Punctuality, or being ‘on time’, is important in the UK. Plan to be on time for meals or other appointments, such as with doctors or dentists. In the UK, punctuality is not so important for some social occasions, such as parties. Hosts will often say ‘7 o’clock’ meaning that it’s OK to arrive at 7.30. If you are not sure, ask your hosts what time they would prefer you to arrive.
Meeting People for the First Time
British people often greet each other with a handshake when they meet for the first time. Friends and relatives often give each other a hug. Other nationalities often think the British are ‘reserved’, which means they do not show friendliness openly. The British may not kiss you on both cheeks when you first meet but, in time, they can show themselves to be very warm and considerate.
At first the British use ‘small talk’ when they don’t know somebody well. This may include talking about the weather or the news. But ‘small talk’ is often just a way of finding out what you agree on. It can quickly become more interesting.
In some countries it is not the custom to say that you feel ill or upset. This is not so in Britain. If you are feeling unwell or upset, it is OK to say what the problem is. You will find most British people are ready to help if they can.
A democratic society
Britain is a democratic society. All adults over the age of 18 have the right to vote. There is a right to free speech in a democracy. British people have the right to express their opinions freely. However, it is against the law to express racism and religious hatred or to encourage violence against others.
Newspapers, TV and radio also have the right to free speech. But like everyone else, they must not break the law. You will find a variety of newspapers in Britain. Some, like The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, and The Daily Telegraph, aim to cover important stories in a serious way. Others, like The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and The Daily Mail aim to be more popular and sensational. For example, they print gossip and stories about celebrities, or famous people. The newspapers are privately owned and they are free to express opinions about the Royal Family, politicians and political parties.
Most British people like a good discussion or debate. You can express your opinion and the other person will respect it, even if they disagree with you. However, some opinions will be difficult for most Britons to accept. These include racism, sexism or not respecting women, and being unkind about people who have a disability.
The British have a reputation for a good sense of humour. British film and TV comedies are famous all over the world. The British like ‘word play’, stand-up comedy and satire. It is often said that the British don’t mind laughing at themselves.
Remember that not all the British are English. The United Kingdom (of Britain and Northern Ireland) is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People in the UK can have more than one national identity. For example, people can think of themselves as British and English, or British and Scottish. Some people are very proud of being Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish or English. Each of the countries has its own international sports teams, and the most hotly contested matches are between British sides. Therefore, do not think that all people in Britain are English. Some people can get quite annoyed if you do. Of course, the points above are general. They do not apply to everybody. You can test whether you think they are generally true or not during your time in Britain.
Remember that your English teachers will be happy to listen to your experiences of life in Britain. They will also try to explain different sorts of behaviour.
Relationships between men and women in Britain
In the UK, men and women are treated equally. Boys and girls do some household tasks, such as clearing the table or helping to prepare meals.
Nowadays, almost all women continue to work after they get married, and many do the same after they have children. This is not only for financial reasons: women in Britain enjoy their independence and freedom.
This means that many women do not expect men to pay for things, such as meals in restaurants. They do not wait until they are married to leave home, and just as many women as men go to university.
You should not be surprised to see women doing many things that men do, such as playing football, driving buses and drinking pints of beer in pubs! It is common to see men and women walking hand in hand, perhaps even hugging and kissing in public.
Homosexuality is not illegal and if you live in a big city, you will notice that there are gay pubs and clubs. In fact, most modern Britons are usually quite relaxed about homosexuality.
To get an idea of free and open debate in Britain you could watch a TV programme like Question Time on BBC 1. This is usually shown on Thursdays at about 10.30pm. Or you could listen to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4, at 8.00pm on Fridays or 1.10pm on Saturdays.
A good idea would be to record the programmes on video, DVD or audio tape so that you can stop and go back if you want to listen to something again. This will give you a good idea of the main topics of interest in Britain each week. Many BBC TV and radio programmes are available to watch again online on the BBC iPlayer.
Look at a variety of British newspapers and decide which one you like most.
