Because the United Kingdom and the United States share a common language and a great deal of history, it’s easy to assume that you won’t face too many cultural differences when you’re moving to England for business. While many immigrants and travelers easily adapt to the customs of both countries, there are certain differences you need to be prepared for when you move.
Even if you’ve never visited the United Kingdom before, you are likely aware of the differences between UK and US English and that the British drive on the left side of the road. This blog will serve as a guide to support your knowledge of British customs and help prepare you for the most important cultural changes you will face.
As mentioned above, the British drive on the left side of the road, rather than the right. Cars are also set up so that the steering wheel is on the right side, not the left.
While in the car, you’ll have to keep in mind that the tools you’re used to operating with your right hand (such as the gear shift) are now operated with your left. Also, the majority of British vehicles are manual, so you may want to practice driving this type of transmission before your move if you aren’t as familiar with it.
Although the United Kingdom uses the metric system, speed is measured in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour, so you don’t have to worry as much about learning a new system of measurement. Speed is generally the same as the United States, with city roads having a speed limit of 30 mph and highway speed limits reaching 70 mph.
When driving on the highway, remember to be respectful of other drivers and only pass on the right. The left lane then becomes the “slow lane,” so stay here until you’re comfortable passing others.
Unlike the United States, a red light always means “stop,” meaning you can’t turn right on red upon moving to England. Always wait for the light to change to green before turning.
Essentially, if you remain focused on defensive driving practices and treating other drivers with respect, you should easily master British driving.
You’re probably aware that traditional American holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving aren’t celebrated in the United Kingdom. However, the UK has its own holidays.
The banks in the United Kingdom and Ireland close on specially-designated days throughout the year-known as “bank holidays”-and many employers generally give their employees these days off.
Although as a whole Britain is less religious than the United States, many of the bank holidays fall on days of religious significance. If the holiday, such as New Year’s Day, Christmas, or Boxing Day, falls on a weekend, the bank holiday occurs on a substitute day instead, usually the following Monday.
The United Kingdom never adopted the Euro, the currency of the European Union, preferring to keep using the pound. You can exchange your US dollars for British pounds at the rate of $1.44 for every one pound. This means that your American dollars are worth less in England-but when you return to the US to visit, the money you make in England will go farther.
The United Kingdom uses both coins and banknotes, much like the United States. Banknotes start at five pounds, and the highest value is 50 pounds. The coins range in value from one penny to two pounds, and include 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, and 50 pence values.
One major difference between the UK and the US is the absence of tipping. When dining out, you are not expected to leave a tip, although some restaurant bills include a mandatory service charge. You are still free to tip if the person providing service goes above and beyond the required expectations.
4. Social Scene
British citizens generally congregate in pubs, which are more akin to American coffee shops than American bars. Alcohol is more acceptable in the UK, and people often drink during the day. Pubs generally have a quieter atmosphere and provide food as well as drinks. Many pubs offer a separate seating area for families, so it isn’t uncommon to see children at a pub.
In the United Kingdom, cutting in line is considered a severe violation. While it is disrespectful in the United States as well, in England cutting the queue can cause serious offense. Politeness and respect for individual privacy are highly valued, so avoid prying into the lives of those you meet in public places when moving to England.
The British also eat in the Continental style, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. This may seem awkward at first, but it actually facilitates eating and will likely soon feel natural.
5. Business Practices
Punctuality is expected when setting up a business meeting or even social visit. Let the other party know if you will be even a few minutes late. Arriving on time or early shows respect for the other party’s time and allows you to efficiently take care of business.
Many industries have fairly formal dress codes, but you’ll need to talk to your new company to find out what the expected dress is. Darker tones like gray or black are considered more professional as well. Don’t worry that everyone you meet will be serious-humor, particularly dark humor, is common in the UK, and many people use pet names, even in a business setting.
Generally, your coworkers will be friendly and accepting as long as you maintain a respectful attitude and strive for honesty in your business dealings.
Understanding the culture of your new home is a large part of making an international move. Talk to your Bekins agent for more information about your new home and other things to keep in mind as you’re moving to England.