The term "British" is confusing. It's a term generally used to refer to Great Britain and the United Kingdom. So what's the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom? Great Britain consists of England, Wales and Scotland, including any surrounding islands, for example, Skye, Anglesey; the United Kingdom consists of the aforementioned plus Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland (Eire) is a completely separate political and legal entity and does not belong in any way to the UK. To make things even more complicated, there is also the term "British Isles", which includes both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland! Confused yet? Don't worry, so are the Brits. Here is a map of the UK:
So who are the British? The British population is made up of the English, Scottish, Welsh and the Northern Irish. Each sub-nationality has its own unique identity and set of values, so please exercise caution when addressing people. For example, a Scotsman would not be terribly pleased if you referred to him as English. Similarly, it is not uncommon to hear the English refer solely to England, almost as if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland didn't exist.
Here's a little joke that stereotypes the British:
Two Welshmen start a choir;
Two Irishmen start a fight;
Two Scotsmen start a bank;
Two Englishmen start an orderly queue.
Remember, it is just a joke and you shouldn't take it too seriously!
Britain today is a mixed race society. Early in its history Britain was invaded by Roman, Saxon, Viking and Norman armies and later Africans were brought to Britain by force in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as slaves or servants. Over the years, people have arrived in Britain as refugees from many countries, escaping persecution or famine. People moving to Britain have brought their own cultures that co-exist with traditional British culture, thus creating a rich and diverse environment. An excellent example of this is the Notting Hill Carnival which celebrates Caribbean culture and is now a very popular British event.
English is the official language of the UK, although there are regional varieties, e.g. Scots English, where you will commonly hear the word "bucket" instead of "bin", or "dreich" for "dreary", "muckle" for "big" to mention a very small handful. Scots is spoken by approximately 7% of Scottish folk. Scotland also counts Scottish Gaelic as a language, although this is spoken by only about 1% of Scots. The Welsh language is spoken by around 19% of Welsh people, and you will see road signs in both English and Welsh. English is the most spoken language in Northern Ireland. Additionally, the Irish language and a local variety of Scots known as Ulster Scots are spoken in Northern Ireland, albeit by a minority (c. 4% and 2% respectively).
English has become the most widely used language in the world for publishing, international telecommunications, scientific research, international trade, mass entertainment, and diplomacy, and is the basis for global seafaring and aviation language. However, there are a number of regional variations you will come across, from North America, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, the Caribbean, and south Asia. Naturally, the UK and Ireland are where you will find a greater variety of dialects and accents, handed down from a series of historic invasions and occupations. This can pose a little difficulty for the untrained ear but don't worry, as in time you will become accustomed to even the strongest accents.
The UK enjoys an incredibly rich and varied culture due to the diversity of nationalities living there, and this is no more prevalent than in London. Long-standing traditional festivals such as Shrove Tuesday, Burns Night, and April Fools' Day, rub shoulders with celebrations such as the Notting Hill Carnival, Chinese New Year and Eid al-Fitr. The Brits have the Royal Family, with numerous crown properties scattered throughout the country, including Buckingham Palace in London, some of which are open to the public. London also houses a number of museums and galleries to visit, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the National History Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. London has a huge number of venues for concerts and shows, more that 40 in the West End alone.
For those venturing outside of London, you will find more than enough venues in the larger towns and cities, in particular, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Oxford, where you will find such gems as Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the International Slavery Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Riverside Museum, the National War Museum, St Fagans National History Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, all from the top 40 most visited museums in the UK.
Popular sports played and watched in the UK include football (the UK's most popular sport), cricket, tennis, rugby, golf, boxing, darts and snooker. School curricula will generally include football, cricket and rugby for boys, with tennis, netball and hockey for girls, although this tradition is being broken down with more girls venturing into the world of football and rugby. The British are a great nation of armchair experts and will openly criticise a player, team or manager if they aren't happy with their performance.
The weather in the UK is highly variable and this a great talking point for the Brits. You will hear many conversations start with something like, "It's brass monkeys out there," or "Phew! It's a scorcher today!" The climate is temperate and the UK doesn't experience extreme weather types, so if summer temperatures get much above 25 Celsius, you might here the locals grumbling as they struggle to stay cool. "I'm not complaining, though!" you'll hear them say at the end of a complaint.
The UK's position on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean with its relatively warm waters, yet close to the continental influences of mainland Europe, plays a major role in its weather patterns. Changes in terrain over relatively short distances, together with a long coastline and numerous islands, all add to the variety of weather.
Generally, locations in the east and south of the UK tend to be drier, warmer, sunnier and less windy than those further west and north, with the west coast becoming particularly wet at times. Scotland is renowned amongst the English for its snow at unusual times of year, although the English tend to forget about the mountains.
Almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year (known as statutory leave entitlement or annual leave). An employer can include bank holidays as part of statutory annual leave. Therefore, most workers who work a 5-day week receive 28 days’ paid annual leave per year, although this is likely to also include bank holidays.
When a bank holiday falls on a Sunday the following Monday usually becomes the day when the holiday is observed. If the Monday is also a bank holiday, the substitute day moves to the following weekday.
The August bank holiday always falls on the last Monday of August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and on the first Monday of August in Scotland. Its official name is "Summer Bank Holiday", however it is far more commonly referred to as the "August Bank Holiday".
You can find a full and up-to-date list of UK bank holiday dates here.
In the UK, the Department for Transport is the government body responsible for planning and investing in the country's transport infrastructure. In London, the transport infrastructure is managed by the not-for-profit Transport for London (TfL). TfL is responsible for the Tube, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), bus and London Overground services, cycling, roads, travel by river, and the Emirates Air Line cable car service.
Oyster is probably the easiest payment method if you are in London for any length of time. It is a smartcard that you can load up with credit, and you use it to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London. With an online account, you can see your journey history, top up your Oyster card with pay as you go credit or add a Travelcard and apply for refunds.
The rest of the UK is connected by a fairly comprehensive motorway network, an extensive rail and bus network, 8 airports servicing the south, 23 main airports and 26 minor airports.
In the UK, drive on the left and observe the speed limits, which are in miles per hour (mph). In built up areas, the speed limit is 30mph; 60mph for main roads, and 70mph for dual carriageways and motorways. Other speed limits may be in force depending upon circumstances (e.g. 20mph near a school). Look out for speed cameras, fixed and mobile, and do not drive in bus lanes or go through red lights.
On dual carriageways and motorways, you are expected to keep in the left-hand land unless you are overtaking, and then pull back into the left lane.
Unless you have a driving licence issued in Northern Ireland, the European Union or the European Economic Area, your licence will only be valid for 12 months, after which time you will need to apply for a UK licence.
The UK is generally a safe location, but like any country, bigger cities tend to have higher crime rates. Knowing where criminals loiter and operate can help you to remain vigilant and safe. The top five places for criminals to operate are:
Transport hubs and stations
Crowded places / rush hour
ATM and cash machine locations
Cafés, restaurants, pubs and clubs
Schools, colleges and universities
So here are a few tips to help you remain safe:
Prepare and consider your travel arrangements carefully and ensure someone knows where you are going, who you are with and when you might be home.
Look as assertive as you can, walk with confidence and be aware of your surroundings and who is around you.
Avoid short cuts and dark isolated areas, vary your routine and be discreet handling cash, phones and wearing jewellery in a public place.
Never take your safety for granted and look after your friends so that they don’t become vulnerable. Remember your personal safety is more important than your phone or other valuables.
Keep your bags close to you and secured with zips closed. Check your belongings and your pockets regularly.
Wearing headphones and talking on the phone can make you unaware of your immediate surroundings this makes you appear vulnerable and gives an advantage to a criminal.
If you use a cash point or ATM be suspicious if you see someone hanging around, if in doubt use another cash machine and have a friend watch your back.
If you feel uneasy about an individual or situation, trust your instincts and leave the area and head towards a public place such as a shop.
Pre book a licensed cab to pick you up or use a mini cab office. Never get into a mini cab off the street they are illegal and often uninsured and dangerous.
In an emergency always contact the police to advise what has happened. Always call 999 in an emergency. For non-emergencies, use 101.
Food & drink
British food has for a long time been the brunt of jokes due to its perceived low quality and dull appearance. Don't let this fool you or put you off British food. Traditional British dishes, when cooked properly, are delicious and nutritious and can rival any modern dish. Moreover, because of the rich diversity of cultures now residing in the UK, the British palate has become diversified and discerning and you will find an enormous variety of cuisine cooked in homes and available in local restaurants.
Traditional British favourites include the Sunday Roast, the main food event of the week. Really, it should be a joint of roast beef served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and lashings of gravy, though pork, chicken and lamb are equally as popular. Recent years have seen the introduction of what is known as the "cheeky roast", a mid-week roast that does not quite have the grandeur of the Sunday event, but is delicious all the same.
The Brits are also fond of pies and pasties, sausage and mash, and the all time national favourite, fish and chips. There are c. 10,500 fish and chip shops in the UK and the annual spend on fish and chips in the UK is in the region of a £1.2 billion. The week would not be complete without a Friday trip to the "chippy".
