Posted by: anglopole | October 24, 2008

Savoir vivre the English way ;-)

You know the famous saying: when in Rome do as the Romans do? It’s very much applicable when you are staying in the UK for shorter or longer periods of time. Acquiring the English social skills will, surely, help you sort things out in various institutions and befriend the natives 🙂

The Do’s: 

  • Always smile (it really doesn’t matter to anyone what you are feeling at a particular moment) as smiles seem to be interpreted as ‘I like you’ sort of statement
  • When you’re greeting people make sure you nearly sing questions like ‘Are you alright?’, with the last syllable being the highest note in your question. Ah, and remember to add ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’ at the end of the greeting.
  • Make sure you use phrases ‘yes, please’ and ‘no, thank you’ in all circumstances as failure to do so will automatically classify you as, well…. boorish!
  • Gladly engage in conversations about the weather and show as much enthusiasm as possible, especially on the nice, sunny days, as those are rather rare
  • Use understatements as much as possible, especially when talking about difficult, sad or serious situations. It is one of the defence mechanisms of the English, I suppose, to cope with all the storms of life (we’re not talking about the weather here, mind you!)
  • Be careful when resorting to cynicism, but do show you appreciate the clever (even if it isn’t) use of sarcasm by the English
  • To be safe, always tell people what they want to hear
  • When talking about your pet hates or those annoying situations that tend to walk in threes, always exaggerate (you’ve stained your favourite shirt, for example, whinge your heart out!) as that seems to spice of the daily conversations up a lot.

The Don’ts

  • Never ever assume people are friendly towards you just because they smile (all too often it’s just a custom, an empty expression that is both appropriate and expected)
  • Don’t ever talk about the misfortunes in your life when someone’s asked: ‘How are you?’ – that will most likely embarrass your listener as they don’t really want to know…. and don’t ever think they care about you just because they addressed you with the patronizing ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’!
  • Don’t assume people are polite just because they use polite expressions
  • Don’t try to resolve conflicts at work by negotiation with those who’ve offended you; just report them to your superior and do it in writing (one of the unspoken of rules here is: who’s first to report sth gets heard), keeping a signed copy of the report.
  • Don’t engage in bitching about people thinking that in this way you are going to gain friends. Before you know, you’ll be the one reported for offending someone.
  • Don’t tell jokes unless you are sure you can do it in an English way, otherwise they are likely to be received as offensive.
  • Don’t confront people or tell them how you really feel about something. The English don’t seem to be good at handling confrontations. Use the undestatements, hints, indirect comments…. treat them like eggs… with loads of sensitivity and gentleness! 😉
  • Don’t be honest as it will most likely be used against you at some point; The less information about yourself the better, the safer for you…
  • Don’t criticize the UK in any shape or form as it hurts the rather big national pride of the English


If you follow these pieces of advice, you may become birds of a feather with the English (I’m not referring to the British in general here, as the attitudes of the Scotts and the Welsh differ in many ways from those common in England) and you will get the feel of how it is to be starring in a comedy of manners.  😉


  1. I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head! How about some dos and donts for the Polish now? 🙂


  2. Well, I can’t write about dos and don’ts for expats in Poland as this blog is about an expat living in the UK! 🙂 There is a fantastic blog that might interest you, though: – it’s written about Poland seen through the eyes of expats there!

    btw. cheers for posting a comment!


  3. This is such an interesting post, nice to see our customs from an ‘outside’ view. Most of these I’ve not previously thought of as quintessentially British.
    It made me think of a few things:
    1) I personally despise the false politeness of this population, and so I get thought of as cold or unsociable.
    2) With the smiling, if you don’t smile or provide some light voice or raising of eyebrows, the person you’re talking to is instantly put off guard and feels almost scared and ill at ease; but on the other side, when you see someone smiling as they’re walking down the street, you can easily identify them as having an undeflatable ego(link to ‘chavs’) or being foreign, Because Brits seem to have a default setting of -Scowl-.
    3) Dry humour is something that makes me proud to be British! I believe the subtleties of irony to be quite beautiful 🙂 (in contradiction to the subtleties of English manners, which I’ve always compared to tiptoeing around someone’s ego).
    4) I’ve always found that English national pride (as opposed to say American) to be quite a farce, like you say, no-one can truly define what it is to be British.

    Sorry to be so harsh and to the point (I had a lot to say), I truly enjoyed your post, it was quite enlightening.
    (Oh, and I’d like to say it’s not just Scotland and Wales that are different, there are huge differences in manners and customs all across England)


  4. Hi there Bgecko!
    Thanks for your comment! I didn’t find it harsh, to be honest! 🙂
    As you may have guessed I was trying to be ironic in my post, btw.
    Indeed I have noticed different attitudes, manners or just way of being in various parts of England. People in the north are said to be friendlier than those in the south and I can sort of confirm it. I like the variety and especially when it comes to accents and dialects (I will probably have to bring it up in one post some time)!


  5. I can’t say anything because I’m from the north 🙂
    You should definitely write a post on accents and dialects, I have a friend who studies linguistics and thats my favourite aspect, it’s such an important aspect of English culture.


  6. Ah, well, I’ll have to be mentioning one more asset the English people in the north possess and that’s modesty! 😉
    Accents and dialects are exactly what makes English such an interesting language, IMHO! I’d like to know if there is anothere language somewhere which has so many varieties? Anyway, I shall pick the subject up at some point and study it here! 🙂


  7. Hi!

    On a somewhat related note: does anyone know where to find ‘Savoir Vivre’? I’ve heard that it is in print form and teaches you “grace and poise in every situation”, but the text itself seems very obscure. Am I reading into the term too literally? Does this just stand for a handful of rules to follow in certain cultures?


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