Looking at British Culture Looking at British Culture

April Fools

Just fooling/joking around. On 1st April, April Fool’s Day, people play practical jokes on each other. So be aware!

Bank Holidays

Also known as public holidays. There are 8 days a year in England. It is worth knowing that banks, other services and the University will be closed, public transport services will be running reduced timetables, and some shops may be closed. However most shops are open, but with reduced opening hours. Visit www.gov.uk/bank-holidays more information.

Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes

On the 5th November. This is to celebrate the unsuccessful plot to blow up the Houses Parliament and attempted assassination of King James I and Members of Parliament. There are firework displays, fun fairs and large bonfires. 

British Humour

There is a lot of banter (good nature back and forth joking), irony (using words to express something completely different from the literal meaning), quip (a smart sarcastic retort), sarcasm (using witty language to convey insults), and understatement (intentionally down-sizing something).

From Kittiara on a post on The Student Room:

"A lot of British humour is delivered in a dry manner. So, watch the facial expressions of those who are delivering the joke, and the body language, especially with people like Rowan Atkinson.


Brits laugh at themselves and laugh at others. They laugh at serious situations, especially when things are bad. It's all about not taking yourself, or life, too seriously. They'll joke about politics, the state of the country, small mess ups and great, big, whopping ones. I like it, because when things look grim, it helps to laugh. When you laugh, it helps you to carry on.


British humour can be really subtle. Don't expect neon lights with flashing arrows pointing down stating "This is a joke!" It helps to have an understanding of British society, so that you know what the comedian is on about. I still don't know everything about it, so sometimes I haven't got a clue either and things go way over my head, but I'm learning.”


On the 25th December. Christmas is a popular holiday in the UK and is celebrated by most people, even though it is a Christian festival. People celebrate with family and friends and give each other presents and have a big roast dinner. There is a whole British Christmas culture that can be different, even if you already celebrate it. The following day is called Boxing Day and is also a public holiday. Find out more about British Christmases online.


Cricket is played with a ball, bat, a wicket (3 sticks stuck in the ground with one resting on top), and between two teams of eleven players each. The objective of the game is hit the ball and run back and forth to score runs (points), while the other team try to hit the wicket to get you out. The modern form of the game originated in England, and is popular mainly in countries in the Commonwealth. The length of the game (called a match) can vary and can last six or more hours a day, for up to five days in Test matches (internationals), with numerous breaks for lunch and tea. Cricket has a rich terminology which can confuse those not familiar with the sport. To start you off read this beginners intro to cricket.

Introductions and greetings

Handshakes for when you are introduced to someone new or during new friendships. As friendships develop and you become closer, you may move to a short hug. You may also notice social kissing, a peck on the cheek, but not between two British males. It all depends on the level of the relationship and how comfortable you are with others.

Tip: You will hear “Are you alright?” or “Alight?”. This is just a greeting, like saying how are you doing?

Remembrance Sunday and Day

Remembrance Day, is on 11 November every year. Traditionally there is two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month because that was the time (in Britain) when the armistice became effective in 1918. Remembrance Sunday is also observed on the Sunday nearest to November 11th. So, in the UK, a two minutes' silence is observed on November 11th itself, and on the second Sunday of November. Remembrance Sunday, ceremonies are held at War Memorials all over the UK. Over the years it has become a day to commemorate not just the sacrifice of servicemen and women but the suffering of civilians in times of war.


Norwich has great city centre with a lot of opportunity for shopping. With an outdoor market, two shopping malls, Gentleman’s Walk, The Lanes, large department stores and small local shops, you are sure to find what you need. There are also many ethnic food shops from many different regions to get a taste of home.

There are a number of main supermarkets to buy food and some small shops near campus too. Read Where to Buy… for more details. You can also order your food shopping online and get it delivered.

In the UK there are Sunday trading hours, which means most shops will not open until 10.00 or 11.00 and will close at 16.00. Thursday evening is late night shopping in Norwich, where some stores stay open late. The shopping hours may be different than you are used to. The normal opening hours for many shops are 09.00-18.00. But it is worth checking the opening hours until you get used to the change.

Shrove Tuesday / Pancake Day / Fat Tuesday

This is the day before the Christian observance of Lent, where people might ‘give up’ something, such as chocolate or alcohol, for 40 days until Lent ends on Easter. Shrove Tuesday is popular in the UK for many people (not just Christians) as Pancake Day, where people will make pancakes with different toppings. However, lemon juice and sugar are the most popular.

Recipe for pancakes (or crepes) 


There are 4 types of tea in the UK.

The Drink - The British love their tea. Many will drink it at any time of the day and most have it with a little milk and some have sugar as well. If you order or are offered tea, it will normally come with milk. If you want some different type of tea, make sure you ask.

The Meal - To make things confusing, some people (many from the North) will call their lunch or dinner, tea.

Afternoon Tea – This is a light meal normally around 4.00pm served with small sandwiches (cucumber, egg and cress, tuna, or ham), scones, cakes, pastries and tea. Afternoon tea is now normally a special occasion and not had every day.

High Tea – High tea is an early evening meal and was a substitute for having both afternoon tea and an evening meal when it was common to have four meals a day. High tea has now been replaced with dinner (or tea – the meal!).

