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Etiquette tips you won’t find in a textbook

Mon 03 Oct 2016

KNOWING how to act appropriately in social situations can be difficult at the best of times. It’s made harder still when visiting a new country, especially Britain which is famous for its strict etiquette rules.

While much can be learnt from textbooks, tour guides and television, nothing helps one comprehend a culture quicker than interacting with local people and observing their customs.

So, to get you started, here are a few quick tips in negotiating the minefield of British etiquette.

The British love to complain - they will happily moan to one another about bad weather and overpriced food. They’re not, however, as accomplished at complaining when they have a problem with a product or receive poor service. When they do, the easiest and most effective way to resolve an concern is to remain calm, be polite and communicate any issues clearly. It’s best not to be rude because impoliteness is one thing the Brits really hate; they complain about it all the time.

Whether at the supermarket, train station or a concert, people across the UK will often be seen forming neat and tidy lines, awaiting their turn at the front. The worst mistake one can commit is queue-jumping – pushing ahead in the line. This will always be met with disapproval from those who have been waiting patiently.

Being polite
Saying “please” and “thank you” are two most important things to remember in British etiquette. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking to a shop assistant, a bus driver or even your friends, politeness and good manners are always welcomed.

Table manners
Table manners vary all over the world. From slurping to burping, each country has different ideas about how one should act during a meal. Although formal occasions have their own rules, everyday diners should remember to eat at a relaxed pace, put their cutlery down between bites and never talk with their mouth full.

Sometimes even the Brits find it difficult to know how much to tip a server in cafes and restaurants, if anything at all. Following a meal, begin by checking the bill. If it reads ‘service not included’, this means the waitperson has not been tipped and it is at your discretion to leave a little extra money for their efforts. If the service was good, it is customary to add an extra 10 per cent on top of the bill total. Many Brits tip taxi drivers and hairdressers too, but the exact amount is the customer’s preference.

Using mobile phones in public
As we continue to use our mobile phones more frequently, it’s important to observe some unwritten etiquette about handheld devices. Using a mobile phone at the dinner table is considered impolite, as is speaking loudly when making a call, especially on public transport.

Good sportsmanship
Nobody, the adage goes, likes a bad loser. Sulking, arguing or complaining having lost at any form of competition is considered poor manners. Whether you’ve been outdone on the sports pitch or exceeded in the classroom, congratulate your opponent with good grace - no matter how upset you feel underneath.

Depending on the situation, consuming alcohol is often fraught with dos and don’ts. Moderation is always advisable and if you have found that you have consumed too many drinks, attempt to avoid aggression, over-emotion and impoliteness. That means no crying.

Chivalry in gentlemen and other more traditional etiquette guidelines still stand. For instance holding a door open for a lady and standing up when one enters the room for the first time are still considered good manners for the men of Britain.

No guide to etiquette would be complete without mentioning the Brits’ love of apologising. Although one would expect to say sorry for stepping on a shopper’s toe or bumping into a passer-by, many will be surprised to find the two Brits engaged in a stand-off, both offering their apologies for being in the other’s way - no matter who is at fault. This is a quirk Brits are famed for, apologising is a default reaction to many of life’s little incidents.

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