Understanding the British Culture
The beauty of today’s technology is that we can research and inform ourselves about any new destination or country, we can even take a virtual walk around cities and before we arrive we can have some sense of familiarity. However, when you arrive in the country this familiarity besides visual, everything else can feel much different than what expected. So you need to develop an understanding of the cultural orientation of the host country. The United Kingdom consists of four different countries England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales Each of them has their very own history and different traditions, dialects and even languages.
UK Facts and Statistics
Location: Western Europe, islands including the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France
Capital: London (Greater London area: 1,572 km2 (607 sq. mi) and Population (2015) 8,673,716)
Climate: temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current with plentiful rainfall all year round
Population: 65,110,000 (2016 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: white (of which English 83.6%, Scottish 8.6%, Welsh 4.9%, Northern Irish 2.9%) 92.1%, black 2%, Indian 1.8%, Pakistani 1.3%, mixed 1.2%, other 1.6% (2001 census)
Religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) 71.6%, Muslim 2.7%, Hindu 1%, other 1.6%, unspecified or none 23.1% (2001 census)
Government: constitutional monarchy
Society in the UK tends to focus on and reinforce individual achievement. In the UK, the individual and their rights are paramount and generally, everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family.
In the workplace, although teamwork is recognized as an important means to achieving superior performance, individuals within the team may compete and management will look at the individual and team performance when conducting individual performance appraisals.
Loyalty to a collective group may exist in terms of religious groupings, corporate allegiances or local community networks and groups, especially amongst national groupings. The extent to which you find this will vary.
Social environments vary in how people express themselves. A high context orientation will mean that there is an emphasis on implicit communication and non-verbal cues. A low context orientation will mean that communication is explicit, people say what they mean and mean what they say!
The UK is a bit of a mix when it comes to communication. People living in southern England are often described as relatively indirect and reserved. They will not usually “tell you just the way it is to get things in the open.” You will have to read between the lines to understand what they really mean. This can be very frustrating if you come from a culture, which has the motto “if you don’t like me, why don’t you just say so”.
As you head further north, people do become more open and direct, perhaps even blunt and to the point (so the southerners say). They are also said to be friendlier and more welcoming and, as many are of Celtic origin, a touch more emotionally demonstrative as well.
The British are generally quite private in their nature. “An Englishman’s home is his castle” is a proverb which demonstrates this point. People feel more able to be fully themselves when they are at home. Outside of the home, they conform to social norms.
Personal space is important. When meeting people for the first time it is important to leave space between you and them and greet people with a formal handshake. However, barriers break down quickly and people tend to be more open and friendly once they have met you a few times.
The power dimension talks about the degree of acceptability of different power relationships and social stratification within a culture. Historically, the class structure of society has been important in the UK. Even today the media will use class labels to describe people, for example when Prince William became engaged to Kate Middleton, she was described as from a “wealthy middle-class family”.
Despite the frequent reference to class structure, there also is a desire to develop a society based on meritocracy, not inheritance and social standing. Opportunity for all is stressed and really meant by many people. Promotion in many organizations is based on past performance rather than connections and family heritage, but of course, there are some exceptions.
In the workplace, although senior management will typically have the ultimate authority, employees are encouraged to contribute to debate and discussions and demonstrate personal initiative and responsibility.
The action dimension identifies the difference between cultures with a ‘doing orientation’, which are focused towards tasks and action and a ‘being orientation’, which emphasizes the importance of relationships, reflection, and analysis.
The UK has a tendency towards action and task orientation. People pride themselves on their ability to complete tasks on time. Although not sticklers in terms of punctuality, once people are at work the old protestant work ethic often shines through.
However, there is a growing realization of the benefits of a ‘being orientation’ and people nowadays can be seen to be more sensitive to relationships and the importance of nurturing these at the expense of task achievement than they would have been in the past.
I hope that this brief overview has given you some useful insights. It is a helpful exercise to ask yourself where you would place yourself in terms of the dimensions mentioned above and consider how you might manage any major differences.