UK culture

If you’re relocating to the UK from overseas, you might experience different cultural values like language use, social life, etiquette, and teaching and learning styles which could cause a few surprises. However, the we live in a culturally diverse society, so we’re sure you’ll be able to find your place.

We’ll go into some of the details and cultural idioms of the UK below.



You might hear different terms to describe this part of the world:

  • The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland refers to the political union between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  The UK is a sovereign state, but the nations that make it up are also countries in their own right.  England is the largest country in the UK with London as its capital.
  • Great Britain is the official collective name of England, Scotland and Wales and their associated islands.
  • The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK but are Crown Dependencies.
  • The British Isles is a geographical term that refers to Great Britain, Ireland, The Isle of Man, The Isles of Scilly, The Channel Islands, including Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, and Alderney, as well as over 6,000 other smaller islands.

And globally:

  • The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 53 states united by ties to former British rule, and is a group aligned to create ongoing prosperity in these countries.  The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth.
  • The UK is a major player in international affairs and fulfills an important role in the EU, UN Security Council, and Nato.


Social etiquette

The UK has a multi-cultural society and we’re sure you’ll fit straight in.  However, there are a few cultural quirks to note.  As a rule, we tend to be rather reserved and polite, we like to make small talk about the weather, we say “sorry” and “thank you” a lot on all sorts of occasions and we’re happy with a handshake or a pat on the arm rather than hugs and kisses. Oh, and don’t forget we love to queue!



English is the main language spoken throughout the UK, though each region has its own accent and dialect which might be quite different from the English you’re used to.

Generally, citizens of Leeds have a Yorkshire dialect and accent which is particularly distinctive so don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves or to speak more slowly. We have idioms of our own too – for example if we say we’re “chuffed”, it means we’re pleased; if someone asks if you fancy a brew, they mean would you like a cup of tea; and a “ginnel” is an alleyway.

If you think lessons to help improve your English would help you or your family to to settle into life in the UK and make your stay more comfortable, you can find classes in Leeds on the Learning English in Yorkshire and the Humber website.  Classes elsewhere in the UK and internationally can be found on the British Council’s website.



There’s complete religious freedom in the UK.

The UK doesn’t have a single ‘state’ religion, however, there’s a long tradition of Christianity.  The established church is the Church of England (Anglican) with the Monarch as its head.  UK public holidays are based on the Christian religion. However, other religions are well represented and you should have no trouble finding somewhere local to practice your faith.

According to the last UK census (2011), the most popular religions in the UK are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.  The census also shows a large number of individuals without any religious affiliations.



The weather’s a national obsession!  It is rarely out of the headlines and is famous for being unpredictable; you can often experience four seasons in a single afternoon.  However, the climate’s fairly moderate with few extremes and generally, the seasons run as follows:

  • Spring runs from March to May and is characterised by sunshine and showers;
  • Summer runs from June to August and is the warmest and driest time of the year;
  • Autumn runs from September to November and is generally mild and sometimes wet;
  • Winter runs from December to February and tends to be cold and wet with some snow.



From iconic landmarks and stunning countryside to rich heritage, the UK has an abundance of leisure activities to keep almost everyone entertained, for example:

  • Film and TV: Harry Potter, James Bond and Downton Abbey;
  • Sport: Wimbledon, Wembley, Silverstone;
  • Shopping:  Designers, vintage, markets;
  • Royal attractions: Events, parks, residences;
  • Music: Festivals, the Beatles, classical;
  • Landmarks: Natural wonders, world heritage sites, iconic sites;
  • Food and drink: British food, afternoon tea, food festivals;
  • Culture: Museums, galleries, theatre;
  • Countryside: National parks, gardens, the coast.

In Yorkshire, we have the best of all worlds – great towns and cities with beautiful countryside on the doorstep.


Culture shock

Culture shock is the range of emotions we go through when we relocate and have to adjust to a culture or an environment that’s different from our own.

Expartica’s article, Manage culture shock in three easy steps, may help you help prepare for, and understand a culture shock.  The University offers a range of support, both practical and emotional, and you can find details on the HR website (just search for “support”). Additionally, the Citizens Advice Bureau, a charitable organisation, can provide you with a wide range of advice and practical information on aspects of life in the UK.