It is quite common for people to add a short word at the end of a sentence as a sign of friendliness. This can be someone you know, or even a stranger (for example, someone serving you in a shop or cafe).
The words can seem quite random, which can be confusing, but the focus on pleasant things. They include:
animals: for example ‘duck’ or ‘pet’,
plants: for example: ‘flower’ or ‘petal’
things that taste sweet: ‘honey’ (or ‘hun’), ‘treacle’, ‘my sweet’
words that you might only expect a partner to use: ‘darling’, ‘love’, ‘my lover’, ‘my dear’, ‘sweetheart’
and words that have no meaning at all: ‘poppet’.
These words vary from region to region and are used to address both men and women of any age.
This comes from an old custom. In the old days, people thought the soul could leave the body in a sneeze. Saying ‘bless you’ would stop the devil from taking it. Some also thought the words would help you get well if you were ill.
British cities are crowded and busy. To cope with this, most people stay quiet and try not to bother other people. Usually they don’t want to be bothered either. They like to pretend they are alone.
There are only a few times when people are more talkative:
When it is late at night and everyone is drunk
When there is an a severe delay
When there is an emergency
On transport for a special event, for example a festival or sports match
In 2016, an American man thought it was a good idea to give out badges on the London Underground (known as ‘the Tube’) with the words ‘Tube Chat’ printed on them. People who wanted to talk could wear them, and it would help make the Tube friendlier.
Many British people were horrified. One man invented some very popular ‘Don’t even think about talking to me’ badges.
It is polite in Britain to ask questions when you are talking to someone. This is because they are trying to find things that you both know about, so they can have a discussion with you.
For example, if someone asks “where do you live?”, they don’t want to know your address. They are just interested in the town or area you live in. This is because they might know something about that place and you could both discuss it.
If you are not comfortable answering some of the questions, just start asking the other person some questions instead. You could also move the conversation onto something else (popular culture, weather or the news, for example).
Most people make jokes every day. It is unusual for conversations to be serious all the time. Humour is a way to stop situations becoming too emotional.
People who are very serious sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. We might describe them as ‘intense’. Instead, many people talk about something sad or important – and then make a joke about it.
This is not because we think the situation is funny. Making jokes stops us feeling scared or upset. It can help us cope with bad times, for example serious illness or terrorist attacks.
Sarcasm is another way many British people add humour to situations. It is possible to have whole conversations where none of the words have their true meaning. This is most common when something has gone badly wrong.
There is also a special kind of humour we use with friends or work colleagues, called ‘banter’ (or ‘bantz’). This is a mix of teasing and joking. Usually it is good-natured, but not always. It can be a useful way to find out what others really think about you.
Laughing at ourselves is an important part of British culture. Even if someone is very successful, they would not usually boast in an obvious way.
An example would be someone who says they “buy and sell a few things” when they are the head of an international trading company. They might joke about something stupid they had done, like forgetting the keys to the new office.
These examples might make you think the person is silly and unimportant. However, most British people would understand that these were both ways to disguise the person’s actual importance. They would also be impressed at how good they were at hiding it.
British weather changes all the time. This makes it a useful neutral subject when we want to talk to people. Our ‘weather talk’ is used to start a conversation, or when we want to be friendly, but we don’t know what else to talk about. Sometimes, it is used as a chance to moan about life.
Whatever someone says to you about the weather, you should say yes and then add a comment. If you don’t respond, or you say ‘no,’ it can seem rude.
Even if you don’t agree with what they have said, say ‘yes’ first and then say your own thoughts. Here are some examples:
“I love this sunshine.” “Yes, but I prefer a bit of rain.”
“Isn’t this cold weather horrible?” “Yes, but it’s better than summer – too hot for me”
It is common in British conversations to complain about many different things. This is not necessarily because we think everything is bad. It is partly because moaning can be a good way to bond with others. Really amazing things are rare. But you can always rely on something being ‘a bit crap’ (not very good). This is useful for three reasons:
Talking in a group. Moaning is useful for group discussions. Common subjects are politicians, food, the weather, transport and sports teams. Usually, people will also say “to be fair though…” and give an opposite view of the situation.
