Difference between revisions of "England"
Revision as of 16:56, 11 December 2007
England  is one of the four "home nations" that make up the United Kingdom. It is the largest of them, both in terms of surface area and population (about 50 million inhabitants out of about 60 million). On the island of Great Britain, Scotland sits to the north of England and Wales is to the west. Northern Ireland (also part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland lie across the Irish Sea to west of England (and Wales). France and the Channel Islands are across the English Channel to the south, and to the east is The North Sea.
England can be divided most generally into three sections, with deep historical and linguistic roots for each of them. These can be further divided into regions, which in turn consist of counties (most of which also have long histories, but have been revised in many cases for administrative reasons).
England has many large cities. Listed below are nine of the most popular:
England has many outstanding landmarks and sites of interest. Listed below are nine of the most notable:
It is important not to confuse "England" with the the larger "Britain" or "United Kingdom"; see United Kingdom for clarification on this. England is directly governed by the UK government sitting in Westminster, London.
England's weather is changeable on a day-to-day basis, but has a quite small difference between average conditions on a seasonal level. There is a general trend by which summers are getting dryer and hotter, and winters wetter and warmer.
Northern and Western parts are usually wetter than the rest of England, and the sunniest and warmest areas are in the far south and south east.
Winter and Autumn are usually the wettest seasons where the weather is often very changeable and at times quite windy, especially in the north and west, where cold Arctic winds arrive. Summer is warm in the south with temperatures usually ranging from 20-25C but be prepared for unsettled weather at anytime of the year. More frequently now, long, hot spells of weather can occur from May to September (especially in the south and east) with temperatures comparable to those found in the south of France or Spain. Central Europe has very hot summers and and very cold winters, but England is both less extreme (surrounded by water) and milder in the winter(influenced by the warmth of the North Atlantic Drift). If it was not for the North Atlantic Drift, England would be much much colder.
Despite preconceptions, rainfall is not as high in England as many tourists expect.
Below-zero (Celsius) temperatures are an irregular occurrence in the coldest months; but heavy, prolonged, snow is rare and temperatures are rarely below freezing for more than a few days. Perhaps every other year there will be a few days of road and rail disruption if snow falls - it is a common point of concern in England that the English are ill-equipped to cope with bad weather: even the slightest amount of snow often causes delays on public transport, especially rail. Really severe weather conditions are rare, but can cause major problems even though remedial action is usually taken very promptly. Flooding and the opposite, droughts, are minor problems although they are unlikely to affect the traveller. Very rarely, small tornadoes and minor earthquakes occur: the most recent taking place in May 2007, registering 4.3 on the Richter Scale, located in Dover, in the South-East.
English people are said to have a passion for debating the weather: actually this is usually just an opening gambit to start a conversation with a stranger (see elsewhere in this article). Typically, these conversation openers are now only heard among the elderly members of society. Most discussions that do involve weather usually includes criticisms of it - including (though perhaps not at the same time) both that it's "too cold" and it's "too hot". Well-known conversational gambits (with due acknowledgement to Peter Kay) : "It's too cold for snow"; "It's that fine rain that soaks you through".
The English, like their language, are a mixed bunch who have regularly been infused with new blood - from the Vikings a thousand years ago to people from former British colonies in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s. They are also well used to foreign visitors and you can expect them to be friendly and polite but a little bit reserved. Big cities, like those anywhere, have their social problems and an underclass who like to find someone else to blame, but England is predominantly an affluent country with little visible poverty and in tourist destinations you will meet a friendly people who will take the time to answer a stranger's question, and who may speak English in a colourful or accented way but will be willing to standardise and simplify their speech if you're struggling. Some would say there is a north-south divide, with people in the North more friendly and approachable, while the South (dominated by London) is a more closed culture with people less willing to stop and speak. London itself is a very international city where you may not meet many English people.
From Outside Great Britain
Since England is on an Island, it is not possible to drive directly into England from outside Great Britain. Motorists have two choices to enter England from outside Great Britain, by various Car Ferry routes, or the Channel Tunnel.
See "by boat" for further details.
From Elsewhere in Great Britain
A number of roads cross England's borders with its British neighbours. These roads range from the simple country lanes to Motorways. There are obviously no border controls with Scotland or Wales, indeed on smaller roads the border may not be noticed at all.
