K M Enayet Hossain
21 July, 2022

6 min read


International student guide to British etiquette & customs

British people have always had the reputation for impeccably good manners and politeness. 'Thank you', 'I'm sorry', 'please', and 'excuse me' - use these phrases as often as you like as it is always better to be overly-courteous than to be considered rude.

International student guide to British etiquette & customs

When you come to study in the UK from your home country, you will be representing your country in international environment; you will spend a significant amount of time in British society and interact with British people in many occasions. During this, your manner and behaviour will promote your personality and develop your life-skills. Knowing British etiquette & customs will help you value and respect the social norms in Britain and adapt with the environment nicely.

Etiquette at University

  • Be on time at the beginning of the day and after lunch or recess breaks
  • Be kind, polite, and courteous to others
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself
  • Be respectful of classmates, teachers, and property
  • Raise your hand when you would like to speak in class or if you need to leave the classroom for any reason (e.g., going to the bathroom, visiting the nurse, etc.)
  • Be quiet when the teacher or classmates are talking
  • Keep your workspace tidy
  • Walk, don’t run, in the hallways
  • Use positive language
  • Don’t sleep in class
  • Don’t use your phone - turn your phone off in class, or at the very least turn the ringer completely off and put your phone away
  • If you are expecting a call during class time, inform your professor
  • Don’t use social media on your laptop or any device while in the class. Not only will you distract yourself, but you will also distract your peers
  • Don’t leave class early unless you have asked for permission first
  • If you are going to miss a class, tell your professor ahead of time
  • Always be honest

Library etiquette

  • Carry an ID card with you when you visit the library and show it to staff on request
  • Be considerate to other Library users and respect their rights to work quietly
  • Avoid eating smelly or noisy food - food smells can create an unpleasant environment and food crunching sound can be annoying for your fellow students, and Library users
  • Don’t reserve six seats - it’s unfair to save multiple seats and tell people ‘they’re just coming’ for half an hour
  • Don’t talk on the phone or Skype - speak later or step outside and talk
  • Respect the zones - if there’s a group project zone then work with your friends there, not in the silent zone. And if you need silence to concentrate then don’t sit scowling in the group study zone. When you’re in the computer area, use the PCs available; if you’ve got your own laptop or you’re just doing book research then don’t hog a computer spot
  • Make sure other people can’t hear your music - If you’re using headphones, do the headphone test
  • Keep your laptop on mute. If your phone’s on vibrate, keep it off the desk
  • Take care of books, journals and other library equipment, do not make any marks on library material
  • Try to have no more than five books out at once, be considerate to other users
  • Clear your desk, do not leave stack of books. If you spill a drink, clean it up
  • Put books in the right places (only if you’re sure!)
  • Return lost items for example an USB that could have someone’s entire dissertation plus notes on it
  • Return all library items to their proper locations after use i.e. the public stapler, scissors, ruler etc.
  • Try not to print huge documents at peak time
  • Don’t be that guy - don’t take pictures of people in the library

Etiquette in University halls

  • Keep the noise down after 10pm - If you are going to talk, leave the room and do so outside
  • Keep the lights off when you’re late or early - expanding on this theme, if it’s past 11pm or before sunrise, keep the lights off
  • Avoid plastic bags for packing - they make a lot of noise and very irritating
  • If you’re making a call, chatting on Skype, or watching a movie use headphones
  • If you use anything belonging to someone else, get their permission first and return it how you found it
  • Don’t hog the heaters to dry your cloths, check if others need it
  • Don’t hog the bathroom. Don’t spend 40 minutes in the shower and use up all the hot water
  • Don’t eat other people’s food. Don’t leave food out in the open, cooked or uncooked. This can attract pests
  • What someone chooses to eat is their decision. Respect people’s food choices and keep your opinions to yourself
  • Keep smelly food to a minimum and open the windows to air out the room when cooking
  • Clean your own dishes, keep the utensils organised, keep the kitchen clean
  • Keep the bathrooms clean. Throw your trash, toilet paper, etc., in the bin, don’t pee on the floor, and, if you have to throw up, do it in the toilet, not the sink or shower
  • Keep your dirty laundry away, keep it in your space
  • Don’t confine yourself to your group, be social and friendly
  • Don’t abuse free internet

Public Transport Etiquette

  • Don't stand on the left on escalators. Stand to the right, walk on the left. Don't stop and stand at the bottom of the escalator to check your map or look for the correct platform
  • Form an orderly line when boarding a bus, train or ferry. Do not budge or push
  • Let passengers exit first, o not block their way and do not attempt to board the vehicle until everyone that needs to get off has done so
  • keep your shoes away from the seats – do not rest your feet on a seat
  • Don’t put your bag on a seat. Be kind and considerate, and you’ll do fine
  • Refrain from having loud conversations; talk softly and quietly
  • If you are listening to music from your earphones, turn down your music as it can be audible to other passengers
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and away from people whenever possible. The common practice is to sneeze and cough inside your elbow – not into your hand
  • Try and avoid eating food that smells on the tube just to show consideration
  • Give up your seat to the people who really need it if no other seat is available to them
  • Avoiding eye contact with other passengers may seem odd but is a solid British tradition
  • Do not stare at any passenger or touch anyone inappropriately
  • Whatever you bring onto public transit also leaves with you as you exit. Take your trash away with you and dispose of it properly into a trash can or recycling bin

