The 7 weirdest things about British culture

Prabha Upreti
Student blogger Prabha Upreti discusses weird and wonderful British customs.

No Smoking by Mark Colliton

Why do we see so many smokers in the UK? (Photo: "No Smoking" by Mark Colliton.)
Way Out by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner
Is it because of the indoors smoking ban? (Photo: "Way out" by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner.)
East India Club (Westminster)
Not every meal is as fancy as this, but British people like to take their time over a bite to eat! (Photo: "East India Club (Westminster)" by JasonParis.)
Fire exit signs
There are fire exit signs on almost every door...
Hastings Bonfire
... but on bonfire night, there's fire everywhere! (Photo: "Hastings Bonfire" by Anshul Agrawal.)
Stagecoach 54021 SP07 CAU Megabus
People with disabilities are better catered for in the UK than in many other countries around the world, (Photo: "Stagecoach 54021 SP07 CAU Megabus" by Glen Wallace.)
Nepali school children
In many countries, it would be considered extremely rude for students to address teachers by their first names. (Photo by U.S. Pacific Air Forces.)

Prabha Upreti, June 2014

It’s been 9 months since I first arrived in the UK and yet it never fails to amaze me. Every few weeks I notice something very weird, which I could never have observed back at home in Nepal. I’ve heard the same thing from lots of my international friends. So, for British readers, here are seven things that foreigners find very weird in Britain and for visitors, here is what to expect!

1. So many smokers!

I guess one of the most successful industries in Britain must be the tobacco industry, as there are about 10 million adult cigarette smokers in Great Britain and about 15 million ex-smokers (source). That’s just… wow! My friend Bwalya from Zambia finds it so unlike her culture, even though the percentage of smokers in Zambia is 26%. Maybe we see so many smokers because of the ban on indoor smoking, or maybe the British just love smoking outdoors where everyone can see them well.


2. Extremely long meals

For Shuvechchha from Nepal, one weird thing about British culture is how long they take to have dinner – with all the gaps, formalities and talking about important matters. She says, "Although it is fun, we generally did not speak at the dinner table back home. We just ate everything at once: no separate desserts or starters.” A formal English dinner consists of a number of courses. I remember when I first watched Titanic, I was greatly surprised by the 10 courses they were served. I was like, "This is ridiculous! Why don’t they have all of it at once?” Now I have seen it through my own eyes, I have realised it might be because people here are rarely starving: they can concentrate more on etiquette than on sating their hunger. (Read more about food at Pestalozzi!)

3. Fire exits everywhere

England is a very safe country to live in owing to all the safety measures we have to follow. Still, it takes a little while to stop noticing the fire exit signs on each door. My friend Theresa says, "I find it really weird that there are so many fire precautions for events, yet they allow big bonfires which actually involve fire itself, and the funny thing is that the bonfire events take place at night!” I think we really need better safety measures back at home, though, where fires are much more frequent and can cause more damage due to the wooden houses.


4. Disability friendly

Amber has found one thing in the UK quite different to her country, Belize. "I think it's nice of the British people to pay so much attention and provision to the elderly and less fortunate. I admire the fact that there is always a provision in everything for disabled people,” she says. And yes, it is wonderful. Disabled people can move about and do most things on their own easily in the UK, which is beyond imagination in most of the other countries Pestalozzi students come from.

5. Rules, rules and more rules

The UK is amazingly peaceful. All you see is normal people doing normal stuff, no one covering their faces or carrying anything suspicious, and all thanks goes to the long list of laws. Louis from Belize recalls a funny incident. "I remember one day I went to purchase a razor blade and scissors to shave off my hair. I went into a store, got the items and then waited in the queue. The bag boy must have seen the item I was holding. He came forth and approached me, and without warning he inquired for my identification.” This may seem very strange and abrupt to any of us who have lived in countries with less strict laws. So, anybody visiting the UK, remember to read all the rules!

6. Call everyone by their first names?

Life gets very weird when you have to change the way you address others. Back at home, people like to be called by their titles rather than names (most probably as they have worked hard to earn it). So, we have to call our seniors, like our teachers, Sir or Madam. For the first few months in the UK, I felt rather awkward addressing the staff at Pestalozzi and my teachers by their first names. I felt like I was insulting them. I would have got a severe punishment and a lecture about moral values if I ever did that back home.

7. I am wrong and they say sorry

English people love saying sorry. This is so genuinely polite that it may make you feel really embarrassed if the fault is yours. You bump into someone at road because you were not looking where you were going. The fault is yours, but if the other person is English, that person will be the first one to say sorry. Alejandra from Spain says, "People say sorry even when they don’t have to.” I say, we really need to learn manners from the British.

The UK is a unique yet wonderful nation. I have enjoyed my stay so far owing to all the wonderful people – and the weird customs, of course. It’s healthier to stay amazed than bored. And the UK amazes its visitors!

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