British Social Etiquette for Beginners

British Man

The British are known for their love of etiquette, leaving many visitors to the country baffled at the rules and regulations which govern so much of daily life. We’ve compiled this quick guide to all things etiquette, designed for absolute beginners to help you acclimatise and avoid any embarrassing faux pas during your stay.

Understanding Etiquette

Britain is a country which harbours a strong connection to class, and this has led to the development of many rules of etiquette over the years. A number of these rules are designed to make events and interactions ‘classier’, and encourage individuals to undertake certain social traditions in a particular way.

We have divided our guide to British social etiquette into a few sections, to help break down the different facets of everyday life where etiquette can be applied…

Basic social niceties

Brits can be a passive aggressive bunch, but they also enjoy politeness. Some of the key things to remember are basic manners, such as always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. This applies to everything from asking for an item in a shop, to interacting with staff in local bars and restaurants. Eye contact when talking with people is also considered an important part of British society, and a basic cornerstone of polite conduct.


It’s debatable whether any nation is as fond of queuing as Britain is – neat, orderly queues are a facet of British life which never seems to go away. Whether you are waiting for entry to a venue or getting ready to board a bus, one of the greatest offences against the average Brit’s sensibilities would be to queue-jump – so be sure to stick to your place.


The British apologize frequently and profusely, a trend which has confused many visitors to the nation! There is almost no situation which a Brit will not apologize for, regardless of whether it was actually their fault. If you want to blend in during your trip to London, be prepared to apologize for anything and everything, as it is not unusual to see more than one person apologize for the same incident.


British people enjoy social drinking, but nonetheless moderation remains the desirable outcome of even the most exciting evening out. While staying at the Montcalm at the Brewery, you’re unlikely to see people who are visibly ‘drunk’. If you’re joining in with the fun, try and avoid outbursts of emotion or becoming impolite.


In etiquette terms, dining in Britain is a serious business. While a casual meal is usually exempt from any of these rules, enjoying a meal at a restaurant such as those found at the Montcalm luxury hotels carries with it a set of guidelines for the activity. Table manners matter to Brits include:

  • Correct placement of spoons, knives and forks – according to traditional etiquette rules, a knife is to be held in your right hand, a fork with your left, and a spoon with your right hand.
  • Elbows off the table – placing your elbows on the table while dining is a major etiquette offence.
  • No phones at the dinner table – other electronic devices are also to be kept out of sight whilst dining. This is part of an ongoing attempt to ensure dining together is a sociable experience.

The most important rule of all is to never talk with your mouth full. British people consider this a major crime against dining etiquette. Instead, chew your food carefully before continuing with the dinnertime conversation.


The British may be polite, but they also enjoy complaining about things. Covering everything from the weather to the price of something they want to buy, Brits will find a way to complain about it, often at length. Despite this penchant for complaints, British etiquette is not particularly well-suited to formal complaints. To complain about a product or service which has disappointed in some way tends to come into conflict with the desire to be pleasant and polite. For this reason, if you see a British person complaining, they are likely to do so whilst also apologizing for the complaint.


British people have a straightforward approach to time. Whilst their continental cousins expect guests to arrive either early or late, the British in general want their visitors to be at the allotted venue precisely when they have pre-arranged – and will be surprised if they are there at any other time. To ensure you reach your destination punctually, we suggest allowing a few minutes extra for each trip, as it’s always better to be five minutes early than five minutes late while you stay at the Montcalm Marble Arch.

British Slang

Despite a reputation for politeness and correctness, British people love to use abbreviations and slang terms. Many of these will be worked into sentences throughout your conversations with Brits, so if you’re eager to discover the meaning behind some of the common slang, you’re in luck:

  • Cheeky – calling someone cheeky can be a term of endearment in Britain, meaning they’re audacious or bold. It can also refer to a spontaneous activity, usually carried out with friends.
  • Chuffed – to be ‘chuffed’ about something simply means you’re very, very happy about it. The term is popular throughout the UK.
  • Cuppa – this term is a way to describe tea, and will often be used casually in conversation. If someone offers you a ‘cuppa’, they’re generally offering to make you a cup of tea.
  • Cheers – Brits say ‘cheers’ as a way of saying thank you, and also as a way of
  • Gobsmacked – to be ‘gobsmacked’ is to be shocked by something, and this is an emphatic and very British way of expressing your shock.
  • The Bees Knees – calling someone ‘the bees knees’ is a way of telling them they are wonderful or great. It is also used to refer to objects which are particularly fantastic. If someone describes you using this term, be proud; you’ve impressed a local!