It allows boasting in a non-obvious way. For example, someone will moan about the terrible insects on an exotic holiday, rather than mention the fabulous 5* hotel.
We can talk about bad things in a light-hearted way. For example, if someone has serious health problems, they can talk about the problems parking the car at the hospital instead of the frightening medical treatment.
It is common for people to talk about schools for their children. They will do a lot of research and get very worried about choosing the best.
Some people move house, go to church or borrow lots of money just to make sure their children go to a particular state school or private school.
The reason is because school choice is not only about education. It is also about finding a school with the right mix of people (in terms of social status). This is true not just for the children, but for the parents as well, because parents usually make friends (or business contacts) with other parents from the same school.
For many people, their home is their most valuable asset. This makes house prices a popular topic. Talking about house prices is most obvious in the middle class, because so many people own their home.
In most places, house prices have risen a lot in recent years, so it can also be a subtle way of talking about wealth.
Sometimes people discuss how long it took to renovate their property and what they have chosen. This is a way to tell others about their personal taste in decor – and position on the social class scale (decor choices are strongly linked to social class).
Be aware that it is rare to talk about actual amounts of money, unless it is the purchase price of a house from many years ago.
There are three main social classes: working class, middle class and upper class.
They are the legacy of a time when there were rich landowning families, some professionals and merchants – and everyone else. This structure has been in place for hundreds of years. The main change over the last century has been a big increase in the middle class.
International economists divide people into classes according to their income. However, this system does not work when describing British social classes because they are only loosely about money. There are some very rich working class people (for example, some sports stars or musicians) and some upper class people with no money.
There are no obvious lines between the social classes and people may view them differently depending on which class and area they are from.
Social class is very important to British people because it is used to judge others. When British people meet, they instantly decide if the other person is higher or lower on the class scale than themselves.
Important class indicators are the way a person talks, their name, education and job – but also their choices, including supermarket, clothes, food, home decor, plants in their garden, and favourite sport. With so many aspects of daily life acting as a class indicator, social class is difficult to avoid or ignore.
Everyone feels that their social class is the best – and anything higher or lower is not quite as good. As a result, is common for discrimination between the social classes. This can be a significant disadvantage for people low on the class scale in particular. It often means they don’t get as many educational opportunities or job offers (people in elite jobs are 5 times more likely to have been to a private school than a state school).
It can also lead to racial discrimination, because some races are more likely to be found in the lower-middle class or working class.
However, there can be snobbery both ways within the class scale. Some people dislike and might bully those who they think they are ‘too posh’ (too high on the class scale). This might be for something as simple as not having a regional accent.
It can be difficult to guess someone’s social class if you’re not from Britain or have not lived here a long time. As a guide, assume everyone is middle class unless they are royalty or have a title (like Duchess or Earl).
Be aware that obvious wealth does not automatically equal higher class. For example, a person wearing old clothes and rubber boots is more likely to come from the upper class or upper middle class than a person wearing designer labels. This is because the upper classes are so sure of their social status that they don’t feel the need to show their wealth, unless it is a prestigious event.
Working class: Traditionally, this was people with a family history of manual labour and no inherited wealth. Today, it might include agency workers, people on zero-hours contracts and those who live on state welfare payments, although jobs are no longer a reliable class indicator and some working class people earn high incomes.
Middle class: The largest group and very diverse. It is such a big group that it is often split further into upper-middle, middle-middle and lower-middle classes. Teachers, lawyers, doctors and IT specialists are all likely to be middle class. The upper-middle class includes many of the wealthiest and most influential people in the country.
Upper class: A group of a few thousand people, consisting mainly of land-owning families and nobles (hereditary peers). They probably have a country house or castle that has been owned by the family for many generations.
The ‘Establishment’ is the name for the people who hold most of the power in Britain (politics, law, the military, the Church of England, finance, media and business).
In the past, this would have been mostly the upper class (about 90 hereditary peers still have a place in the House of Lords). But today, the Establishment is mainly upper-middle class people who went to elite private schools. Only 7% of the population goes to a private school, yet in 2019, 39% of people in top jobs had a private school education (read the blog about private vs state schools).