There are no tolls to cross into England, however motorists need to be aware that crossing from England into Wales via the M4 and M48 Severn Bridges will need to pay a toll.
The most important road connections into and out of England are.
England has numerous airports:
London and the South East
The South West
Eurostar links mainland Europe to England. Trains run from Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium (via Lille and Calais) crossing into England via the Channel Tunnel and often stopping at Ashford) before continuing to St. Pancras Station in London. Occasional services run from other destinations in France.
From Wales and Scotland regular services cross the borders into England.
BritRail Passes are also available to non UK citizens which allow the traveler to unlimited rail travel in England on one ticket.BritRail Passes
With so much coastline and so many ports, England has extensive shipping links with many countries worldwide. Major ports are Dover, Folkestone, Harwich, Hull, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Liverpool, Ipswich and Newcastle. Ferry routes to British Mainland
England is well serviced by domestic air, land and sea routes.
There are taxi firms everywhere (many are by booking only - find the phone number of the local company and phone ahead), and every town has a bus service. 'Black Cabs' are also common in cities and can be hailed from the side of the road. Sometimes in city centres, usually just after the nightclubs have closed, there will be queue for taxis which will sometimes be monitored by marshals or police.
Visitors should ensure that they only ever take registered taxis or black cabs; despite government action, many unlawful unregistered private taxi drivers exist - these do have a reputation for being unsafe, particular if you are a woman.
England has one of the highest densities of railway lines per square mile in the world. There has been much improvement and investment in recent years to the railway network and rolling stock but delays and cancellations do occasionally occur. Overcrowding can be a problem in large cities, especially at 'rush-hour' times (7am - 9am & 5pm - 7pm, Monday to Friday) so it is best to avoid these times when tickets can be expensive as well.
Buses are numerous, frequent and reliable in most of the larger towns and cities and an ideal way of getting around. Rural areas are less well served and hiring a car is the best option to explore the countryside and villages.
The speed limit, unless otherwise stated, is 30 mph in built-up areas, 60 mph (approx 95 km/h) elsewhere and 70 mph (approx. 110 km/h) on motorways and other controlled-access roads. The traditional British 'reserve' and politeness may occasionally dissolve under the stress of congestion on the major routes, especially with the traffic problems in some of England's larger cities, but generally driving around Britain is an enjoyable experience and it is polite to acknowledge the courtesy of another driver with a nod or the raising of the hand as a form of thank you. Drivers will often flash their headlights to indicate that you are clear to pull out, or otherwise to give way to you, and it is considered polite to say thankyou by giving a wave or a quick flash of your indicators in both directions.
Brown and white road signs indicate nearby tourist attractions, and the blue i sign denotes Tourist Information.
England has a large and diverse range of attractions.
A number of 'umbrella' organisations are devoted to the preservation and public access of both natural and cultural heritage. Membership with them, even on a temporary basis, means priority free access to their properties thereafter - travellers to England seeking to see a large number of sights would do well to join one or more of them:
It was traditional the world over to deride English food, and many who have not visited the country, or who only eat in low-grade establishments still do so. This tradition was perhaps started by people who visited England during or after the war when rationing continued for a long time, and restaurants were limited by law in the price they could charge for a meal (and there was undeniably a long period when old habits died hard). However, the country has produced some notable dishes, such as Beef Wellington and the sandwich, named after the Earl of Sandwich who found the portable meal convenient as it meant he didn't have to leave the gambling table (though the practice of putting meat between slices of bread was known as far back as Roman times, Sandwich introduced it as a common dish in modern times). Above all, the English are great adopters of other countries' cuisines, to the frequent exclusion of "native" options (English opinion is currently divided as to whether the most popular dish is lasagna or chicken tikka masala, with the latter probably edging out the competition...). There are still low-quality establishments or mediocre chain restaurants for people who do not care for good food (or for spending good money on it), but the last thirty years have seen huge improvements. England has become a major holiday destination, and restaurants and hotels have learned what demanding travellers want. The English themselves have learned to appreciate good food by visiting countries all over the world and have come home expecting pubs and restaurants to justify their prices by providing interesting and well-presented meals. "A meal out" is the usual way to celebrate a special family event, and people expect the meal to live up to the occasion. Cooking programmes are now among the most popular on the television, supermarkets have turned many previously unknown foods into everyday items, and Farm Shops and Farmers Markets have surprised all the commentators by becoming extremely popular weekend "leisure" destinations where people can buy excellent English meat, fruit, and vegetables.
