7 Weird Things That British People Do
Culture and social expectations differ across the world, and exploring and appreciating these differences is part of what makes travelling so exciting and special. If you are from a western country, things that you consider to be perfectly normal, or indeed, things that you don't even consider to be "things," might be unusual or downright strange to someone from a different culture.
I have been living in Japan for several years now, and it was two and a half years before my last trip to the United Kingdom, my home country. On my trip there, things that seemed normal when I was a child became quite strange this time round! Here are some cultural quirks that British people do and say that other people may find odd.
1. Offering to Do Things We Have No Real Intention of Doing
British people tend to offer to do things that they don't want to do under the assumption that the other person will say "no, that's okay!"
My grandmother is religious, and did not want to let my fiancé and I sleep in the same bed while staying at her house. A week or so before we visited her, she sent me a message offering to pay for a hotel nearby instead so that we could share a bed there. I knew she didn't want to and was certainly not expecting me to say yes (I didn't)! If I had accepted her offer, she probably would have been surprised and possibly annoyed that I had been so rude as to not catch her subtlety.
It can sometimes be hard to detect this kind of subtle behaviour that relies on politeness. The bigger and more extreme the offer is, the more likely it is that they don't mean it.
2. Rejecting Favours Once or Twice Before Accepting Them
When someone offers a genuine favour, such as driving you somewhere or paying for something when you forgot your wallet, it's sort of obligatory in the UK to try and reject the offer at least twice before 'reluctantly' accepting it. This probably isn't only found in Britain, but it's something I noticed while I was there.
Obligatory phrases include "are you sure?", "really?" and "you don't have to." It takes up a lot of time but it makes person one look extremely kind and person two look surprised and very grateful.
3. Saying "Thank You" For No Reason at All
I went into a pub to ask for directions, got the directions, and thanked the staff member who had helped me. He shouted "thank you!" after me as well, even though I was the one who had disturbed him.
We say "thank you" to customers, over the phone, and basically anyone who speaks to us. It's a bit strange, but quite endearing when you think about it!
Have You Ever Said "Thank You" Even Though the Person Did Nothing For You?
4. Apologising Constantly
We say sorry when we are genuinely sorry, but we also tend to apologise when:
- Someone steps on our foot ("sorry that my foot was in the way, although it wasn't really my fault, now was it?")
- We want someone's attention ("sorry for disturbing you.")
- Someone else is doing something wrong. For example, "Sorry, are you in the queue?" when someone is standing in the way ("sorry for disturbing you, but you shouldn't be standing there unless you are waiting in line. If you are waiting in line, you really should look like you're in the line so as not to cause this confusion we both just experienced.")
- We're returning food at a restaurant ("I'm sorry you have to deal with the trouble of returning the food I'm sure your chef worked hard to prepare for me.")
I think it comes from the discomfort of disturbing someone, even if it's in the most minimal of ways. No one apologises quite like the British. The funny video below highlights some more examples with personal experiences.
5. Smiling or Laughing Even When Angry
People don't like to argue or fight in the UK, especially with strangers. Whenever people clash, especially in a public place, they mask their annoyance and frustrations with awkward laughter or smiles. Sometimes if something comes out too sharp, they'll give a small, scoff-like chuckle to soften it.
People will even do a full-on grin when using a counter argument. It all boils down to politeness again, as though a gentle face can make harsh words easier to hear.
6. Accepting Something and Then Complaining About it Later
I have been found guilty of this too! When we have to pay for something or heard some annoying news, we will often accept it without question or even with a smile. It is only later around loved ones and usually when it's too late to change anything that we let out our real feelings.
People don't like to complain to others' faces about things, at least not right away. I have had to endure many a rant from family members and friends about things, even after watching them accept it earlier. I'm sure people have had to listen to me whinge about things that can't be helped as well.
7. Saying Goodbye Many, Many Times
If you say hello to someone, they might say hello back. If you say hello a second time, you would look very strange indeed. However, British people might say "goodbye" to each other several times before going their separate ways. The following conversation might look familiar to someone living in the UK.
"I'll be off now."
"All right. See you later."
"Say hi to the kids for me."
"Will do. Take care."
"Thank you! Goodbye!"
On and on! It's even worse over the phone. If you only say goodbye once and then immediately leave, it might seem very abrupt to the other person. Saying goodbye three or four times seems to be the norm in Britain.
There are subtle social nuances in many different cultures, and it can be quite impossible to detect your own culture's behaviour until you spend some time away from it! If you are living in the UK, have you noticed any of the above behaviours? If you are British, do these things seem normal to you or are they just an odd part of our wonderful culture?
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