Making friends in the UK
Many people think that the British are, in general, reserved and unfriendly. For example, you may notice that strangers usually do not speak to each other on trains or buses. However, it is easy to make friends with British people and below are some points to help you.
You may find friends in your host family, especially if members of the family are close to your own age.
They may suggest some free-time activities, such as sports or going to pubs and clubs. Remember, try anything once. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you will learn something about life in Britain. If you do enjoy it, you can do it again and perhaps make more friends.
You might also want to join clubs outside of college in order to meet British people. There are local clubs for people who like sports, art, music, local history and many other things. Don’t worry if the people are not your age — they will still be friendly!
We could also arrange some volunteer work for you if you would like to meet British people.
This could be something simple such as visiting elderly people in a nursing home, just to chat to them. You could join or work for a charity, or go along to your local church.
Leisure in the UK
There are lots of activities, events and excursions at Kings for you to enjoy after lessons. The Activities Organiser at each college is there to make sure you have lots to keep your days busy and fun-filled with your fellow students.
Amateur football is popular and many towns and cities have a Sunday League for local teams. There is a wide choice of other sports to take part in, such as tennis, squash, swimming and exercising in the gym. Leisure Centres are places where you will find an indoor swimming pool, gym and other indoor and outdoor sports facilities. These are often much cheaper than gyms or health clubs. You can ask us when you arrive at college about opportunities to take part in sports.
Many Britons also enjoy watching sports.
The main spectator sports are football and rugby in the winter months and cricket in the summer. If you enjoy watching sports, you can join others in front of a television at home or in a pub which shows ‘live’ sports on big screens. Although football is the biggest spectator sport in Britain, rugby and cricket have many fans right across the English-speaking world.
In Britain there are 5 terrestrial channels which everyone can receive, but many people also have cable or satellite TV. There are also additional digital channels. Most channels are commercial. That is, they receive money for showing advertisements or commercials during breaks in the programmes.
The BBC channels, on the other hand, do not show commercials. The BBC receives money from the government to make programmes. That is why everyone has to pay a TV licence fee each year. This pays for 8 interactive TV channels, 10 radio networks, over 50 local TV and radio services and the website www.bbc.co.uk.
If you buy a TV in Britain, you will have to buy a TV licence, which is £145.50. If you decide to buy a TV set, the shop assistant will ask for your name and address so that the TV Licensing Authority can check you have a licence. Even if you are staying with a host family, you need to buy a licence if you buy your own TV or watch TV on your laptop.
In Britain, most inner-city or town-centre shops are open seven days a week, but large stores can only open for 6 hours on a Sunday — most open from 10.00am to 4.00pm or 11.00am to 5.00pm. Some supermarkets in bigger towns are open 24 hours, but most smaller shops close at 5.30pm. This is probably much earlier than in your country, but remember that shops usually open at 9.00am and do not close for lunch. In summer and before Christmas, some shopping centres will have ‘late night’ opening until 8.00 or 9.00pm.
You may also be surprised by customer service in Britain. It is not usual for someone to say ‘hello’ to you when you walk into a shop. In all shops you will need to queue up to pay. Most shops in Britain do not ask you to hand in shopping bags before you walk around. However, do not put anything in your bag or your pockets that you have not paid for. The security staff will think you are ‘shoplifting’, which means trying to steal. Use a shopping basket or trolley provided by the store.
More and more Britons shop online. You can find low prices and good deals with fast delivery services. Remember that when you buy something online you have the right to send it back for any reason within 7 days of receiving it. If you do send something back, inform the suppliers by email or phone and keep the postal receipt. If you have any problems with shopping online, ask the staff at college or your host family for advice.
Restaurants, the cinema and theatre
All the cities in which our colleges are based have a wide selection of restaurants. The most common ones are Chinese, Indian and Italian. Some people eat out regularly, and others only do this on special occasions, such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries.
Cinemas might seem expensive in Britain, but you can often save money if you go before 5.00pm Monday to Friday, or if you have a student card. Some people prefer to rent a DVD, as this is much cheaper.
