Stereotypes: how foreigners see the British

Stereotypes: how foreigners see the British


Let’s take a look at the most common British stereotypes firmly engraved in foreigners’ minds and see if they are still legitimate in 2016.

The British Are Not Straightforward, Keep A Stiff Upper Lip, And Won’t Tell You Things To Your Face: Fact

british_stereotypes_stiff_upper_lipPhoto Copyright: Nicolas Connault

“The English have no soul, they have the understatement instead.” -George Mikes-

Of course it’s intended as a joke, meaning that most  British people are not straightforward, open and passionate like Americans, Italians or other cultures can be when expressing their feelings. It’s quite rare to see Brits showing their true emotions as they tend to put on a brave face in each and every situation.

The British are not straightforward. All on the contrary, they are the kings of understatement.

“People on the Continent either tell you the truth or lie. In England they hardly ever lie, but they would not dream of telling you the truth. ” -George Mikes-

Try to bump into people on the Tube to see what happens- almost invariably they will apologise. Try to jump the queue, they won’t say a word. Try to ask somebody experiencing something negative how they are: they will reply they are OK instead of admitting things are catastrophic. Most Brits will not complain about someone to their face, because they expect the person to pick up on subtle clues and don’t want to have an outright confrontation about it.

“You must never complain. Complaining is very un-English. The stiff-upper lip is the British way. Whatever happens, remember the new national slogan: ‘It’s one of those things’. When your brand-new toasting machine goes up in flames and toasts you instead of your bread, you nod: ‘It’s one of those things’ and the matter is closed… ” – George Mikes –

Understatement is a way of life in Great Britain. It also means the British tend to be subtle and sarcastic when insulting people so you may not have the feeling you’re being insulted.

That said, if you really get to know a Brit, they, like anybody else, can be very direct and even crude.

Read also: Understanding British Politeness.

The British Love Talking About the Weather: Fact

british_stereotypes_british_talk_weatherPhoto Copyright: Stuart Axe

This is the most important topic in the land, an ever thrilling, ever-interesting topic and you must be good at discussing the weather.

Examples for conversation:

[George Mikes, “How to be an alien”]

For good weather:

“Lovely day isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“The sun…”

“Isn’t it gorgeous?”

“Wonderful, isn’t it?”

“It’s so nice and hot…”

“Personally I think it’s so nice when it’s hot, isn’t it?”

“I adore it, don’t you?”

For bad weather:

“Nasty day, isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it dreadful?”

“The rain, I hate the rain…”

“I don’t like it at all, do you?”

“Fancy such a day in July. Rain in the morning, then a bit of sunshine, and then rain, rain, rain all day long”.

“I remember exactly the same July in 1985”

“Yes, I remember, too”

“Or was it 1983?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Or in 1980?”

“Yes, that’s right!”

George Mikes in his humorous commentaries maintained that in England, if you don’t repeat “Lovely day” at least 200 times a day, you are considered a bit dull. You should never contradict anybody when discussing the weather. Should it hail and snow, and should someone remark to you: “Nice day, isn’t it?” Answer without hesitation: “Isn’t it lovely?”.

Oscar Wilde famously condemned it as the “last refuge of the unimaginative” but research shows that six in 10 Britons use talking about the weather as a social prop.

The conversation turns to their climate at least once every six hours. Some deem the topic of such interest that they use it as an icebreaker.

The British Love Tea: Fact


“The trouble with tea is that originally it was quite a good drink. So a group of the most eminent British scientists put their heads together, and made complicated biological experiments to find a way of spoiling it. To the eternal glory of British science, their labour bore fruit. They suggested that, if you don’t drink it clear, or with lemon or rum and sugar, but pour a few drops of cold milk into it, and no sugar at all, the desired object is achieved. Once this aromatic, refreshing, oriental beverage was successfully transformed into colourless and tasteless gargling water, it suddenly became national drink in Great Britain and Ireland- still retaining, indeed usurping, the high sounding title of tea.” -George Mikes-

A cup of tea early in the morning is a good day starter. Then you have tea  for breakfast, at 11am, after lunch. Then you have tea for tea and after tea.

A cup of tea before going to bed is a must.

