Culture Shocks! An American in Britain

So we speak the same language – well almost!  You would think that an American relocating to London or anywhere in the UK would find it easy to quickly assimilate to life here.  Think again…us Brits have some funny ways but once you get to know them it will make living your new life in the UK a whole lot easier 🙂 Here are some cultural differences:

9.00am – 5.30pm culture

There is pretty much a universal standard of working hours that are between 9.00am and 5.30pm in the UK. That’s not to say every person works these hours, but it’s the most common working pattern. When the clock strikes 5.30pm you can bet most people are packing up or the door is swinging from someone’s swift departure. Work cafes and restaurants are also popular during the day so you’ll probably be more inclined to take regular breaks and a full hour for lunch. Our American clients have commented about the fact they feel they have a better work/life balance here in the UK than in the States. 

Holiday Time

One of the biggest differences American clients find when relocating to the UK is the amount of  paid time off or holiday allowance on offer compared to the United States. 

They are normally shocked to learn that the mandatory amount of holiday that UK employers must offer their staff is 28 days, compared to zero in the United States. Recent Government statistics suggest the average private-sector worker in the US receives only about 10 days of paid annual leave and about six paid public holidays a year. In the UK you will enjoy a minimum of 28 days full paid leave in addition to around ten public or bank holidays although employers do not always have to pay for these additional days. If yours is a corporate relocation where your employer is supporting you financially with your relocation, talk to your human resources manager about how your holiday entitlement will work once you have relocated to the UK.

The UK is not Westminster

Whilst soldiers with tall black bearskin hats, red buses and telephone boxes may seem like the representation of the British look, this couldn’t be further from the truth. London is often used as the complete representation of the UK in the media, so if you plan to relocate to other parts of the UK take into consideration that in reality 90% of the UK is still countryside. If you’re looking at the suburbs surrounding any big city then you’ll probably be in a leafy green neighbourhood with minimal British eccentricities.

London, America, Culture, Relocation

We don’t tip big!

Unlike in the United States where tipping is the norm and is ‘expected’, in the UK it is generally seen as a nice thing to do and is usually decided by each individual party and their generosity. Obviously there are some people who tip regularly with 10% of the bill being standard, although a £2 coin for a £20 a head meal would also be seen as acceptable.You may find in more expensive restaurants that an added table service charge is included (and will be shown on the receipt) however if you are unhappy with the service then this should be queried, and usually it will be removed.

However, if you leave nothing when you walk away from your table it definitely won’t be frowned upon – especially if you’re eating in a pub where tipping expectations are even lower than a restaurant setting. 

We’re polite but that doesn’t always mean open

British people tend to be quite reserved in the sense that friends and acquaintances will talk in hushed tones on the train, people will hold doors for you and you’ll receive a lot of ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s. This very British way of life is one of the many things that our relocating American clients find very pleasing about our culture. These courteous and quick acknowledgements are a way we present ourselves as polite and well mannered. 

If your move is to take on a new role in central London then the culture there is more likely to be open and inclusive purely down to the fact London is hugely cosmopolitan with people living side by side from every nationality from across the globe. If however, you’re moving further afield than the capital then although you’ll find people are fairly friendly, it might take a few months before your new work colleagues invite you to their more personal evening or weekend gatherings. Don’t be put off by this, it’s just the culture and with a bit of time you will soon feel very at home.  British people are generally seen as being reserved and we just take a little longer to get to know new people than a ‘typical’ American might.

Our sense of humour

British people are known for our unusual sense of humour to Americans. We like to make others laugh through quick wit, sarcasm and irony.

It could be pouring with rain and we’ll say ‘’nice day, isn’t it?’’. We are all about not taking ourselves too seriously, being able to laugh at ourselves and not be offended, for instance a light-hearted way to tell someone next to you to stop raising their voice so close to you would be to say ‘’I’m only here’’. There can also be a dark sense of humour with unconventional topics used to create a sense of awkward but funny jokes, mainly with those closest to us. You only have to watch British films like Shaun of the Dead, to see what we mean.

The last thing to mention in this blog is that you will find that in The UK the first topic of conversation is always our weather!  It can be pretty changeable here (although it doesn’t rain as much as most people think it does!).  You will get used to every conversation starting this way 🙂

Further reading

We would recommend reading Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes from a Small Island: Journey Through Britain‘. It was a huge number-one bestseller when it was first published, and has become the nation’s most loved book about Britain, going on to sell over two million copies.


If you’d like to know more about the culture training we offer through our expert partners with topics such as language barriers, British etiquette, values and beliefs, contact us today.  We also offer a complete range of relocation services whether you are a private individual moving to the UK or moving as part of a corporate relocation.


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