Sometimes you can sit anywhere, but in other cinemas you may be asked to choose a seat when you buy your ticket. There are smaller cinemas that show independent or foreign films, as well as large cinemas showing blockbusters.
Going to the theatre to see concerts, comedians or plays is also a popular pastime with some people. It is not usual to dress up in special clothes, although some people might do this.
Going to the pub
British pubs are an important and fun part of life and culture in the UK. You are allowed to drink alcohol in pubs in Britain if you are 18 or over. Of course, whatever your age, it is a bad idea to drink too much alcohol – especially if you here to study hard!
Pubs may be different from bars in your country. In particular you will notice:
- Both men and women drink in pubs.
- Most pubs do not have waiters to bring drinks to you. You must go to the bar to order your drinks and you pay for them as soon as you receive them. You do not need to leave a tip.
- You do not have to drink alcohol. Pubs offer soft drinks such as cola, lemonade, orange juice and water. Some pubs also serve tea and coffee. You should always have a drink in front of you. It is not OK for only one or two people from a big group of friends to have a drink. If you take all night to drink one drink, the staff in the pub may ask you to leave!
- Smoking is not permitted in pubs. Both smokers and pub owners can face a fine if people smoke there. If you want to smoke, you’ll have to go outside.
Pub culture is very important to British life and there are many pubs to choose from. In town and city centres, you will find pubs that show ‘live’ sport on TV and play music CDs or have a jukebox. Many also have ‘live’ music, karaoke or quizzes. Some also have games you can play, such as darts and pool. You can also find pubs that serve excellent food and are perhaps more about eating than drinking. These are often called “gastropubs”.
Local pubs (pubs outside city and town centres) are often good places to make friends, as the same people go there night after night. Bigger towns and most cities also have gay-friendly pubs. Many pubs have areas for quietly eating and drinking with friends, and other areas for watching sports, playing pub games and listening to music. Therefore you should be able to find a pub, or part of one, that you like!
Using services in the UK
For details of services near Kings, see The Local Area: Local Services.
The Post Office
The post office can help you with services for sending letters and packages in the UK or around the world. The post office also helps with many other services such as exchanging currency, sending money worldwide, international phonecards and driving licences. For more information visit the local post office or www.royalmail.com.
If you are staying in the UK for a long time, it will be a good idea to open a bank account. You will receive a debit card, which means you can use an ATM, the internet or a ‘Chip and Pin’ machine. You cannot be given a credit card until you are 18.
Payment by ‘Chip and Pin’
Many restaurants and shops allow customers to pay using a ‘chip and pin’ machine. Customers who have a debit or credit card and a PIN often choose to pay this way instead of paper money (‘cash’).
‘Tipping’ is only used for some services, such as in restaurants, carrying luggage in hotels and using taxis, when the service has been good. Tipping is normally 15-20% of the overall cost.
If you decide to use a mobile phone in the UK, it might be easiest to choose a ‘Pay As You Go’ phone. This means you buy credit and use it on your phone. You cannot have a mobile phone contract unless you are 18 or older.
It is a very good idea to join the local library, which has a larger range of books, music, magazines and newspapers than your college library. Of course, libraries will also have internet, study areas and information about events in the community. Libraries also have a ‘worldwide’ section, and you will find DVDs, CDs and books in your native language. You will also be able to search, reserve and request books from other libraries. It is free to join the library, but you will pay a ‘fine’ if you return books late.
Managing your money
Young Person’s Railcard
If you are between 16 and 25 and you travel by train a lot, you can buy a Railcard for around £28. The Railcard gives you a reduction of 30% on train prices and other tickets. Go to www.16-25railcard.co.uk for more information.
Weekly or Monthly Bus Pass
If you use the bus regularly, it may be cheaper to buy a weekly or monthly bus pass. The Oxford Bus Company website has all the information you need. They offer the Key, a rechargeable travel smartcard, which you can load with pre-paid tickets online. Find out more online at www.oxfordbus.co.uk or ask at reception for more information.
