Decoding British Culture

09 May 2019 | Advice for International Students | Guest Author

British culture is unique. If you’re thinking of studying in the UK, you might be unsure about what to expect, but no need to worry! To help you get to grips with the quirks of British life, Sarah Ali - a Student Ambassador from the University of Suffolk - covers the basics to make you feel comfortable and at ease when you make your move to the UK. 

British phrases

British people are known around the world for their politeness; they say ‘sorry’ for everything! In most countries “sorry” is known as an apology, but in Britain it will also be used to say ‘excuse me’, to ask a question, or to move past someone.

Britons also use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot in comparison to other cultures, so this can take some getting used to.

Britain has many dialects and slang, which can differ depending on where in the UK you are visiting. Slang refers to colloquialisms or casual informal words, often spoken by young people or between friends. If you are unsure when to use slang or informal phrases, we recommend using the more formal alternatives unless you are with close friends.

Some examples include:

‘Ta’ or ‘cheers’ – thank you
‘Hey’ ‘Hiya’ ‘Alright’ – hello
‘Gutted’ – sad or devastated
‘Quid’ – £1
‘Fiver’ - £5

British food

Jaffa cakes are very unique to Britain. They’re a biscuit (or a cake) with a chocolate top and an orange filling. You’ll have to try them when you’re here! There’s a long running argument among British people as to whether or not these are a biscuit or a cake. Funnily enough, there was a court case in 1991 to settle the matter (they ruled that Jaffa cakes were a cake) but it still causes some disagreement among Britons.

Other British delicacies include black tea (we do love a cup of tea), fish and chips, roast dinners (a meal usually served on Sundays with roast potatoes, roasted meat and vegetables), sausages and mash (also known as ‘bangers and mash’) and pies. Expect comforting, heart-warming dishes.

Britons usually eat breakfast early (between 6am-8am), lunch around midday and dinner between 6pm-8pm. This is often a lot earlier compared to other cultures. Between meals, Britons will often drink tea or coffee.

British weather

British weather is always a part of everyday conversation. Small talk among British people is usually based on the weather; it’s a neutral conversation you can enter with someone you don’t know very well and something you can both take part in. Our weather is known for being very unpredictable, which is possibly why we love to talk about it so much! If you’re coming to the UK, make sure you are prepared for rain and snow, as well as occasional warm summers and dry spells.


A word of warning if you come to the UK, never jump a queue! British people will usually be too polite to say anything, but it is deemed to be bad manners. Whether you’re waiting for the bus, at the shop, or going to a museum, everybody will queue, and you should always go to the back of the line.

Being on time

Being punctual is extremely important in British culture; lateness is often considered to be rude. If you are running late for something, it’s considered to be polite to let those involved know so they know when to expect you.

The Royal Family

Although they don’t have much power, the royals are still loved and celebrated by many citizens and they are seen as a key part of British culture. Brits will often celebrate royal weddings and jubilees by hosting street parties and events to commemorate the day, which gives a real sense of community and togetherness.


Football, rugby, tennis and cricket are all well-celebrated national sports. From the Premier League and Six Nations to Wimbledon and the Ashes, the UK love to play, watch and support sport. Other popular sports in Britain include: athletics, swimming, darts, boxing and cycling. There are usually plenty of opportunities to get involved in a sport, whether that’s playing or supporting your local club. Although there is often some team rivalry and competitiveness, sport in the UK brings a great community spirit.

We hope our guide to British culture has been helpful! Britain is a diverse and inspiring place to study with plenty of opportunities to get involved in work, study, experiences and hobbies.

To find out more about the University of Suffolk and our courses, please visit our website

For more information about studying in the UK, expert advice and invites to free webinars, sign up to the What University UK newsletter.

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