Public place etiquette

  • Queue up in line to get served – do not break the order or jump up the queue
  • When on a busy sidewalk, filing into a stadium or shopping at your crowded local grocery store, keep moving. Don't stop in your tracks to take a phone call
  • When talking on your cell phone, the general rule is to give yourself a buffer of at least ten feet to conduct a semi-private call without annoying others. If you must make or take a call when in a crowd, keep it as short and quiet as possible
  • Whoever gets to the door first should open it. Hold the door for those behind you, especially when they are within a few steps of the door. If someone holds the door for you, acknowledge their kindness with eye contact, a smile, and a genuine "thank you"
  • If someone is running toward the elevator and the doors are starting to close, hold the door, or press the open door button, instead of pretending you don't see them
  • Do not stare or point your finger at anyone. Don’t allow your behaviour to disturb others, Make an effort to be considerate of others
  • Try to keep in mind that others might not be as enthusiastic as you are with the noise you're generating. This includes yelling or speaking loudly, laughing, talking on your cell phone and playing music
  • Do not pick your nose in public. If your nostrils need de-bugging, use a handkerchief
  • Do not burp in public. If you can not stop a burp from bursting out, then cover your mouth with your hand and say 'excuse me' afterwards
  • Do not throw trash around, find a bin to chuck it – if do not find any nearby, take your trash with you
  • Do not spit on open space – use paper towel to catch it and bin it
  • Do not pass wind loudly and try and pas it far from others
  • Do not cough/yawn/sneeze without covering your mouth
  • Do not throw your cigarette butt around, put the fire out and dispose it in cigarette bin
  • Do not pee on the street, use public toilet

Dinning etiquette

  • Arrive on time and call ahead if you know you will be late
  • Do not place any bags, purses, sunglasses, cell phones, or briefcases on the table
  • Place the napkin in your lap upon seating. At the meal's end, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your place setting
  • Unless your host instructs you to start eating immediately, wait until everyone has been served their food until you start eating
  • If you are dining in a group and food is shared, put others’ needs before your own
  • Offer to serve food to your neighbours first, and do not take too much; leave enough for others, and do not take more than you can eat
  • Cutlery should be rested on the sides of the plate between mouthfuls and together in the centre when you are finished
  • Chew with your mouth closed and do not talk with food in your mouth
  • Do not eat nosily. In the UK, people eat very quietly, almost silently. It will seem very strange if you make a lot of noise whilst you eat
  • Take small mouthfuls, keep your mouth closed when you chew, and swallow delicately
  • Gently stir your soup to cool it instead of blowing on it. Spoon your soup away from you. When drinking soup do not slurp
  • Eat slowly and cut only a few small bites of your meal at a time
  • Do not pass gas or wind at the dining table, in the UK this is seen as very rude and doing so will upset other people at the dining table
  • If you are staying with a homestay, you should wait until everyone has finished or you are told to leave the table. If you really need to leave, you can ask to leave the table
  • Always remember to thank your host

Social etiquette

  • The most common form of greeting in the UK is a firm handshake. This is used when meeting someone for the first time and in formal occasions
  • Hugging and kissing on the cheek is usually reserved for greeting close friends or relatives
  • Hello or hi are common verbal greetings and you’re also likely to hear ‘alright?’- this also means hello and is not a question
  • Mind your ‘please’ (‘p’s) and ‘thank you’ (‘thank q’s). ‘Please and thank you’ are some of the most common phrases in the UK and it’s important to use them when appropriate
  • It is often considered impolite to ask a direct question about someone’s salary, wealth, weight or age
  • Do not wave or yell to call over a waiter or person of service. Instead, keep an eye out for them until they make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand. You may also gently say “excuse me” as they pass by
  • It is considered rude to ask overly personal, difficult or uncomfortable questions of someone that you do not know well
  • If you accidentally bump into someone, say 'sorry'. They probably will too, even if it was your fault! This is a habit and can be seen as very amusing by an 'outsider'
  • Do open doors for other people. Men and women both hold open the door for each other. It depends on who goes through the door first
  • Being on time is a very important matter in UK. It is important to make sure that you show up on time as showing up late is seen as extremely rude
  • Holding hands as friends in the UK is quite unusual. Instead, more common for female friends is to link arms. For male friends, there is usually no contact
  • Sometimes British people find it embarrassing to discuss money and it can be seen as rude
  • British people value their personal space. Respect other participants’ need for personal space by keeping a fair distance when in conversation
  • Make eye contact to show that you are listening and interested in what the other person has to say
  • British people value courtesy. In the UK, instructions are often disguised as polite requests, not as orders

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