Rules and Manners

In the UK there is very strong commitment to rules and regulations, with UK citizens often being the subject of jokes from European neighbours.

The ‘queue’ in UK cultures is almost sacred and UK citizens will dutifully stand in line one behind the other for long periods if necessary. They will often do this without speaking or making eye contact with those around them.

It seems that no matter how long the queue or waiting time...UK citizens will generally comply in silence

You may not appreciate how committed UK citizens are to queues until somebody attempts to ‘queue jump’. Suddenly you will see otherwise quiet and mild mannered people become agitated or even angry very quickly. The queue jumper will soon be told that the people in the queue do not appreciate such actions and they will be instructed to join the back of the queue. It has often been said that this level of direct confrontation with strangers in public, is out of character for most UK citizens.

However, despite a level of protest, if the queue jumper persists and does not go to the back of the queue, he/she is more likely to get away with their action than in many other countries. There is a point at which most UK citizens will stop protesting for fear of embarrassing themselves. 

You will find that UK citizens are quite proud of their orderly queues, seeing other more random methods as being inferior and somehow less dignified.

What is often referred to as the ‘reserved’ nature of UK citizens is demonstrated by the unwillingness to complain or make a fuss. Sometimes this is referred to as the British ‘stiff upper lip’. You may hear UK people complaining about the quality of the service of food in a restaurant, but when the waitress asks if everything is ok, you will hear replies of ‘oh yes, perfect’, ‘yes the food is delicious’.

Of course this attitude works in reverse, and direct criticism to a UK citizen may be taken very personally and cause more offence than you intended.

In a library you are expected to follow the silence or quiet rules, in cinemas you should not answer mobile phones, and if the sign says ‘do not walk on the grass’, then you are advised not to walk on the grass.

Of course in many cases not obeying the rules will not present too many problems for you, but it is worth considering that UK citizens will generally think less of you for not following the rules, as they do.

UK citizens are also considered to be very polite, and in fact some may say that they are often too polite. Phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘please’, ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ are used all of the time in conversations. The frequency with which they are used may surprise you, even in a simple exchange they can be used many times. Though more surprising may be the response you get if you accidentally stand on someone’s toe, as in most cases they will say ‘sorry’ to you.

Saying please when asking for something is expected, and saying thank you when receiving it is also expected. Generally speaking you will find this level of politeness returned by most people that you speak with. To not use please and thank you as often as UK citizens may be regarded as a little rude.

You should be aware of the way people in the UK regard time and punctuality. If an appointment is made for 9am you will be expected to attend at 9am and not 9.05 or later. If you are late for a meeting and you cannot provide a good reason then your host may consider that you value your time more than you value theirs.

This preoccupation with time can be detected in the way UK people talk about time, using expressions like ‘saving time’.

Appointments are important to people in the UK and if you arrive to see someone without an appointment, particularly in a professional context, do not be too offended if they refuse to see you. Make an appointment.

If you are given a deadline in your professional life then UK people will expect you to meet it, otherwise people may question your capabilities.

ICD3E1 - Listening Skills

What are UK citizens well-known for?  

The reluctance of UK people to make a complaint is often referred to as the British...?  

When you see an instructional sign in the UK, what should you do?  

How is a UK person likely to respond if accidentally tread on their toe?  

What time should you arrive for your 9am appointment?  

ICD3E2 - Discussion Activities

1) Working in groups, discuss why you think orderly queues are so important for people in the UK. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of queuing?

2) Many people in the UK do not complain for fear of embarrassing themselves or creating unnecessary problems.
Working in a group discuss the disadvantages to this approach. What situations can you think of in which ‘not’ complaining about a service could create subsequent problems.

3) Working in groups discuss why people in the UK will think less of you if you do not follow the rules as they do.

ICD3E3 - Cultural Comparison

1) Write a short piece that compares the attitude towards rules and manners in the UK and the attitude towards rules and manners within your own country / culture. Within the text consider how you can adjust your own attitude to rules and manners to integrate effectively within UK culture.

On completion of your writing, share a copy with a classmate and discuss any adjustments either of you feel you should make within a UK context.

ICD3E4 - Vocabulary

Provide your own definitions

Queue jump : {}
Confrontation : {}
Embarrass : {}
Reserved : {}
Complain : {}
Obey : {}
Criticise : {}
Punctual : {}
Appointment : {}
Project number: 543336-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-KA2-KA2MP - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.