8 Things I didn’t know about British Culture

Recently, my co-worker, Chip, traveled to London on holiday for 2 weeks. Having come back to work and animatedly describing his adventures and the oddities he encountered whilst there, I’ve begun reflecting about my own enchanting time in the U.K.

So I figured I’d keep it simple. Before I left for the U.K., I knew practically nothing about British culture or geography (okay, I did know a little geography, but still…) Over the course of my 13 months there, I picked up an assortment of tips and information.

I mostly learned these things through working at a pub, the Grey Horse Inn, Manchester’s (2nd) smallest pub, but others, I picked up just through living there and soaking it all in!

Working the St. Paddy's Day shift at the Grey Horse

Working the St. Paddy’s Day shift at the Grey Horse

A lot of my American friends have been fortunate enough to travel to England themselves, so they may already be acquainted with the following, but in general, I wouldn’t have really encountered any of these things or experiences without spending an excessive amount of time there (which is safe to say the same of any foreign place one might travel to).

So here we go – 8 Things I didn’t know about British culture

  1. Mirrors in the lifts

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Nearly every lift (elevator) has a mirror. Usually it’s three panels of large mirrors, covering the three walls. Even older buildings or less well-to-do buildings had mirrors in the lifts! I am a little curious, still, about this phenomenon, and welcome any possible explanations on this matter. It was quite nice to steal a quick look at yourself and smooth your hair out before arriving to your destination.

2. Lunchtime Drinking

Lots of it! It is quite normal for business men and women to lunch at their local pub and down a few pints before returning to work – I’d seen suits and skirts (but mostly suits) in and out of the Grey Horse between Noon and 3pm nearly every week day that I worked.

Hyde's Original Bitter...a staple lunchtime beer in Manchester

Hyde’s Original Bitter…a staple lunchtime beer in Manchester

3. Unisex Restrooms

Yep, this one was found out through a bit of old-fashioned field research. I remember washing my hands in the restroom of a pub after having finished my business, when suddenly, a man walked through the bathroom door and proceeded into one of the stalls and closed the door behind him. Astonished but not appalled, I walked out of the restroom and saw on the frosted glass door those famous two stick figures: a unisex bathroom. After this encounter in early October, I had many more similar experiences. Not all bathrooms are unisex, but they are more frequent there than they are here in the U.S.

More common than you think!

More common than you think!

4. Leggings are IT

Leggings are everywhere. You can’t escape them. Leggings were a fashion limited to a small group of people in the U.S. when I left, but in Manchester, every single girl had a pair. Scratch that: every single girl had several pair. And they wore them every day. I felt extremely foreign and started feeling that others would know I was foreign just because I wore blue-jeans all the time. I felt like an outsider in the blue jeans!

Absolutely nothing wrong with leggings! Just different to see it all the time and everywhere.

Absolutely nothing wrong with leggings! Just different to see it all the time and everywhere.

5. Football is Life; Life is Football

That is all.

Okay, I’ll elaborate just a little: football (known to my American readers as soccer) is king. Some pubs have signs in the windows asking their customers to not wear football colours or jerseys in order to minimize the amount of drink and sport-related quarrels and scuffles. Many customers would ask me (the barmaid) what kind of pub we were: United or City. Choose your words wisely when answering this question!

6. Bus Etiquette

Emily Post could have dedicated a fat chapter of her book to bus behavior. I’ll mention just a few quick tips: (1) Buses are normally comprised of two columns of two seats side-by-side. If there is an empty pair of seats, do not–I repeat–do not take an empty aisle seat next to an occupied window seat.  (2) Have your money ready when boarding the bus. Nobody likes being held up by someone fishing around their bag or pockets for the change. (3) Don’t take up the seat next to you with your shopping bags, especially if seating options for others are dwindling.

If you put your feet up on the seat in front of you, at least put a newspaper underneath your shoes!

If you put your feet up on the seat in front of you, at least put a newspaper underneath your shoes!

7. Spirits Measurements

They are smaller. Much smaller! Our pub at one point was serving 30mL liquor pours, but due to new serving laws, we had to serve shorter and more measured pours, 25mL, which was the standard that the majority of Manchester pubs were serving.

You have been warned: Do not order a Long Island and expect your glass to be half-full of liquor! You will likely only get 25mL of alcohol total. To put the measurement in perspective, our standard pour in Michigan is 45mL. An extra 20mL for the same price, more or less!

Most pubs, however, will offer some sort of special on cheaper alcohols, such as doubling up on your liquor for £1-£2 extra.

I became quite fond of beer - all types!

I became quite fond of beer – all types!

8. Words

There’s a plethora of different words and phrases that are very British-centric that many Americans are already familiar with, but let’s see if you knew any of these:

A hockey ‘game’ or a football ‘game’ is not an event in that sense at all; it’s a ‘match.’ Though people know what you are inquiring after if you ask, “What time is the game?” It’s better to ask “What time is the match?”

Fringe – Bangs
Bag – Purse, but if you say purse, it means wallet.
Pavement – Sidewalk. The word sidewalk isn’t even a word in British English.
Hoovering – Vacuuming
Fancy dress – refers to dressing up in costume, like Halloween costumes, does not refer to dressing up fancily.
Plaster – band-aid; bandage

Then there’s a slew of Manchester slang words, such as tarah, ta, sod off, shite, knackered, and nicked.

So, there you have it! I am missing my Manchester home away from home more and more and cannot wait to make the trip back. No definitive plans just yet, but I am looking forward to possibly traveling next year. What things did you learn whilst traveling or living abroad about your host nation or culture?

That’s all for now…more to come soon 😉

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

  1. Martin says:

    yeah,hoovering is part of english culture regardless of who made the vac. I now use an Electrolux
    but still reckon to hoover with it!
    If you visit Holland, try PALM beer – its moorish but I just can’t find any over in England so I’m
    gutted (now theres a word).

  2. Emma says:

    I’d guess the mirror in the lift thing is to make it feel more spacious and therefore reduce claustrophobia? It’s really interesting to read about what cultural things stood out to you in England 🙂 I am from Nottinghamshire and was suprised to read that there are lots of unisex toilets in manchester. I’ve not seen many of these before – only communal handwashing areas in nightclubs. To your lingo list, I’d add that we call fawcets ‘taps’ and much to my canadian friend’s amusement, we call ‘rags’ (for cleaning worksurfaces) ‘cloths’. The bus thing is definately true! X

    • WiderLens says:

      Thanks for your comment, Emma! Now that you mention it, I do remember “taps” and “cloths”! On the unisex toilets…I really only saw them in certain Manc bars. But it was something I’d never seen before!
      Thanks again for reading 🙂

  3. Adriana says:

    Im still little confused on the bus etiquette, just with the seating.

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