Typical / traditional English food:
Pubs are a good place to get reasonably priced food, though most stop serving food at around 9-9:30pm. Others may stop serving food between lunch and dinner. Pub food has become quite sophisticated in recent years and as well as serving the more traditional hearty English fare, more exotic dishes are now prepared in the majority of the larger pubs and specialist "gastropubs".
English food has recently undergone a revolution with many larger cities having award winning restaurants run by the many 'famous' and numerous TV chefs which have now become part of the English obsession with food. Prices, in line with the strong British pound, do mean that eating out at a high quality restaurant can be an expensive experience: at the very top end (Michelin Star level) then expect to pay £100 per head including wine. A decent three-course meal out at a respectable restaurant will normally cost around £30 - £40 per head including wine.
If good quality and cheaply priced food is more your choice then try one of the many ethnic restaurants such as Chinese, Asian or Mexican. Eating a curry or balti in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant is tantamount to an English obsession. These restaurants are found everywhere, even the larger villages have them, and usually the food is of good quality and they will cater for most tastes. Eating a curry out is a social occasion and often you will find the men try to challenge their own taste buds to a duel, opting for spicier curries than they find comfortable! In the towns and cities these restaurants are usually open late (especially on a Friday and Saturday night) to cater for people eating after the pubs have closed. It is at this time that they can get very busy and lively, so if you want to avoid the crowds then visit the restaurants before the local pubs shut.
Unlike many other European countries, vegetarian (and to a lesser extent, vegan) food is widely available and appreciated in pubs and restaurants with several dishes usually appearing on the menu alongside the more normal meat and fish options. However, vegetarians may still find the variety of dishes rather limited - particularly in pubs, where certain dishes such as "veggie" lasagna or mushroom stroganoff feature all-too-regularly.
The traditional drinking establishment is the "pub" (short for "public house"). These are normally named after local landmarks or events, and most will have a heraldic (or pseudo-heraldic) symbol on the sign outside; more recent establishments may poke fun of this tradition (e.g. "The Queen's Head" featuring a portrait of Freddy Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen).
There are pubs everywhere, city centre and suburb ; large and small towns ; village main street and "in the middle of nowhere". These have traditionally been the meeting places for local communities (not just the refuge for hardened drinkers) for hundreds of years. Over the last twenty years, there has been a slow but persistent trend for local (non-town-centre) pubs to close down: in particular, rural pubs outside tourist areas have suffered, perhaps from a reduced tolerance for "drink-driving". However, pubs have been fighting back by trying to make more money from food. Some have even become more like restaurants, with a bar area for people waiting to be seated: these types can be less than welcoming to people who just want a drink. Also, it has recently been suggested that recent changes to the licencing laws (below) have helped them by making it possible for people to stay later in their local pub at weekends, rather than having to go "to town" to continue the evening.
In town centres, the establishments lining the main "drinking streets" are more of the "stylish bar" type than pubs: they are often designed for "vertical drinking" (standing near very loud loudspeakers, holding fashionable bottles of lager or "alcopops") rather than for discussing the finer points of football or beer around a collection of pint glasses on a table. However, back streets still hide traditional pubs, and most towns have several "real ale pubs" dotted around, sometimes with a cluster concentrated in a small area on the edge of the town centre.
Although traditional pub licencing laws severely restricted their hours of operation, laws enacted in 2005 allow pubs to request more flexible opening hours. Few pubs have requested anywhere near the "24 hour drinking" that is theoretically possible: as a general rule more traditional pubs will close at 11pm still. Some of the more trendy bars will close nearer to 1am, filling a niche in the market between traditional pub and nightclub. However in most cities and many towns, centrally located pubs and bars will stay open until 02:00 or 03:00, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, at public holiday times, many pubs extend their closing times — especially New Year's Eve.