A minority claims to prefer coffee, but most British do love their cup of tea (or 15) a day. Always with milk. Better if accompanied with scones.

Never refuse any additional cups of tea under the following circumstances:

If it’s hot, if it’s cold, if it’s warm, if it’s sunny, if it’s a rainy day.  If you are tired, if you are nervous, if you are gay, if you are not gay; if you feel like it, if you don’t feel like it; before you go out, if you are out; if you visit your parents; if you visit your mother-in-law. If you have had no tea for some hours; if you have just had a cup.

The British Love Queuing: Fact

British people queuePhoto Copyright: Petras Gagilas

“An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.” – George Mikes –

Queuing was simply a war-time expediency that stayed afterwards.

“In shops, the English stand in queues. In government offices, they sit in queues. In churches, they kneel in queues. At sales time, they lie in queues all night in Oxford Street.” -George Mikes-

The native British love order and discipline and queuing is a tradition and trademark of British civilisation. And it’s a totally infectious habit: so much so that if you come from cultures where queuing is not common practice and you are suddenly catapulted into the British Kingdom of order and politeness, you’ll quickly feel out of place if you don’t join in.

Let’s say that if you try to jump that orderly queue or somehow disrupt it, you’ll immediately stand out as an outsider, even if no direct remarks will be addressed to you.

No matter how often you, the oblivious foreign visitor, keep standing on the fast left lane of the escalator, blocking the passage of rushing passengers, the typical Brit will usually be too polite to tell you, and may only hiss a simple “Excuse Me” instead of addressing you directly; even if, with your behaviour, you are unwittingly causing them the major drawback of risking to miss their train, a major appointment and to be late in their schedule.


If you jump a queue, they will know you are not British, and this is enough to settle things but mind you: queue-jumping is not appreciated at all.

“If the death penalty is ever to be restored in Britain, it will not be for murder, but for queue jumping, the most heinous of all crimes.” –George Mikes-

The British are terrible at learning foreign languages

learning languages

“A trueborn Englishman does not know any language. He does not speak English too well either, but at least he is not proud of it. He is however immensely proud of not knowing any languages. “ – George Mikes-

Half a century later, nothing seems to have changed that much. Even if this is not a rule, and things have progressed, the average Briton will still declare that there is no use in learning a second language. I found most of the British may know some basic Spanish or French but will hardly use it, not even on holiday.

However, Brits who speak a foreign language well do exist nowadays. They mainly live in another country where English is not spoken.

The British Love Binge Drinking Over The Week-End: Fact

binge_drinking_uk_british_stereotypesPhoto Copyright: Kamyar Adl

 A teetotaler may feel a bit of an outcast when socialising because the British, like the Irish, do tend to have a remarkable drinking and pub culture which interests both men and women of all ages.

The British All Have Pale Skin: Myth/Fact

british_pale_skin_british_stereotypesPhoto Copyright: MarkScottAustinTX

The typical Brit tends to have that pale skin complexion that turns bright red if exposed to the sun; the lack of proper sunshine throughout the year doesn’t help even if your complexion is not so pasty. On the other hand, Great Britain is such a melting pot of cultures that spotting a pure Brit may take some effort.

All British Have Bad Teeth: Fiction

british_stereotypes_bad_teethPhoto Copyright: DAVID HOLT

According to dozens of jokes and the spy-spoof movie Austin Powers, British people are known to have bad teeth. Whether you choose to whiten or straighten your teeth is a matter of fashion. In terms of dental health, what really matters is decay. On that measure, Britain does better than many other countries around the world – including the United States.

The British Carry An Umbrella All The Time: Fiction

british_stereotypes_umbrellaPhoto Copyright: Vadim Timoshkin

 In London it drizzles a lot. Drizzle is that light rain falling in very fine drops, which will tarnish you and your glasses, but that, for the typical Brit, doesn’t actually justify carrying an umbrella.

Besides, the weather in Great Britain is so unpredictable that opening and closing an umbrella may be deemed useless. And Londoners don’t have time to waste with opening and closing umbrellas, do they?

In England It Rains Every Day: It depends

british_stereotypes_rainPhoto Copyright: David Skinner

 It really depends on the part of the UK we are talking about. If in northern England and in Scotland rain is routine, in southern England it is not that much so, at least not to that extent; it’s more a question of experiencing four seasons in one day. The problem with British weather is that it’s terribly unpredictable. And that includes in London, of course..

