If you’re thinking about heading to the UK as an international student, it’s important you understand what you’re letting yourself in for.
If you’re thinking about heading to the UK to study, it’s important you understand what you’re letting yourself in for. From warm beer and bad teeth, to endless tea and crumpets, us Brits have quite the reputation. We’re here to clear up what’s fact and what’s fiction before you decide to join us.
Stereotype 1: Everyone is cold and reserved
If you’re expecting a nation of emotionally stunted and aloof Jane Austen characters, you’re in for a surprise. The idea of the stiff upper lip, a term the Americans coined in the 19th century to describe us Brits, originates from the public school system of the Victorian era. Students were taught discipline and a sense of unwavering duty, lessons that served us well during the British Empire and two world wars. Today, however, you only have to watch an England football match to see a team of fully-grown men weep openly over defeat. Turn over to X Factor and you’ll witness all manner of emotional outbursts. We’re now a much more open bunch, embracing the modern trend for sharing how we feel. And if we seem a little standoffish at first, it’s only because we like to give people their space. Strike up a conversation with us and it’s more than likely you’ll find us happy to engage.
Stereotype 2: It’s rude to discuss salary or ask how much something cost
A recent study by University College London found British people are more likely to reveal bedroom secrets than the size of their salary. So, yes, discussing your pay packet (or student loan) can be a taboo. In fact, most money-chat will make British people break out in a cold sweat. Weirdly, though, it’s OK to tell people how little you’ve spent on something: “What? This old thing? I bought it in Primark for fifty pence!” is something you’re likely to hear at parties.
Stereotype 3: We say please, thank you and sorry all the time
Thank you for your interest, it is indeed true. Nearly every sentence will feature one or two of these polite padders. If we’re complaining we’ll actually apologise for doing so: “I’m sorry, waiter, but this steak is undercooked.” If some young hooligan is being loud and obnoxious under our window late at night we’ll call down, “Can you keep the noise down, please?” and we’ll probably say, “Thanks ever so much,” just before we disappear back behind the curtain. It’s completely barmy, we know.
Stereotype 4: Our humour is utterly unfathomable
We’re not really a slapstick kind of nation. British humour is rather more subtle than cream pies and silly walks. But bear with us; we can guide you through it with three simple rules. One: we laugh at ourselves all the time. By highlighting our own flaws we like to think it makes us more approachable and likeable. Plus it’s hilarious! No? Oh. Rule two: we say the opposite of what we mean for comedic affect. This one is a little tricky to pick up on, but if you pay attention to our tone and the context you’ll get there. For example, if we say, “I hope you didn’t spend too long getting ready”, when you’ve just answered the door in your pyjamas and haven’t brushed your hair for a week, we’re almost certainly joking. So don’t forget to smirk. Unfortunately, the third rule makes the second even murkier: we always deliver our sarcastic quips in a completely deadpan manner. Why? It just makes it funnier, okay? Hmm. Perhaps we’ll let you have this one after all – fact.
Stereotype 5: It rains all the time
According to the Met Office, there were 106.5 days of rainfall (1mm or more) on average per year in the UK. So you’ll be dry, give or take a smattering, on 71% of the days in a year. It’s probably more accurate to describe our weather as unpredictable. You might get snow in June, an October heat wave, or even a blanket of sand from the Sahara in April, as happened in 2014. Which brings us nicely on to another perception about the Britis: we’re obsessed with discussing the weather. Of course we are! It’s always changing! If we had the same weather every day we wouldn’t have anything to say, would we?
Stereotype 6: Rubbish food
A quick history lesson here. English food got its bad rep thanks to strict rationing during the First and Second World Wars. Leaf through cookbooks before this time and you’ll find sophisticated, technically dazzling dishes that would have impressed even the toughest of food critics. But because the generation who lived through these wars only had access to limited and low quality ingredients their own culinary abilities were somewhat stifled. This lack of knowledge or appetite for good cooking was then passed down to the post-rationing generation. But, boy, have we bounced back. For the last decade, British food has become something worth salivating over. In fact, you’ll find some of the world’s best restaurants, to suit every budget, in the UK. You can still get tasteless stodge, of course, but you can very easily avoid it too.
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