English etiquette for international students

London School of Economics Content 03

Etiquette is important to the English, even among students. Globally, the English are known for being polite, sometimes a bit cold and reserved, sometimes a but eccentric, and with a love for tradition and tea.

And most of that is probably true. There are several little things you can do to fit in easily with your local classmates – and none of them involve curtsying to the king.

How to be polite

Very very simply, use the magic words: please and thank you. All. The. Time. When you ask for anything or someone gives you something: please and thank you. You can’t say it too much – if it feels like you’re overusing them, add another. Using please and thank you is seen as a way of showing respect and courtesy, and they go a long way towards building positive social interactions.

Talk about the weather

British people love to talk about the weather, so don’t be surprised if someone strikes up a conversation about it – and it’s also a good way to break the ice with your classmates. Stating the obvious – “Brr, it’s cold today,” “Oh my, it’s so warm,” “Goodness, it’s raining hard” – is perfectly acceptable.

While it’s a good idea to check the forecast before going out, it’s rarely correct, which gives you something even better to talk about. And be prepared for all types of weather. England really can have four seasons in a day.

Tea is the answer to everything

Brits have three to four cups of tea a day, depending on who you ask. English students enjoy chatting over a cup of tea at any time of day. Tea connects people. So if you’re making a cup of tea – or a cuppa, as it’s known – you should ask people around you if they want one, too. You could easily end up making six-plus cups, but tea is a social thing that cheers you up, calms you down, and prepares you for everything.

When you ask people if they’d like a cuppa, your next question is simply: “Milk? Sugar?” and the answers will flood in: “Just a splash” means only a little bit of milk and “I like mine milky” means they want quite a lot. “Just one” is one spoonful of sugar – and some people ask for three or more spoonfuls of sugar. Most people, though, just have “Milk, no sugar,” which makes things easy.

Invisible queues

Queues – waiting lines – are a core part of British culture and not following a queue can result in some very aggressive eye rolling and tutting. The invisible queue is a British phenomenon where people naturally form a queue at bus stops, in shops, at railway stations, even pubs without any explicit instructions. Even when they’re alone, a Brit will form a queue of one.

Rather than pushing to the front of the line, people in England wait their turn in a calm, orderly fashion. While the invisible queue may seem like a small thing, it is a symbol of the deeper values and cultural characteristics that define English society. By observing the invisible queue and respecting its social norms, people in England build a sense of community and trust that extends beyond the confines of the queue itself.