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A guide to British etiquette

From queueing and tipping to greetings, take a look at our guide to British etiquette, helping you navigate your way through the manners, customs and behaviour that are integral to British culture

Emily Scrivener
City Guide
Emily Scrivener ,


The British are famous for their love of queues, with orderly lines forming everywhere from shops to railway stations. The quintessentially British trait was born during the era of rationing where queueing was essential to guarantee fair distribution of food. Queues have remained an important part of social conduct with queue-barging severely frowned upon, with even the reserved Englishman keen to point out transgressors. If you are unsure of where to queue, it is customary to ask ‘Is this the back of the queue?’ or ‘Are you queueing?’


Tipping in restaurants in the UK is usually discretionary. If you are unsure whether the service charge has been included, it is wise to check the bill to see if it says ‘Service not included’. If it has not been added, then it is customary to offer a 12.5% gratuity. In smarter hotels it is polite to tip porters or bellboys if they have helped with luggage. A bank note may also be left in one’s hotel room for housekeeping. In bars and pubs it is not usual to tip the bar staff unless the drinks have been brought to your table.


A firm handshake is often the most acceptable form of greeting when meeting an acquaintance, whether in a social or business environment. Eye contact is preferable, but only for a few seconds as any more than this may begin to make the other person uncomfortable. When meeting an old friend, it is acceptable to greet each other with a small kiss on the cheek.


Manners are invaluable and a please and thank goes a long way in Britain. Be sure to offer your thanks when served and a please is obligatory when asking for something regardless of the situation. Modern manners are increasingly important. When travelling on the London Underground it is customary to take into consideration the people around you, give seats up to those who are less able to stand and make sure you stand out of people’s way. London gets extremely busy so be aware of others; how and what you do affects those around you.

Although the famous British stiff upper lip has relaxed somewhat, the British are renowned for taking politeness seriously. Apologies should always be offered sincerely, respecting others feelings and mindful of what it was you did to upset the person. This could range from barging past someone to causing offence by something you said. If you are offered an apology, always accept graciously.



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