comprising various ethnic communities, each with its own standards of social behaviour and cultural etiquette. However, there are some points you might find helpful when interacting with the British.

When meeting someone for the first time, it is best to offer a handshake. Hugs are only appropriate for people you are more familiar with.

When visiting the home of a British friend or colleague, you can give the host a gift of chocolates, wine or flowers.

The British appreciate punctuality, not just in business but also on social occasions. Make every attempt to arrive on time for any type of appointment. If you're running late for a meeting, call ahead to let someone know, as tardiness is regarded as a lack of respect.

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