Food in the UK
Many visitors to Britain find the food boring and bland. Bland means without spice, taste or interest. The British often boil vegetables until they are soft. They roast, grill or fry meat, often without many spices or herbs. That’s why the British use salt, pepper and sauces such as tomato ketchup, mustard and gravy.
The good news is that British people eat food from lots of other countries too, especially Italian, Chinese and Indian dishes. In large British cities you will find restaurants offering foods from many different countries. Chicken tikka masala is as popular as fish and chips these days.
Britons, both men and women, take an interest in food and cooking. Recipe books are bestsellers and cookery programmes are very popular. TV chefs are some of the most famous people in Britain. On the other hand, many people eat ‘fast food’ such as pizzas and hamburgers.
On average the British work more hours a week than most other Europeans. So people don’t have much time to shop for and cook fresh food.
Supermarkets sell ‘convenience food’, pre-cooked dishes that can be heated up and served in 5 to 20 minutes. The British also buy a lot of frozen and tinned food. The microwave oven is a great time saver in many homes.
In short, the food scene in Britain is mixed.
Here is an idea of what you might expect during a normal week. Notice that meal times may differ from those in your country.
This is often a quick meal, usually between 7.00am and 8.00am just before people leave home for work or college.
Light breakfasts are common, especially during the working week. They include: cereal (such as cornflakes, muesli, etc.) with milk, toast and jam or marmalade, a glass of juice (orange, grapefruit, etc.), tea or coffee. Tea is usually black with milk added and sometimes sugar.
Notice that this is a cold food breakfast. If you are used to warm food for breakfast, you may prefer the cooked breakfast.
Cooked breakfasts are less common, but some people eat eggs – boiled, scrambled, poached or fried – with toast. Notice how the British eat boiled eggs with a teaspoon.
A traditional breakfast: a choice of fried sausages, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans and bread. This is a big meal and people usually eat it when they are on holiday or staying in hotels. Some people may eat it if they have physical jobs and need to eat a lot for breakfast.
Usually a short break for a snack and a hot drink at about 11 o’clock. Tea or coffee with biscuits, a chocolate bar, crisps or fruit. You will notice that British people eat a lot of snacks between meals, such as fruit, biscuits, crisps (‘potato chips’ in American English), and chocolate bars. Eating snacks in the street is quite normal.
Lunch is usually eaten at some time between 12.00 and 1.30pm. Lunch usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes. Some families call this ‘dinner’. Most people eat a light lunch on working days. This usually includes sandwiches, some fruit such as an apple or orange, and a biscuit or chocolate snack of some kind. Your host will ask what you prefer. You can then buy a hot or cold drink to go with it.
For lunch most Britons choose from: sandwiches/ pizza/ a bowl of soup/ cold meat with salad/ a jacket potato/ baked beans on toast*/ a burger/ a heated ‘ready’ meal*. To one of these many people add a packet of crisps, fruit or chocolate.
(*These lunches are usually prepared at home)
Another short break for a hot drink, usually tea, and snack.
Usually early evening at any time between 6.00pm and 8.00pm. Some families call this meal ‘tea’ or ‘supper’. What do people usually eat for dinner?
Traditional British food
Meat (beef, chicken, pork or lamb) or fish with potatoes, boiled vegetables and gravy. The meat is usually roasted, fried or grilled. Meat pies are also popular. For example, chicken pie, steak and kidney pie, and shepherd’s pie (with minced meat and mashed potato). In general you may find that the British eat more meat than in your country. The potatoes may be boiled, mashed, roasted or baked. Chips are popular in Britain, especially in families with young children. People buy them in plastic bags and keep them in the freezer. They cook the chips from frozen in deep fat fryers, pans or ovens.
Common vegetables include carrots, peas, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans.
In the winter, stew is popular. This is like a thick soup, usually with meat and vegetables.