The rest of Britain is not happy about this for several reasons.
Most people from working-class or lower-middle class backgrounds go to state schools. This makes it very difficult for them to get positions of power.
There is some gender bias – many of the best private schools (for example, Eton, Winchester or Harrow) are only for boys.
There is racial bias because the proportion of black or mixed-race people is smaller in the upper-middle class than the working class.
There is no one place in Britain where all the rich people live. The wealthiest might own property in the most expensive city neighbourhoods (like London’s Chelsea or South Kensington) or they might have a big house in the country – or both. However, there are also many people who do not make their wealth obvious and who live in more modest homes or areas.
Most people are middle class and in many ways this is excellent. Middle class areas are generally safe and attractive places to live. But this also means they are not exciting or unusual. If something is called ‘middle class’, it might be an insult (meaning ‘boring’ or ‘privileged’).
Being called ‘suburban’ is another insult, because the city suburbs are popular with the middle classes.
Posh is usually used to mean ‘belongs to a higher social class than me’. This could be person, or it could be an item (for example, a working-class person might say olives are posh because they are popular with the middle classes).
Saying something or someone is posh is not always a compliment – many people believe their social class to be at the perfect level and anything higher to be excessive.
Because social class is not just about money, it is possible to be rich, but not posh – or posh, but not rich.
Upper class people never say something is posh, they say it is ‘smart’.
The terms U and non-U were first used in an essay in 1956 about the language used by the upper class (U) and ‘not upper class’ (non-U). This is because the upper class often uses different words to the other social classes. These words change over time, but words like toilet (classed non-U) and lavatory (U) are still relevant today.
Today, articles about things and behavior that are U (seen as desirable) and non-U (embarrassing) can still be found in some newspapers and magazines. There is often some snobbery about it.
You might also hear the term ‘PLU’, (people like us). It is used when upper class people think someone is in a lower social class than them. For example: “He’s very nice, but not really PLU.” Another version of this is ‘NOCD’ (“not our class, darling”).
Many people from working class backgrounds become middle class as they get better-paid, more skilled jobs and move to better neighbourhoods.
But as mentioned in previous answers, class is not just about money. The way people speak and their taste in home decor, food and clothes are also class indicators. Moving into the upper middle class or upper class is even more difficult (though not impossible) because there are more ‘rules’ about language and manners.
It is easier for children to move class because they will often copy their friends. One way to move them higher up the class scale would be to buy a house in a smarter area and educate them with the children of the class you’d like them to move into – if you can afford it.
Some middle class people go the other way and try to be more working class.
MORE INFORMATION: The comedy TV series ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ is about a lady from a working class family who is trying to be as middle class as possible. It is one of the UK’s most popular export programmes.
For many people in Britain, sun = T-shirt. It does not matter if it is winter or summer (if it is summer they might not even wear a T-shirt!). People partying at night often don’t wear much either.
There are three main reasons for our lack of clothes:
We love the sun – and we don’t see it very often
The weather doesn’t seem very cold to us (we are used to daytime temperatures of about 12°C)
Taking a coat into a pub or nightclub is annoying. This is because it costs money to put it in the cloakroom and there is usually a queue to collect it – but it might get stolen or lost otherwise. Many people don’t use a coat at night for these reasons.
Of course, sometimes a lack of clothes is stupid. Sunburn on pale skin is common in summer (the sun can be very strong, even if the temperature is not high). And occasionally people die walking home drunk on very cold nights.
Alcohol (also known as ‘booze’) is a common part of life in the UK. Many people enjoy a relaxing alcoholic drink in the evenings, either at home or in a pub or restaurant.
Although this can seem like people drink a lot of alcohol in the UK, this is becoming less true. The amount of alcohol and the number of people who drink it is much lower than in 2005, especially among young people. The UK is ranked 24th in the World Health Organisation report of alcohol consumption per person, behind many other European countries including Germany (5th), France (11th) and Portugal (14th). Low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks are becoming much more popular. About 20% of adults don’t drink alcohol at all.
