Stereotypes about British culture – how true are they?

| 07/04/2011 | 72 Comments

British CultureAs is the case in most countries, the Britain of today is made up of lots of different people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. This is especially true in large towns and cities, which have become really multicultural over the last few decades especially. Some of the more rural parts of Britain are perhaps less so, but in general it’s much harder to define a national ‘culture’ than say, fifty years ago.

That said, there are definitely stereotypes that are commonly applied to the British culture, some of which are fairly close to the truth, and others which aren’t! Many would have been based on the Britain of decades gone by, but there are some which are still relevant today.


There are lots of stereotypes about British food, one of which is that we live on fish and chips and roast beef! Fortunately for our arteries, this is not the case… these dishes are certainly long-standing favourites amongst British people, but these days people have a much more varied, and in general, healthy diet. Most towns will have at least one fish and chip shop, but most people will limit a fish and chip dinner to once or twice a month. Roast dinners are still very popular too, but are restricted in general to Sundays, when it is common for people to go to a local pub for a beef, chicken, pork or lamb roast. Most towns and cities in Britain actually have a huge range of restaurants, which reflects the change of eating habits in Britain – Thai, Chinese, Indian and Italian food in particular are now fully incorporated into the British diet, and in fact will often be eaten much more frequently than traditional British dishes.

Another stereotype that relates to food and drink is that British people drink lots of tea. Whilst coffee and other hot drinks are consumed in Britain, it’s fair to say that tea is probably still the most popular! Tea is commonly drunk in the workplace throughout the day, and often if you want to meet up with a friend or family member you’ll invite them to your house for a ‘cup of tea’ and a chat.

Social customs

In general the British have a reputation for being very polite and quite traditional, and to a certain extent this is quite true. Of course, as in any society there are some people who choose not to be respectful, but in general Brits are fairly polite. It is normal in Britain to hear people saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot, and also to refrain from reacting angrily in situations where people brought up in other cultures might be more ‘forward’ in airing their opinions!

Another aspect of politeness is the way that British people are taught to queue. British people queue for everything in public, and any attempt to ‘queue jump’ will be considered very rude. Any queue jumpers would most likely be asked to move to the back to ‘wait their turn’.

The way that British people speak and the language that we use is also considered quite polite. The language that many people use, including lots of phrases like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’ and ‘would you mind…’ certainly back this up, but the stereotype that all British people speak the Queen’s English is most definitely not true! There are some people who use Received Pronunciation (the accent of Standard English in England), but the majority of people around the country speak with a regional accent and use a dialect that wouldn’t be considered as ‘Queen’s English’. Over the last couple of decades there have been sustained efforts to promote the use of regional accents in the British media, specifically to try to reflect a more accurate picture of the Britain of today. The BBC, one of Britain’s oldest and most renowned establishments, now has presenters who originate from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as people who come from areas like Yorkshire and the North East who speak with very specific regional accents.

Although in general the British are portrayed as quite a polite and traditional race, they are also famed for their sense of humour. It’s true that humour is a really important part of the British culture, and comedy shows and acts in Britain are very popular. It’s a specific type of humour that British people appreciate though, which is usually based on sarcasm and irony. This is quite different to the humour in other cultures and can sometimes take a while for foreigners to appreciate!

Free time

The British ‘local’ pub is famous the world over, and today it still plays an important role in small communities especially. Often, villagers or townspeople will have one favourite pub where they go regularly to socialise with friends and neighbours, and it is normal at the weekends or in the evenings for people to go to the pub for a drink or two. In general, British people do drink quite a lot of alcohol in comparison to other European cultures, where the consumption of alcohol is perhaps more common as an accompaniment to a meal than as a stand-alone activity.

Another stereotype about British culture is that we all love football and cricket. It’s definitely true that both of these sports are really popular in terms of both playing and spectating, but it’s not exclusively these which are followed. Rugby is also very popular in Britain, as are tennis, horse racing and Formula 1 motor racing. Lots of sport is shown on British tv, especially at the weekends, and many people attend sporting events on a regular basis too. Sport is definitely an important part of British culture, and will often form the basis of conversations between new acquaintances – especially amongst men. One of the first questions you may be asked is ‘what football team you support’, so make sure you have your answer ready!

Cactus offers English language courses in over 30 locations across the UK, covering England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A variety of courses are available to cater to all ages, levels, interests and budgets, and accommodation can be arranged alongside your course too. All schools offer a comprehensive range of activities and excursions to enable you to make the most out of your stay, meet other students and practise your English.

And if you need to understand the British way of life, business environments, or how to work with individuals from other cultures, Cactus also offers half-day and one-day Cross Cultural training courses.  These will help open your eyes to a better understanding of the people you live and work with.

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