For dessert apple pie, ice cream, cake or fruit are popular. The British often eat dessert as the last part of a main meal.
Pasta (spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, ravioli), pizza, curry with rice, Chinese food.
Collected from a shop or restaurant and eaten at home: Fish and chips, Chinese food, Indian food, Hamburgers.
Meals at weekends
Meals and meal times may be different at weekends if people are not working. Some families like to enjoy their free time without having to spend a lot of time cooking. Takeaways are popular time savers at weekends.
Other families may enjoy cooking and having a big family meal. This often happens on Sundays. Outdoor barbecues in people’s gardens are also popular during warm weather.
More and more people are becoming vegetarian. This means they do not eat meat. Others are vegan. They do not eat anything connected to animals, such as meat, cheese, milk and eggs.
Some people have allergies to wheat or dairy products and cannot eat them. Others do not eat certain foods for religious reasons.
If you cannot or do not want to eat certain foods for any reason, tell us about it before you come to Britain. We can then choose the right family for you.
Watch what, how and when British people eat. Do you notice differences between British families?
How are eating habits different from your country? For example, what fruit do the British generally eat and how do they eat it?
Also write down recipes that you would like to take back to your own country. Ask your host for recipes or copy them from recipe books.
Ask other students about their eating experiences in Britain. Is their experience similar or different from yours?
Things to know about food and eating with your hosts
- Expect the food to be different. Try to be ‘open-minded’. Take the opportunity to try lots of new, different foods. You might like them.
- Be prepared to try everything once. You only have to taste it. If you don’t like it, you won’t have to eat it.
- Tell us and your hosts before you arrive if you have a special diet, especially if you are a vegetarian or cannot eat certain foods. We will be happy to help you.
- Tell your hosts what you like and don’t like. They will not be offended.
- If you have any difficulties with the amount or quality of the food you get with the host family, speak to the Accommodation Officers at Kings. They will be able to advise and help you.
- If you really miss food from your country, offer to make your host family a meal. Most supermarkets sell international food and spices.
- Cold water from the tap is perfectly safe in Britain. However, many people prefer bottled water.
Here are some polite questions and answers you can use while eating with your host family.
Question: Would you like a second helping? (= Would you like some more?)
Answer: Yes, please.
OR, No, thank you. That was very nice but I’m full up now. (= I can’t eat any more)
OR, No, thank you. That was delicious but I want to save some room for dessert.
Question: You haven’t eaten very much. Didn’t you like it?
Answer: It was lovely. I had a big lunch/ I don’t feel very hungry tonight.
Being a Pedestrian
Cars do not need to stop for pedestrians (a person walking on the street), unless the pedestrian is using a crossing. Crossings are shown by the black and white painted areas on the road. Where possible, you should use a crossing, but always use a space to cross where people can see you clearly.
Pedestrians must always use the raised walkways on the side of the road, called ‘pavements’. On very minor roads such as roads in the countryside, there may be no pavement. On these roads, walkers must walk on the side of the road towards the traffic. On major roads such as dual carriageways, Pedestrians must use bridges and subways to cross busy roads. It is illegal to try to walk across a dual carriageway or a motorway.
Using a Bus
Every bus stop shows the numbers of the buses that stop there. The bus will only stop at the bus stop. Sometimes you may have to raise your hand to stop a bus. If a bus is full, it may not stop. Remember to use the red button before your stop to signal to the driver that you plan to leave the bus.
Being a Driver
Remember that you must have an international driving licence to drive on British Roads. The speed limits are shown in circular signs. The national speed limit is 60 miles per hour. You should not drive if you do not know the Highway Code and the rules of the UK roads.
Visit www.gov.uk/highway-code for more information.
Being a Cyclist
Cyclists normally take a Cycling Proficiency Test before riding on the road. Cyclists should use special parts of the road called ‘Cycle Lanes’ when possible. It is not recommended to cycle on busy roads such as ‘dual carriageways’. It is illegal to cycle on the motorway.
Visit www.gov.uk/highway-code for more information.
