As anyone who has completed an international assignment will tell you, each country has cultural differences and norms that can make expatriate life challenging. In this post, we will examine some of the aspects of culture in the United Kingdom, a common location for international assignments. Below, our long-time trusted partner, IOR Global Services, provides important information for successful cultural integration.

Quick Facts

  • Individual Orientation: In the UK, people tend to value independence and self-reliance. They strongly believe in personal responsibility for life conduct; they respect personal privacy and individual differences.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity: Most Britons are comfortable with ambiguous situations and encourage risk-taking.
  • Preference for Universal Rules: There is a tendency for strict application of formal rules without much attention to context.
  • Competition: The British believe that competition brings out the best in individuals and that challenges help produce the best possible outcomes. However, Britons also believe that team spirit is important and that the concept of “fair play” should be applied.
  • Task Oriented: Establishing rapport and good personal relationships is subordinated by getting the job done and completing tasks. Tasks tend to be accomplished by relying on facts and logical analysis. At the same time, there is a preference to work with trusted colleagues.
  • Equality: Class consciousness is slowly diminishing, yet still a major factor in British society along with observed attention to authority, deference to position, and adherence to traditions. Alongside class, Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion programs focus on immigrations and refugees, LGBTQ+, differently abled persons, and BAME, a term used in the UK to refer to Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups.

Fun Facts

  • The UK has fewer public holidays than the U.S., but most full-time employees in the UK receive 28 days of paid vacation a year.
  • In 2021, India continued to be the most common non-UK country of birth, and Polish remained the most common non-British nationality.
  • The British consume about 100 million cups of tea every day.
  • While fish and chips are representative of British cuisine, residents of the UK once voted chicken tikka masala to be named national dish.

WATCH OUT! – Cultural Taboos

  • The British have a great sense of humor and often resort to subtle irony or sarcasm to build connections. Do not take their jokes too seriously or literally.
  • Never jump the queues; they are an integral part of the British culture and mean decency, fair play, and waiting for one’s turn.

Communication in the UK

  • Formal: There is an emphasis on being polite and reserved. People stress protocol and prefer formal recognition of space. Privacy and minimal physical contact are strongly appreciated. Britons have a strong sense of tradition and the inevitability of events – it is considered naïve to disregard these values.
  • Indirect: Britons tend to be indirect and strongly value understatement. Self-deprecation and humor are used to convey a multitude of messages. The truth, if hurtful, should be tempered, and sensitivity and inference are required to understand what is being communicated.
  • Emotionally Restrained: In the UK, emotions tend to be discredited as unprofessional. Trust and credibility are developed through emotional suppression. Britons are sensitive to hurting feelings of others and are known for their perseverance and “stiff upper lip.”


*Image courtesy of IOR

Want to learn more about an assignee’s day-to-day life in the UK (or any other country)? Please contact your Aires representative.

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