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Friday, April 01, 2005


article by Mira Soetjipto

There is a common wide-spread belief that the English are more formal than they really are. However, in reality, in everyday contact with each other they are less inclined to formality. The English only show affection or enthusiasm when they are feeling socially secured. First names are commonly used among colleagues and friends. The main tradition of respecting women, the elderly and children still occur whereby you need to open the door, let them go through first or give up your seat on the public transports.

However informal the English are, they are still quite reserved when it comes to physical contact. Shaking hand is as far as they would go. The handshake should be brief. Men don’t hug or kiss other men upon greeting or farewell. Women may kiss on one or both cheeks.

The standard greeting of ‘How do you do’ and the reply ‘How do you do’ does not come with a question mark, so there is no need to answer to the question. In public places, the English always try at their best effort not to touch strangers. If they do, an apology would be said straight away. On crowded public transports, where physical contact with other passengers can not be avoided, eye contact should remain avoided at all times.

The word ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ are very important to the English. Gratitude and apology are crucial to everyday conversation, which is why people seem to always repeat the words ‘Excuse Me’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘Pardon me’, ‘Thank You’. A lack of profusion in being gratitude and apologetic may cause problems as it seen as highly impolite.

In general, the English highly regards time punctuality, thought not in an obsessive way. ‘Hang on a minute’ may mean up to 5 minutes, while ‘Give me a minute’ usually means around 10 to 15 minutes. It is still considered polite to arrive 15 minutes after the time you were invited for.

When you are having a conversation with the English, you should not talk about God, politics, religion and death. You may talk about holidays, the weather, animals, and sports. Because conversation does not come easily to the English, they tend to avoid verbal confrontation with tricky subject. For instance, they don’t say the word ‘die’, but instead use ‘pass over’ or ‘pass on’.

The English are not boastful people and much prefer modesty. They feel uncomfortable showing off their achievements and may resent people who do. The English believe in minding their own business. Thus, striking up conversation with strangers is not really a good idea and may raise suspicion.

Other basic etiquettes on several life aspects are as follow:


· The typical meal starts with a ‘Starter’ (also commonly called as hors d’oeuvre), followed by the ‘Main’ Course and finished off by ‘Sweet’ or ‘Dessert’.
· There is the unwritten rule that it is wasteful to the extreme to leave anything uneaten, so make sure you clear your plate on every occasion.
· If invited for a meal in someone’s house, it is customary to bring a gift for the host, typically a bottle of wine or flowers or chocolates. After the dining experience, it will be thoughtful to write a ‘Thank You’ note for the host.
· In restaurants, the tip or ‘Service Charge’ is between 5 to 15% from the total bill. It is up to you on the amount depending on the service provided, but be careful and check the bill as some restaurants may have already included the ‘service’ or ‘gratuity’ charge in the total amount.
· The English way of eating is by using fork and knife (with the prongs of the fork facing down in the left hand and the knife in the right).


· It is best to refer to others with whom you are not closely connected to with their title: Mr, Mrs and Miss. The term Ms is used when we are not sure of the status of the woman in concerned. On a personal basis, it is OK to call people just by their name.
· The locals are known for being ‘cold’. The key is not to push, take your time to get to know them and you may have found a friend for life.
· Do not be surprised of people call you ‘Love’, ‘Lovey’, ‘Darling’, ‘Dear’ or ‘Sweetheart’. This is a common tradition and no one regardless of age or gender should take offence.
· The English adores their pets. So in terms of etiquette, always try to praise the animal in the house.

· It is considered impolite to talk about money, though it is OK to complain about the lack of it.
· Never tell anyone how much you earned, are earning or will earn on any occasions.
· In fact, it is considerable good manners if you tell people how much you have saved upon purchasing a valuable item, as the English tend to be suspicious of conspicuous consumption.
· If you are in a difficult financial circumstances and need to borrow money from friends, ensure you let them know specifically when and how you will return the money later.
· The basic question of ‘What does your family do’ points at your class and social level. An upper-class who is bankrupt may still get better treatments compared to entrepreneur.

· One of the most commonly used words is ‘Sorry’. People tend to say this all the time. The English for some reasons tend to apologize for an imagined discomfort as for a real injury caused. Sometimes the word ‘Sorry’ may mean, ‘I did not hear what you said, could you please repeat it’, ‘I did not realize I was blocking your way on the street’, ‘Sorry, but I really must go’ etc.
· In a conversation with women, the word ‘Girl’ is to be avoided unless speaking with a very young female. ‘Woman’ is more acceptable than ‘Lady’, but there are women who still prefer to be called ‘Lady’.
· The difference between ‘Dinner’ and ‘Supper’. ‘Supper’ is an evening meal, but if it is a bigger and more of formal occasion, it is called as ‘Dinner’.
· The English passion for tea still continues with the tradition of ‘morning tea’ (between breakfast and lunch) and ‘afternoon tea’ (between lunch and supper).
· At any time, please ensure you speak with English terms, not American ones as there are differences in these words, such as:

Biscuit /Cookie
Chemist /Drug store
Chips/ Fries
Cinema /Movie Theater
Give a lift /Give a ride
Jumper /Sweater
Lift/ Elevator
Pavement/ Sidewalk
Petrol Gas / gasoline
(to) Phone/ (to) Call
Post/ Mail
Queue /Line
To queue/ To stand in line
Rubbish/ Trash
Take-away/ To go
Cab/ Taxi
Tele TV
Trainers/ Sneakers
Trousers/ Pants
Underground / tube Subway
Wireless/ Radio