Unfortunately, some city and town centres in Britain have a reputation for drunken behaviour. This is caused by a small number of people, but they can become very annoying, maybe even fighting or being sick. 70% of violent incidents at weekends and at night are alcohol-related.
Many people find it very hard to say ‘goodbye’ in a quick way because it would be like telling the other person we are very happy to leave them.
At a small party or event, the goodbye process often involves talking to each person for a few minutes as well as saying ‘goodbye’. This means could take over 20 minutes to actually leave the event. For a bigger event it could be even longer.
It is sometimes easier just to leave without telling anyone.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, many people had meet-ups with friends on video messaging apps. While this was quite fun, it did produce a new etiquette problem – how to leave the video call! Radio stations had people phoning in with their ideas. Most people felt the ‘my phone ran out of power’ excuse was the best.
In general, British people respect those who work hard and become rich – as long as they don’t get too powerful or boastful. If this happens, the media like to find stories that make them look silly. It is very common for people to ridicule politicians, for example.
Stories about an unimportant person (sometimes called an ‘underdog’) who succeeds against someone stronger or more powerful are also very popular.
In history, British people (particularly men) were known for not showing their emotions. ‘Keeping a stiff upper lip’ means not crying (thought to be a sign of weakness), even in an upsetting situation.
This attitude is changing because it is bad for mental health, but even today many people rarely express their true feelings.
A survey in 2015 showed that 68% of people think the royal family are good for Britain (although this doesn’t mean they love them). Only 18% think Britain should be a republic.
A lot of people enjoy royal events, for example weddings. But this is mostly because it is a reason to dress up and have a party. Most people probably love the NHS (National Health Service) more than the royal family. The exception is the Queen, who enjoys widespread affection and admiration.
All the rents from land owned by the Queen (the Crown Estate) are given to the government. In 2015–16 this was £304 million. The government gives the Queen 15% of the Crown Estate money to help her as Head of State. This is the Sovereign Grant and pays for staff, palaces, events, travel etc. The royal family also has money from land and investment.
Find out more about the royal family and finance on the Royal website.
Peers are people with high social rank and title. They might have a place in the House of Lords in Parliament. They are not always the same as ‘hereditary peers’.
There are only 5 types of ‘hereditary peerage’. It is called this because the peerage can pass from one generation to the next. At the moment, this can only happen from father to eldest son. If a family has only daughters, the title will pass to the nearest male relative. The 5 types are:
Duke (wife = Duchess)
Marquess (wife = Marchioness)
Earl (wife = Countess)
Viscount (wife = Viscountess)
Baron (England and Wales) or Lord of Parliament (Scotland) (wife = Baroness)
Since 1958 there have been no new hereditary peerages. Instead there are ‘life peers’. They have a title for their lifetime, but cannot pass it to their children. Men are usually given the title ‘Baron’ or ‘Lord of Parliament’, but are known as ‘Lord’. Women who are given a peerage of their own (not because of their husband) are given the title ‘Baroness’ or ‘Lady of Parliament’.
MORE INFORMATION: The richest British hereditary peer is the Duke of Westminster, who owns a lot of central London. He is worth about £8.5 billion. But other hereditary peers do not always have much money to spend because it is so expensive to look after their big family houses (these houses can cost over £100,000 a year to maintain).
This is the most common title, given for special service to the country. Men who are given the rank of Knight can add ‘Sir’ in front of their first name. Their wives can add ‘Lady’ in front of their last name (so a man called John Clarke would be Sir John and his wife would be Lady Clarke).
Women who earn the title themselves (not because they are married to a Knight) are given a ‘damehood’.
Titles and honours are given out twice a year, on January 1 and on the Queen’s Official Birthday in June.
Some recognise the work of people making a significant impact in the military, civil service, foreign affairs, arts, science, medicine or government.
There are also honours for people making a contribution at a national or local level. These include:
Knighthood/Damehood (KBE, DBE)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
British Empire Medal (BEM)
You can nominate people who have made achievements in service to the country to receive an award. This could be through bravery or for work in volunteering, helping the local community or entrepreneurship.
Every year, some people refuse their honour. Often it is because of the association with the British Empire or as a political protest.