“The British meteorologists forecast the right weather – as it really should be – and then these impertinent little anti-cyclones interfere and mess up everything. That again proves that if the British kept to themselves and did not mix with foreign things like Polar and Azores anti-cyclones they would be much better off.. ”- George Mikes-

Everyone in Britain Has A Plummy Accent And Talks Like The Queen: Myth

british_stereotypes_queenPhoto Copyright: The U.S. Army

British Businessmen Wear Bowler Hats, Pinstripe Suits, Carry A Newspaper Under One Arm And A Long, Unopened Umbrella In The Other:Myth

british_stereotypes_bowler_hat_umbrellaPhoto Copyright: Chris Brown

British People Are Very Polite: Fact/Myth

british_stereotypes_politenessPhoto Copyright: Tim Green

British people are renowned for British politeness and that’s a fact. I’ve met a lot of British people who lived up to their reputation:always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, holding doors open for the elderly or ladies, helping with your heavy luggage on the tube, even if you are a total stranger, giving up seats for pregnant women and so on. Generally speaking,  the British are well-mannered.

However, saying that they are all genuinely very polite may not be completely true. British people have a somewhat different way of speaking and acting as compared to other cultures. A lot of Brits, especially the English, use words like “sorry”,” excuse me”,” thank you” almost as punctuation. But that doesn’t mean they are really sorry or thankful.

Try to listen to some leave supporters (or read their comments on the Brexit topic) or go to a football match in polite old England.  You will see just how nice and polite British people can get. However, in less passionate and more everyday contexts, if the British say something that offends you, they can then say, “Oh it was just a joke” to save the situation and avoid conflict.

Read more on British politeness.

British People Feel Superior Than Other Countries: Fact

british_stereotypes_superiorPhoto Copyright: Steve Wilson

That is in fact admitted by many Brits. While England is often highlighted as the bedrock of liberal democracy, British people tend to have this sense of superiority towards other nationalities, besides feeling themselves a totally separate entity from the rest of Europe. Does Brexit tell you something? Even if they are, if only for now, European, or in the EU, you will often hear them saying: “I will go to Europe this summer” instead of saying “I’m going to the continent this summer” when speaking of their holiday plans in, say, Spain.

All British People Hate Other Nationalities: Myth/Fact

Photo Copyright: Ian Bart

The British innate sense of superiority doesn’t mean hating other nationalities.

Well, not necessarily…

Ok, This is a complex topic.

TRUE: Some Brexiteers, have  shown a certain aversion for everyone who’s not British and white, and after the referendum, we witnessed things we wish we hadn’t seen in such a democratic country in 2016.  The recent racist incidents triggered by the Leave Brexit campaign didn’t take the best out of this nation.

Let’s say that, before this UNNECESSARY Brexit referendum,  Great Britain was still considered one of the most democratic nations in the world, where multiculturalism hardly posed a problem.

If this remains true, only time will tell.

However, NO WORRIES. London voted IN.and it will remain very much OPEN towards expats of all nationalities.

For the rest of the country, we’ll come back to it….also because we still don’t know if the United Kingdom will need to update its name to something more…appropriate to its current status..

However, Isn’t it funny that the areas which voted out because of immigration, were also the least affected?

Most British People Live In London : Myth


Photo source: The Guardian.com


According to census 2011, 45% of Londoners are white British.

84% of the British don’t live in the capital. London is mostly a city of immigrants and a melting-pot of cultures, with large Italian, Polish, French, Spanish, Indian, Greek, and Bangladeshi communities, to name just a few.

The British Are Reserved:Fact

british_stereotypes_reservedPhoto Copyright:David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott

The British, The English especially, are more reserved if compared to the standard southern European or American and they’re generally more circumspect with strangers.

When socializing, the British do need a drink or two to unwind and become the kings or queens of the conversation.However, to be fair, it depends very much on geography. In northern England or in Scotland people are generally chattier and more sociable by nature. It’s easier to make friends with the northern English or the Scottish than with the Londoner. The Londoner is also always short of time and in a rush, looking at his wristwatch every two seconds.

