How to Do Business in the United Kingdom
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Four countries make up the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—England, Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland. Residents of any of these countries
may be called “British.” Use “English,” “Scot” or “Scotsman,”
“Welsh” and “Irish” or “Northern Irish” only when certain
of a person’s heritage. While the four countries share many
customs, each has its own set of cultural nuances. In England,
politeness, reserve, and restraint are admired. The English
are courteous, unassuming and unabrasive and are very proud
of their long and rich history.
Scots are passionate about their country,
guarding its uniqueness and refusing to go along with English
ideas. While cool and aloof externally, they are extremely
sentimental about their family and their country. Overall
Scots are free of class consciousness and social elitism,
except in religion. Generally, Protestants mix only with
Protestants and Catholics mix only with Catholics. Scots
have a keen, subtle sense of humor and value generosity,
Wales has been part of the United Kingdom
for more than 400 years, but has kept its own language,
literature and traditions. Most residents of Wales are of
Welsh or English heritage. Many are immigrants from former
British colonies and other parts of the U.K. Welsh take
great pride in their country and their heritage. The Welsh
love to sing and talk and spend much of their free time with their families.
Two-thirds of the Northern Irish have Scottish
or English roots. The others are of Irish descent. Irish
value friendliness, sincerity and nature. They dislike pretentious
behavior and possess a strong work ethic. Family ties are
very important in Northern Ireland.
Meeting and Greeting
- The British are reserved, which may cause
them to appear cool and indifferent or overly formal. In
fact, they are very friendly and helpful to foreigners.
- Shake hands with everyone present—men,
women, and children—at business and social meetings. Shake
hands again when leaving.
- Handshakes are light—not firm.
- Women should extend their hand to men
- Use last names and appropriate titles
until specifically invited by your British hosts or colleagues
to use their first names.
- The British are not back slappers or
touchers and generally do not display affection in public.
- Hugging, kissing and touching is usually
reserved for family members and very close friends.
- The British like a certain amount of
personal space. Do not stand too close to another person
or put your arm around someone’s shoulder.
- Staring is considered rude.
Dining and Entertainment
- In Great Britain, punctuality is important
for business meetings. Be on time.
- Brits prefer a congenial business relationship,
but tend to get right down to business after a few moments
of polite conversation.
- Business is best initiated through a
well-connected third party.
- The Board of Directors is the source
of power and the principal decision making unit in a company.
Formal approval of the board is required for most decisions.
Decisions may be slow in the making.
- Expect formalities and protocol to be
observed in business, especially in London.
- Business organization traditionally is
multi-layered with a vertical chain of command. A network
of committees, formal and informal, exists in larger companies.
Group consensus is preferred to individual initiative.
- In older companies, business still centers
around the “old boy network” with prep schools, universities
and family ties being of great importance. Newer companies
are more progressive.
- Meetings should be scheduled well in
- Meetings generally have a concrete objective,
such as: making a decision, developing a plan or arriving
at an agreement.
- Presentations should be detailed and
- Scots are known for being skilled businesspersons,
priding themselves for being internationalists. They also
are suspicious of “go-getters” and respect success only
when it is achieved over time.
- Summon a waiter by raising your hand.
Don’t wave or shout.
- Most business entertaining is done in restaurants or pubs over lunch. The host, the one who extends the
invitation, pays the bill.
- A British business associate may invite
you to watch cricket or to the regatta. Both are prestigious
events. Wear your tweed sport coat or blue blazer.
- An invitation to someone’s home is more
common in England than in the rest of Europe.
- Do not discuss business at dinner in
someone’s home unless the host initiates the conversation.
- In England, when invited to someone’s
home, arrive at least 10-20 minutes after the stated time.
Never arrive early. In Scotland and Wales, arrive on time.
- A male guest of honor is seated at the
head of the table or to the right of the hostess. A female
guest of honor is seated to the right of the host.
- Wait for your host to begin eating before
- Host or hostess always initiates first
toast, which is usually only given at a formal dinner.
- At a formal dinner, do not smoke until
after the toast to the Queen or until otherwise indicated
by the host.
- Keep your hands on the table at all times
during the meal—not in your lap. However, take care to
keep your elbows off the table.
- When finished eating, place knife and
fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
- You should leave a very small amount
of food on your plate when finished eating.
- The guest of honor should initiate leaving
- When the host folds his napkin, this
signals that the meal is over.
- Leave a dinner party shortly after dinner
- Write a thank you note to the hostess.
- It is considered impolite to ask for
a tour of your host’s home.
- Entertain anyone who has entertained
you, but don’t try to impress British guests with an extravagant
dinner. The Brits prefer understatement.
- People in the larger cities dress more
formally, especially in London.
- Men and women wear wools and tweeds for
casual occasions. Slacks, sweaters and jackets are appropriate
for men and women.
- Avoid striped ties that are copies of
- Men’s clothing often expresses affiliation
rather than style. Ties are important symbols. School,
army, university or club ties are worn.
- For business meetings, men should wear
dark suits and ties. Women should wear suits, dresses
or skirts and blouses.
- Do not wear a blazer to work. A blazer
is country or weekend wear.
- For formal events men may wear black
ties, business suits, morning coats or tails. Inquire
which is required. Women generally wear cocktail suits
- Gifts are normally not exchanged in business
- When invited to someone’s home, always
bring a small gift for the hostess. Give flowers, chocolates,
wine, champagne or books. Present the gift upon arrival.
- Gifts are opened upon receiving.
- It is polite to send flowers in advance
of a dinner party. Do not send white lilies, which denote
Especially for Women
- Men should open doors for women and stand
when a woman enters a room.
- Always hold the door for a person following
- Honor rank when entering a room. Allow
higher rank to enter first.
- Don’t insult the royal family or show
great interest in their private lives.
- Respect the British desire for privacy.
Don’t ask personal questions, such as where a person lives
or what a person does for a profession or job. Don’t talk
- Do not violate a queue. It is considered
very rude to push ahead in a line.
- Do not shout or be loud in public places
and don’t use excessive, demonstrative hand gestures when
- Staring is considered impolite.
- Do not be too casual, especially with
the English language.
- The English avoid speaking in superlatives.
“I am quite pleased,” means they are extremely happy.
- Never try to sound British or mimic their
- Humor is ever-present in English life.
It is often self-deprecating, ribbing, sarcastic, sexist
or racist. Try not to take offense.
- In Scotland, kilts are worn by men at
formal occasions (i.e., black tie, weddings, etc.). Don’t
make jokes about or ask a Scot what he wears under his
- In Northern Ireland, religion and politics
have created conflict in for many years. Avoid discussing
these topics if possible.
- The ‘Old Boy Network’ is alive and well
in the United Kingdom. However, women are becoming more
common in managerial positions in the United Kingdom than
in most EC countries, especially in service industries
and public sector jobs.
- Foreign women will have little difficulty
conducting business in Great Britain.
- Don’t be insulted if someone calls you
love, dearie, or darling. These are
commonly used and not considered rude.
- It is acceptable, but may be misconstrued,
for a foreign woman to invite an English man to dinner.
It is best to stick with lunch.
- If a woman would like to pay for a meal,
she should state this at the outset.
- Crossing your legs at the ankles, not
at the knees, is proper.
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