What is the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a nation in north-west Europe. With a population of about 68 million and an area of about 250,000 square kilometers, it is neither a large country nor a heavily populated one. Yet it was the first industrialised nation, the world's greatest power for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, and its cultural influence and legacy can found around the world. So what is the United Kingdom?
The countries of the United Kingdom
There are four countries in today's United Kingdom. These are:
With a population of about 56 million, England is the largest and most populace country in the United Kingdom. It's capital, London, is also the capital of the UK, and the city has traditionally been the centre of power in the UK.
Find out more about England here.
Scotland is the northernmost country of the United Kingdom, with a population of about 5.5. million. Scotland has a unique culture and history, one often at odds with England. A land of immense natural beauty, the Scottish Highlands are known world-wide.
Find out more about Scotland here.
4. Northern Ireland
Queueing is often mentioned as a key point of British etiquette. For Japanese visitors to the UK, this is not usually a problem as queueing is also a common custom in Japan. Simply be careful not to be seen to "push in," and you will have no problems.
Of course, a Japanese visitor to the UK may find that, in fact, the British do NOT queue as much as in Japan. Notably, queues do not generally form at train stations before boarding the train. Instead, people spread out across the platform. Nevertheless, queueing maintains a place of importance in both cultures.
Speaking and Conversations
The British are often said to have a specific style of speech and discussion. Indeed, they often take pride in this style! Here a few things to remember:
In British culture, apologising is considered polite even for a small inconvenience. You may even find people apologising when they are the victim of someone else's mistake!
It is important to remember that you should acknowledge when someone apologises to you. A simple "don't worry about it," or "it's no problem" is an easy way to demonstrate good manners when someone apologises to you.
2. Taboo topics
It is considered impolite to discuss topics such as money, salaries, age, and body size and shape in British culture. Sex and discussion of sexual activity should also be avoided. Furthermore, it is best to avoid discussion of politics unless you are very comfortable with the person you are speaking with.
Instead, a very British custom is to discuss the weather! This is a great ice-breaker, and is often the first thing spoken about even between family members or close friends.
3. Please and Thank You
The British tend to use "please" and "thank you" far more frequently than, for example, Americans. Anytime you ask someone for help or information, no matter how small, it is best to use both words.
When you become close to those you are speaking with, they may tell you not to worry about thanking them - however, it is still good manners to do so!
Names and Forms of Address
It is common in Britain to address people by their first name. This is true for both business and personal acquaintances. However, it is important to remember that there are exceptions.
One exception for this is in the customer service industry. For those working in customer service, where they are speaking to a client, the usual form of address is "Mr." or "Ms." and the person's surname. A second exception is for teachers or doctors, when you are the student or patient. Again, these people will usually be addressed by their surname.
The best way to know how to address someone is to simply see how they introduce themselves. If someone introduces themselves with only their first name, it is expected that you will use this form from now on - regardless of the formality of the setting. However, should someone introduce themselves with both their first name and surname, it is best to address them with the title "Mr." or "Ms." until they tell you otherwise.
Of course, some people possess formal titles such as "professor," "doctor," or even "sir." It is polite to use these titles, unless the holder of such a title explicitly states that they do not need to be used.
Finally, people of an older generation are more likely to expect to be addressed by their surnames.
Essentially, the use of a title and surname still confers a sense of respect that is both useful in establishing rapport and building relationships. When in doubt, use the more formal form of address. Or simply ask "What name should I call you by?"