Common Ground Travel

The Top British Cultural Quirks

Let’s talk about a few of the top British cultural quirks. Some of the CGT team are British, so we’ve grown up immersed in the culture. We asked ourselves, if we were to define “Britishness”, which four characteristics would be top of our list? We think we’ve wittled it down to a few essentials that together lend Britain its unique character.

British Cultural Quirks: (Plastic) Politeness

The British are so awfully polite, aren’t they? You can’t order a coffee without exchanging a few pleases and thankyous, and when you’re leaving the door, they wish you a nice day. And that’s not to mention the standard greeting “how are you?”.

Foreigners either find it false and forced, or enjoy a break from their own citizens’ bluntness.

I personally don’t like this overpoliteness. It feels extremely forced most of the time. The barista or bartender or shop assistant clearly doesn’t feel thankful for me buying an insignificant item (nor should they), and I feel they’re just doing their job. Why waste time on the pleases and thankyous? I would much rather they communicated sincerely than forcing themselves to mouth pointless niceties. As for “have a nice day” and “how are you?”, they leave me perplexed. How am I? How on earth does one answer that question?

What’s more, if you don’t return this packaged politeness, Brits tend to get decidedly impolite. On several occasions, after not thanking someone for opening a door or moving out my way on the street, I’ve had the ironic “thank you” flung at me. This shows how plastic the politeness is.

Anyways, let’s move on to the defining British cuisine: afternoon tea.

British Cultural Quirks: Afternoon Tea

Britain isn’t famed for authentic cuisine because it has adopted dishes from all around the world, many of which have become commonplace. However, afternoon tea is undoubtedly as British as it comes. Here’s what it’s about.

You go to a fancy restaurant or old country house from mid to late afternoon and are treated to a set of tiered plates full of scones, sandwiches and macaroons. This is accompanied by a generous pot of breakfast or Earl Grey tea, whichever you fancy. And you are charged 30 to 60 pounds per person for the pleasure.

This is so very British. And I bet the hotel and restaurant owners rub their hands whenever they see a bunch of fifty-year-old women ordering afternoon tea from the menu. The margin is ginormous.


The native language in Britain is, of course, British. No wait, it’s English. But that’s a story for another day. This means that Brits tend to be monolingual: they can travel and work in most countries in the world without having to learn the lingo. This is unlike people from other European countries, who are immersed in several languages from birth.

Some claim this comes from an imperial superiority complex. I’m not sure. I think they never pick up the habit of learning foreign languages, even though they’re mandatory subjects at school, and get used to travelling around the world while only toning down their accent or lowering their speed to make themselves understood. It certainly makes life easier, though as a speaker of multiple languages I pity their lack of foreign-language skills.

Pubs and Pints

And finally, how could we possibly do an article like this without mentioning pubs and pints?

Drinking is the pastime of a large chunk of the British population, particularly the male one. The British not only love their beer, cider and lager: they specifically love it when served in a full pint glass, which is slightly over half a litre in size.

Pubs, in the sense of traditionally decorated establishments that serve mostly alcohol and possibly a small pub menu, are the main incubators for British drinking culture.