British social norms – mind your P’s and Q’s! 

  • November 05, 2021

Moving to a new country means adapting to new ways of doing things.

Before relocating, one of the most important things to know is what the typical cultural and social norms are. As an overseas doctor from another country, you may naturally do things differently. So, this article introduces you to a few things that you need to know about British culture and social norms before you arrive. 

The British are punctual, especially doctors! 

Being late for work or meetings is considered to be rude. If you’re going to be late to an appointment, contact those involved as soon as you know you will be late. But don’t worry, amongst friends and social gatherings it isn’t considered a problem, British people are late all the time! 

Never jump the queue. 

In many countries jumping to the front of the queue is normal, but in the UK, people may not be very happy with you and will most likely let you know just how unhappy they are. Expect a ticking off, or a 'tut' to let you know. So, as annoying as queuing is, standing patiently in the queue is normal and expected.

Don’t get too close. 

In the UK, it’s normal to keep arm’s length between yourself and the person you are speaking with. As a doctor of course this is standard practice across the world. But in social situations, any closer is assumed to be uncomfortable for those native to the UK. Of course, this does not mean that you can't be friendly! 

Be polite - say “please”, “thank you”, and “sorry”.

You will probably get tired of saying these so often, but these are normal parts of everyday conversation and interactions. As an international doctor, you may not be used to this, but you will get used to it very quickly.

Shake hands, pat on the back or kiss on the cheek?

This one can get confusing. At work, a handshake is the only expected and accepted way of greeting colleagues. For obvious reasons. However, amongst friends, British people shake hands, have a brief hug and pat on the shoulder, or give a ‘peck on the cheek’ (kiss) when greeting a friend or family member. It isn’t that simple though, if you are not a close friend or family member, then the physical touch can sometimes be considered unusual or uncomfortable, shaking hands is best in this situation. So, when greeting people, you will have to judge for yourself the most appropriate way to go about it. 

Give up your seat. 

Like most corners of the world, the Brits show respect for older adults, pregnant women or disabled people. For example, if you are travelling, you are expected to give up your seat if someone who is pregnant, disabled or older, gets on board and there is no other seat. If an older adult or someone who is disabled seems to be struggling with something, you are also expected to approach them and offer your help.
Note, the same can be said for people who are visibly distressed, have fallen unwell, are lost or could benefit from some assistance. 

These social norms will help you get along with your new friends and colleagues whilst you settle into your new life in the UK.

Get in touch

We are of course always here to help you to understand what to expect and once you have started in your new job, we can offer support on any situations that arise which may require some friendly advice. Get in touch here


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