In Great Britain, The Food Is Awful: Fact

british_stereotypes_british_food_awfulImage copyright thefoodplace.co.uk

“On the Continent people have good food; in England they have good table manners”. – George Mikes –

Since George Mikes wrote that, 50 years ago, food has improved, table manners have deteriorated.

British food is generally bland, it’s true. Supermarkets do not usually offer the variety of healthy and cheap food you may find in Southern Europe. British cooking is generally quite unimaginative, somewhat unhealthy and a bit predictable. The British tend to consume loads of junk food as well. Having said that, international restaurants are available on every corner, especially in London.

The British Love Tradition: Fact

british_stereotypes_christmas_crackers_crownsImage copyright KitAy

British People Love The Royal Family: Fact

british-stereotypes_the_royalsPhoto copyright:Aurelien Guichard

British People Have A Peculiar Dress Sense: Fact

british_stereotypes_dress_senseFeatured image copyright: Graham Hills

British people are not renowned for their sense of fashion. Which also means that no matter how extravagantly you dress, you won’t ever be criticized. It’s part of the British “live and let live” way of life.

The British worship cats and dogs: FACT!

cats and dogs

The English worship the cats and the dogs like an ancient Egyptian, only more so.

“On the Continent stray cats are judged individually on their merits: some are loved, some are only respected. In England they are universally worshipped as in ancient Egypt.” -George Mikes-

Continental People have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles: MYTH!!! (YEAH! MYTH!)

british and sexThis joking remark, written back in the 1940s by humoristic writer George Mikes, is still widely known. Some years later, he agreed that things had progressed, as electric blankets had been introduced.

The British are still universally renowned to be “a bit colder” than their Latin counterpart; but so are all the Nordic populations. One may wonder if it’s still true or if “no sex please, we’re British” is more a stereotypical idea.

Many still claim Great Britain is neither a passionate nor an erotic country.

In continental Europe and southern countries, if a young man wants to declare his love to a girl, he will probably do it passionately. Maybe telling her she is the sweetest and most charming person in the world, that he would be unable to live without her.

In England the boy may pat his adored one on the back, confessing his love saying softly with a passionate: “I don’t object you, you know..” and if he’s quite mad with passion he may add : “I rather fancy you..you know..”.

In love and courtship, understatement generally rules!

If a man wants to marry a girl he says:

“I say…would you…?”

If he wants to make an indecent proposal:

“I say…what about…?”

-George Mikes-

British men do not wolf-whistle women in the streets, nor generally go to great lengths to court their loved one. Men indeed lack  the romanticism typical of southern countries: girls are made love to, but they are not pursued. Women are quite willing to go to bed but rarely flirt with men. I have heard a lot of people claiming that.

However, are the British SHY TOWARDS SEX?

Nope, they don’t seem to be that shy. All on the contrary. Who’s been living in the UK for ages, knows that reality may be quite different.

Nuria says:

I think British are far more open about sex than Spaniards. Far, far more!!! People are more promiscuous, more unashamed to do it in public places and more fond of bizarre sexual tastes. And it´s not just people of the new generation, or uneducated people.

I have seen, heard, and been told things nobody in my country would believe. They are very stiff upper lip, but when it comes to sex it seems that the just go for it. Mind you, first they get very drunk!!

This is the country of western Europe with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy.  I bet it’s one of the places with highest rates of infidelities! The things I’ve seen!!
You only have to walk in a main street of any UK city to see Ann Summer shop. This is a sex shop.

I have heard sex conversation in work I would never had even with my closest friend back home. But then, they get upset by women breastfeeding in public or women doing topless, that is not allowed in the beaches.

It is a very complex society.


Here’s the opinion of another expat:

My experience is with people my age (in their 40s). Very open.

As one woman I used to work with told me once “when I used to go out I always carried two things in my handbag: my toothbrush and clean set of knickers, as you never know where you are going to wake up”.

Christmas parties… suddenly all forget they are married!!

On top of that earlier this year a Professor I used to work with was found dead in the woods due to some “misadventure” involving leather masks and deprivation of oxygen. So sad.


Well, well, well….and what about you? What’s your experience with The British and SEX?



Leave a Reply