It is often thought that Americans and English culture is alike because we both speak English but you will find that there are different ways of doing things here.
The one good thing about being an American is that you will be forgiven for most faux pas you commit. Hopefully with this guide, you will decrease your mistakes and even impress the English. Just be careful how you point out the differences, you may come across insulting without intending to.
The British generally come across as reserved especially compared to the military which are very open because of the amount of change we go through. Give them time to get to know you before passing judgement, you may end up with a friend for life!
When you move in, do not be surprised if the neighbors do not come to visit or bring you a housewarming gift. It is not being rude; it is just the way things are over here, it is their way of respecting your privacy. You can use your American charm and try to get to know your neighbors but do not ask too many personal questions. They will open up to you as they see fit.
It is not good etiquette to talk poorly about the Queen, as she is considered to be off-limits to criticism. However, the aftershock of Princess Diana’s death has modernized the monarchy and is often a topic of conversation and is perfectly acceptable. It is okay within reason, to criticize the rest of the royals, but remember the English are rather protective of their way of life so tread lightly with this subject.
When dealing with businesses here, do not expect the same level as customer service as you in the States. There is not the sense of urgency to get things done so you will have to be patient and flexible.
A general rule is to address someone as they introduce themselves, so if they tell you their name is “Matthew” address them that way unless they otherwise say “you can call me Matt” or you have asked permission.
When meeting shake their hand and sometimes again when you are parting. The best guidance is to wait for their lead. Sometimes people kiss goodbye on the cheek, which is perfectly normal.
Do not be offended by the term “Love” or other terms of endearment. They are not meant to cause offense.
The English hold their fork in the left hand, with prongs facing down, and their knife in their right hand to cut as they eat. They do not switch hands like Americans. If you are only using a fork, you can hold the fork in the right hand. Do not cut up all your meat at once, cut as needed, unless preparing meat for a small child. When eating dessert and using both a fork and spoon, hold the spoon in the right hand. Eating soup can be tricky but just remember to spoon away from you and do not slurp! Also you should eat your fries (chips) and pizza with utensils.[i]
When you are finished, place your knife and fork together with at the 6 o’clock position. If being served and you want another helping, put them 3 o’clock. If you are still eating, rest them on the outer edges of the plate. Do not wave around your utensils while talking.
If you have been invited over for dinner, take something for your host such as chocolates, flowers or a bottle of wine. Unless the dress code is stated in the invitation, just dress nicely. After the evening, it is a good idea to write a thank you note. Make sure you mention how much you liked the food and company and that you hope to meet up soon.
[i] WikiHow, “How to Avoid Looking Like an American Tourist,” accessed June 26, 2013, http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Looking-Like-an-American-Tourist
Is England Child Friendly?
I had to write about this topic because it often comes up in the forums that I am in with other Americans.
It really frustrates me because England is child friendly, but there are still certain expectations that the English have. I guess one way to explain it is that there are certain unwritten rules that the English follow when conducting themselves in public, (and many Americans have the same expectations regarding children). Not everyone follows them, but the majority do, and it allows things to tick along nicely. For example, standing quietly in queues no matter how long it is.
The unwritten rule is that children are generally welcome but they are expected to be well behaved. It also depends on where you go. If you go to a two Michelin star restaurant such as Midsommer House in Cambridge, you should not bring your children.
If you go to a place like Prezzo, you can bring your children but it’s expected that they sit at the table with you and that you will not allow them to be overly loud and run around the place. Apart from the danger of them colliding with a food server, it is discourteous to the other diners. Remember eating out in England is much more expensive than in America, so for many people going to a restaurant is a treat, and often for a special occasion. Most parent eat between 5.30-7 p.m. with their children.
If you take your children to a pub with a beer garden, that's fine to let them loose out there while you sit back and enjoy your pint. You can apply this guidance to anything, but first of all you must be honest with yourself about what kind of situations your child can handle themselves and behave because if they can’t behave, it will be stressful for you and the people around you. If you are honest with yourself and curtail where you go to suit your children, you shouldn't run into any problems.
Before picking a place to eat with children, do a little research as to what type of place it is, what their opening hours are, and how child friendly it is. That way you can be more confident with your choice of restaurant and so avoid a stressful situation.