Understanding Road Signs
Roads are coded by the letters ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘M’. Information for major roads (‘A’ Roads) and minor roads (‘B’ Roads) are always green. Information for motorways (These roads begin with ‘M’) is shown on blue signs. Road signs showing local information are always brown.
Red white and black triangle-shaped signs show warnings. Red, white and black signs in the shape of circles show the UK Law.
All these signs are described in a book called The Highway Code, or by visiting www.gov.uk/highway-code.
The UK Law protects everyone in the UK, whether they are living here or visiting. It is important that you respect the law, the Police, and the other people in the UK. It is equally important that they respect you.
Please follow the UK Law, and remember that things that are legal in your country may not be legal in the UK. Here are some examples of laws that are important to know.
On the Street
The following things are illegal to do on the street:
- Dropping litter, including chewing gum and cigarettes
- Graffiti (e.g., drawing or writing on walls)
- Cycling on the pavement
- Carrying weapons
- Carrying self-defence sprays
It is illegal to smoke or to buy cigarettes if you are 17 or younger. If you are 18 or over, it is illegal to buy cigarettes for someone who is under 18. When you buy cigarettes, you may be asked for Proof of Age, such as a passport. If you do not have this, the seller must, by Law, refuse to sell cigarettes to you. It is illegal to smoke in a car with another passenger.
It is illegal to buy or to drink alcohol if you are 17 or younger. If you are 18 or over, it is illegal to buy alcohol for someone who is under 18. When you buy alcohol you may be asked for Proof of Age, such as a passport. If you do not have this, the seller must, by Law, refuse to sell alcohol to you.
It is illegal to buy, sell or take recreational drugs (drugs taken for pleasure rather than medical reasons) in the UK. The possession of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and steroids can mean a lot of trouble with the police, going to court, prison and/ or losing your visa and being sent home.
For more information on illegal drugs please see the following website: www.gov.uk/penalties-drug-possession-dealing
By Law, anyone travelling in vehicles such as cars and coaches must wear a seatbelt. No driver must use a mobile phone while driving, unless they have a ‘handsfree’ device.
Too much noise, such as loud music or a TV, particularly at night time, can be reported to the Police and stopped. Please think about your neighbours.
Environmental awareness in your day-to-day life
In the UK the general public are increasingly expected to consider saving resources and the environment whilst going about their day-to-day lives.
Here are a few practices which you should adopt whilst living in the UK - some of which are already widespread, others of which are still catching on, but all of which are very important. Many of these may already be in practice in your home country, and you may be surprised by how far the UK has still to go! Or perhaps it might take a bit of effort to remember many of these steps, but with the help and encouragement of host families, colleges and fellow students, you should find it easy and satisfying to do your bit for saving the planet.
- Make sure you turn off the lights when you leave a room
- Don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth
- Try and have short showers rather than baths
- Recycle as much as possible. What can be recycled varies depending on where you are in the UK, so ask your homestay family/college staff for more information. However, as a general rule, glass, tin cans, aluminium cans, paper and cardboard are all recyclable, and many plastics are too, especially the kind used for milk bottles and soft drink bottles
- If you are staying with a homestay family they may have a compost bin - this means that all food waste can also be recycled to create good quality soil for the garden! Ask your homestay family for more details
- Don’t use the heating excessively - this is especially important if you are with a homestay family, as energy prices are high in the UK. If you get a bit cold, your first step should be putting on an extra layer of clothing or two. After this, consider turning up the heating for a short while. Once you have warmed up, switch off the heating again. Never use the heating with windows open.
- Try not to waste paper. Write on both sides of the pages where possible
- Recycle as much as possible. Your college will have recycling bins for paper, card, glass, metals and some plastics
- When buying stationery for yourself, try to look for recycled paper
- Make sure you turn off the taps when you leave the bathrooms
- Don’t print things out unless you need to or have been told to by your teachers. If you print anything out in error, make sure you recycle the paper, or use the waste pages as note paper.