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Excerpted from the United Kingdom Career Guide

Daily Life

The United Kingdom (UK) is a multicultural society. According to a recent census, ethnic minority groups comprise close to 8 percent of the population.

Since World War II, the UK – with 14 overseas territories and three crown dependencies – has seen an influx of immigration from its former colonies, such as India, Pakistan and countries in the Caribbean. In more recent times, there has been increased immigration from European partner countries.

Communication Style

When in doubt in the United Kingdom, it is better to be formal. Until one knows the protocol for a particular setting, it is safer to dress smartly, address others by their last names and act in a reserved manner. The British have a reputation for maintaining a 'stiff upper lip.'They are not keen on emotional displays or showing too much enthusiasm. Talking loudly is frowned upon, as is backslapping, hugging or prolonged eye contact.

Language Skills

The English language is mainly a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. Although British law does not define an official language, English is the de facto official language, and business in the United Kingdom is conducted in English. It is practically imperative for anyone wishing to live and work in the country to learn English, as interpreters are seldom used. Non-native speakers need not concern themselves too much with perfection; the British are generally lenient toward those who make an effort to learn English – as long as they can understand what the speaker is trying to say. However, job applicants are expected to demonstrate a high level of written and spoken English.

If You Want to Act Like a Local...

  • At a pub, it is customary to pay in turn for a round of drinks for a group. The most common British beer is known as ‘bitter,’ which is a medium bitter beer with about 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. ‘Lager’ is the British term for lighter, often imported, beers. Although this has changed in recent years, women traditionally order half-pints while men order full pints. Wine also has become increasingly popular.

  • One should tip staff at pubs if table service is provided (usually around 10 percent) unless it states that it is included in the bill.

  • If invited to someone’s home, one should bring a small gift for the host. Safe bets include chocolate, wine and flowers. The host is not obligated to open or use the gift that evening. If one is staying overnight with the host, it is a nice gesture to give something unique to one’s home country. Whatever the occasion, it is a polite to send a thank you note after the visit.

Office Protocol

The British strive for loyalty and integrity, and they appreciate directness. It is important to remember the country has a strong anti-discrimination culture backed by law. Assuming charge or giving strong opinions is acceptable in the appropriate circumstances, but it is often more productive for an employee to take a diplomatic approach until he proves himself.

Corporate Hierarchy / Boss and Subordinate Relations

In the past, there was a very rigid separation between the ranks in British business. The management class was often hired laterally. In other words, managers did not come up through the ranks, but rather moved from one organization to another. Rank had its privileges: separate dining rooms, separate floors and even separate corporate events. Business life today is more fluid, although the degree to which this change has occurred varies among different industries.

Negotiation styles

Negotiations are subtle, slow-paced and understated. One must pay attention to what is said, as well as what is not said. The decision makers may be the ones who say the least during the negotiation sessions.

Written Correspondence

Email has revolutionized communication; however, the style is still determined by how formal or established the relationship is. ‘Dear’ plus the first or second name will be used in initial communication, along with ‘Regards,’ ‘Best Regards’ or ‘Best Wishes’ at the end. This formality can be dropped as the relationship progresses, or for a quick exchange (e.g., confirming a meeting time and place). Short forms or symbols should not be used unless a close relationship exists.

This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete United Kingdom Guide.

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