The Union Jack Flag

Or the Union flag is the flag the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it is made up of the English flag, the Scottish flag and the Northern Ireland flag. Did you know that you can fly the Union Jack upside down?

The United Kingdom vs Great Britain 

The UK = England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Great Britain = England, Scotland, Wales, and some other islands like the Isle of Wight, or Anglesey (it does not include Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man).

What’s On 

This is a listing of local events, shows, movies, and anything happening in the city. Have a look at Norwich’s What On.

For more on British culture explore here www.learnenglish.de/britishculture.html.

British Etiquette British Etiquette


Being late for a lecture or an appointment or even to meet up with friends can be seen as bad manners and rude. If your delay is inevitable and you arrive late, it is usually sufficient to excuse yourself with an apology. If, however, you are running more than a few minutes late, you should call ahead or inform them to apologise and give an indication of how long you will be.


Queuing, or standing in line, is incredibly common in UK culture.  Jumping a queue is considered to be very rude. The British love to queue and have unwritten rules on how to queue properly. They like a clear start and end of the queue that is in good order where everyone joins the end. If in doubt ask “is this the queue for…?” You will hears others asking the same question when a bad queue has formed. If you have jumped the queue or did not join the end, you might be told “sorry but the back of the queue is there”. Or again, just ask if you are not sure, “excuse me is this the end of the queue”.

Small Talk

When you first meet someone it is normal to start off with some small talk. You will find students often talk about the local area, activities at the University, sports, and of course the weather! It can sometimes considered impolite to ask questions that are too personal (such as about their age or their political beliefs). It’s best to avoid these subjects until you are friends.


Generally, people are very polite and will expect you to be the same. Say please, thank you, excuse me, sorry, and you are welcome. It goes a long way and will help you fit in. When you are in a restaurant or waiting at a bar you should never click your fingers for attention – if you do then you might find that you are ignored completely for the rest of the evening! You will notice that if you walk into someone and it was your fault, the other person will still say sorry. That is how polite the British can be. When you start saying sorry when someone bumps into you, you will know you got the British culture thing down!


You will find that many UK students will go out socially for a drink quite often (pubs, clubs and the Student Union bars being popular destinations). Remember it is perfectly acceptable for you to go into a bar and not drink alcohol; it is quite common, especially if someone is a designated driver. There are many alternative soft drinks available to choose from.


The UK is generally a welcoming and friendly place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In the UK it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or sex, and many international LGBT students study in the UK on the understanding that their rights will be respected. Here at the University, you can contact the LGBT+ student society for further help and support: www.uea.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/advice/ask/campus/is-uea-an-lgbt-friendly-campus

Weather and Climate Weather and Climate

The reputation of the British weather is true, but is not as bad as you may think, especially in Norwich. However, the weather does take some getting used to, especially if you come from a warm sunny climate. The temperature is quite mild. It does not get below freezing for long periods, nor does it get very hot for long periods in summer. There might be more rainy and grey days, but the rain might be different than you are used to. The Inuit are known for having many names for different types of snow, well the British also have many names for different types of rain: spitting, drizzling, pouring, freezing, misting, wet…

Winter and Spring have the most rain, and there is a chance of snow during the winter, but normally there is not a lot. Summer can be dry with nice warm weather. The weather in the UK varies, from day to day and also even within the same day. It is best to dress in layers and to be prepared if it might rain with a rain jacket or umbrella.

With the UK being in the northern hemisphere the summers have nice long days, but in winter the days are very short. And on top of that there are many grey and wet days. This can have an affect on your mood and people suffer from winter depression, known as Season Affective Disorder (SAD)

Food Food

British food can take some getting used to, especially if your diet is quite different. Although you can get cuisine from all over the world. British food was known for being a bit simple or bland, but it has come a long way. Meat, potatoes, and two veg was the norm, but food has developed and varied over the years.

Here are a few classic meals:

  • Fry up – breakfast dish with fried egg, potatoes or hash brown, bacon, sausage, tomato, black (blood) pudding and mushrooms.
  • Roast Dinner – a meat joint (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, or ham) roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and possibly Yorkshire puddings.
  • Bangers and Mash - sausages, mash potatoes and gravy.
  • Meat pie - a savory pie with meat, gravy and sometimes veg. 
  • Shepherd or Cottage pie - mince lamb or beef with mash potatoes on top.
  • Fish and chips - battered and deep fried and some like mushy peas on the side.

Language and Accents Language and Accents

If you are a non-native English speaker, it is highly recommended to use and practice your English as much as you can. Whether you think your English is good or not, the more you use English the more fluent and natural your language will become. You will find it easier to talk to others or in class and to pick up on slang and the many nuances in the English language. The more you use English the more confidence you will have.

To help with your English Language and your confidence to use it, visit the UEA English Language Support page for what help is on offer.

There are many different accents across the UK, which can be very different from each other. Do not worry if it is hard to understand someone, they might have the same problem if you have a different accent that they are not used to. Just ask if they can say it again and let them know you find it hard to understand their accent. Most people will be happy to repeat what they said. Also, if you learned American English or are more familiar with it, you might need a little time to adjust to British English and accents.