One other interesting food to note is haggis. This is Scotland's national dish, made from sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet (beef fat), and spices and then boiled in a sheep’s stomach for 3 hours. To the uninitiated, it may not sound too appetising, but there are few dishes more satisfying than a steaming plate of haggis, neeps (swede) and tatties (boiled potatoes) washed down with a single malt. A spin-off of this is Chicken Balmoral, a chicken breast stuffed with haggis, wrapped in Parma ham and baked in a whisky cream sauce, perhaps with mushrooms. If you are a foodie, you would be doing yourself a grave injustice by not trying haggis.
The British like a drink. Whether it be tea - the nation's favourite, coffee - the new tea, or beer, the Brits can't get enough of it. Beer was the first alcoholic drink to be produced in Britain, and in the Middle Ages, per capita consumption was over 60 gallons a year. Popular beer styles in Britain include lager, bitter, brown ale and stout, which, although often associated with Irish Guinness, was originally brewed in London.
Other traditionally popular drinks in Britain are Gin & Tonic, punch, cider and whisky, though today good quality wines are available at reasonable prices from the supermarkets and restaurants so you can rest assured that you will not go thirsty in the UK.
Telephones, broadband & TV
The international code used to dial to United Kingdom is 44. If you are dialling overseas, you need to key in the international prefix 00, followed by the international country code, the local area code and then the local number.
Each area within the UK has a local area code. If you are calling within that area, you do not need to use the area code.
For landlines, there is ample choice. British Telecom (BT) used to be the sole provider but they now face competition from Virgin (cable services), SKY, Talk Talk and Plusnet, who are the main industry players. These companies also provide a range of broadband services and television services (with the exception of Plusnet). The array of different service combinations is confusing but there are facilities such as uSwitch to help you get the best deal.
The choice of mobile phones, networks and tariffs is vast. The main providers are O2, EE, Three, Vodafone, and Virgin Mobile, but these are followed by services from Talk Talk, giffgaff, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda (the latter 3 are supermarkets in the UK), so making the right choice can be difficult. This is where uSwitch again comes in handy, and you might want to check out Carphone Warehouse for making easy mobile tariff comparisons.
You can bring your pet dog, cat or ferret into the UK without quarantine as long as it meets the rules of the pet travel scheme. These rules also allow you to take your dog, cat or ferret to other countries and territories and return with them to the UK without the need for quarantine.
The UK has been free from rabies for many years, but because of the existence of the disease in other countries there is a continued need for an effective system to manage the risk of rabies being brought in by imported animals.
You are responsible for ensuring your pet meets all the rules for entering the UK under the pet travel scheme. Make sure you have had the procedures carried out in the correct order and that your pet’s documentation is correctly completed. If you do not, your pet may not be able to enter the country or may have to be licensed into quarantine on arrival. This will mean delay and will cost you money.
The information below outlines what preparations your pet will need to enter the UK depending on what country you are travelling from.
If you are entering the UK from the EU or a listed non-EU country your pet must:
be identified with a microchip
have received a rabies vaccination followed by a 21 day wait
be accompanied by the relevant documentation
be treated against tapeworm (dogs only)
enter with an approved transport company on an authorised route
If you are entering the UK from an unlisted non-EU country your pet must:
be identified with a microchip
have received a rabies vaccination
complete a blood test followed by a three month wait
be accompanied by the relevant documentation
be treated against tapeworm (dogs only)
enter with an approved transport company on an authorised route
If you are re-entering the UK from an unlisted country with an EU pet passport:
Pets travelling to an unlisted non-EU country that have been identified, microchipped and blood sampled 30 days after vaccination demonstrating a positive titration result before leaving the UK (or another EU country) may re-enter the UK without having to meet the three month waiting period. The vaccination, blood sample and positive titration result must be recorded on the pet passport.
You must wait 21 days from the date of the first rabies vaccination before your pet can enter the UK or another EU country if you are travelling from an EU or a listed non-EU country.
For pets entering the UK from unlisted countries, different rules apply. After your pet has been vaccinated, it must be blood tested to make sure the vaccine has worked and then serve out a 3 month waiting period.
Although Britain is historically a Christian society, today it is a multi-faith society in which everyone has the right to religious freedom. There are large communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews, and smaller communities of Baha'is, Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians in Britain today. The official churches in the UK are the Anglican church in England (the Church of England) and the Presbyterian church in Scotland (the Church of Scotland), both Protestant churches. You will generally be welcome to attend a Christian church service if you wish to, even if you are not a Christian yourself. As well as the official churches there are also many independent Protestant churches, including the following:
United Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Presbyterian (or Calvinistic Methodist) Church of Wales
When asked "Are you religious?" in the National Census of 2011, 29% responded "Yes" and 65% responded "No"; an intriguing 6% claimed they did not know. Trends are showing that fewer Brits are viewing religion positively, with 79% of people agreeing that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today. Regular church attendance has fallen dramatically in the last 50 years or so, with more individuals rejecting religion. Immigration and demographic change has contributed to the growth of other faiths.