England is home to a huge variety of alcoholic drinks. As well as wines and spirits (mainly imported, but some local), all pubs sell several beers and at least one cider. The main types of beer you will come across are lager , bitter and stout. Real Ale is not a separate classification, it refers to beer made and served by traditional methods.
Lager — Predominantly the pilsner type: pale, fizzy and cold. Because of the popularity of this type of beer amongst the young, there are many mass-market national brands brewed in the UK (and widely advertised with "having fun" type ads) which may disappoint anyone wanting more than simply cold, fizzy, alcohol. Some national brands are much better, and often stronger, and may be sold in bottles as well as on draught. Purists often prefer imported European-brewed lagers.
Bitter — The most common example of the English type of beer technically called called "ale" (see below). They are typically darker and sweeter than lagers - they are called bitter because they have more hops than mild (another, less-common kind of ale). Again, there are well-advertised national brands for the mass market, usually less strong than lagers. Most are now not "real ales": they are not matured in the barrel; they are often called "smooth" or "cream" (which means that they but are infused with nitrogen to give a small-bubbled head) and are often served very cold from a small tap on a tall, illuminated stand.
Stout — A dark, heavy, usually very bitter beer. Originally called Porter, Arthur Guinness decided he could do better and made Guinness which he branded a Stout Porter. Guinness is one world-famous Irish brand that is available almost everywhere in England, often in "normal" "cold" and "extra cold" versions.
All of the mass-market types above can be bought in cans - often with a "widget" that when the can is opened, forces nitrogen bubbles through the beer to simulate "draught" beer.
Ale — This is not simply another word for "Bitter" or "Beer". Technically it simply means any beer other than lager (ie it is a beer brewed at cellar temperatures using floating yeast, ie bitters, milds and stouts). However, these days "ale" is often used a little self-consciously, usually either as a "matey" word for any type of beer ("Anyone fancy a few ales?") or in a consciously "traditional" way ("Try a pint of good old English ale"). To ask for "A pint of ale, please." would sound like a line from a period film. However "Real Ale" is an accepted term, so to ask "What real ales do you have on?" would be quite normal.
Real Ale — The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been a very successful consumer campaign, its aims have been to ensure that mass-market beers do not completely force out beers made in the traditional way. CAMRA created the term "Real Ale to summarise the type of beer they wanted to keep alive: it must be allowed to continue maturing after it leaves the brewery (ie not be pasteurised or filtered to remove living yeast; be stored and served without additional gas (ie does not have carbon dioxide or nitrogen forced into the beer); and be served at the appropriate temperature for the style: traditional ales are not generally served warm, as many people believe, but at the temperature of the 'cool' cellar they have been maturing in for several days (ideally, 8–12°C) . Most real ales are served from the distinctive "handpumps" which allow a pint to be "pulled" from the cellar by several full-length strokes requiring visible effort on the part of the server. Most "real ales" served in ordinary pubs are bitters, but these come in a wide range of strengths, colours, and bitterness. A majority of pubs now serve at least one or two national brands of real ale, and perhaps one or even two local ones.
"Real ale pubs" — At a pub which especially caters to lovers of real ale, or at a beer festival, there will be more local brands (and "guests" from some distance away) and a wider range of bitters, and even a good choice of other types. Expect to see summer ales, winter ales, exotic beers (containing ingredients such as heather, honey or ginger), light milds, dark milds, lagers, stouts and, increasingly, porters (like a stronger dark mild, or a lighter, sweeter stout). These will be served from a long row of handpumps or (even more traditionally) straight from barrels sitting on the bar or (especially at beer festivals) in racks. There will also be a wide range of "bottle-conditioned" beers ("real ale in a bottle") usually either versions of English bitters, often called "pale ales", or very strong beers from France or Belgium. There will also be several ciders and perries.
Cider — In England this means an alcoholic drink made from apples (often much stronger than beer). These are generally brewed in the West Country (Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) but not exclusively so as Herefordshire is also another region famous for its cider. The more commercial brands of cider, served from pressurised kegs and so available at any pub, are clear, fizzy and cold , and quite strong (they are usually moderately or very sweet, so the high alcohol content may go unnoticed by a novice). A real ale pub will usually sell at least one "real", unpressurised, cider, perhaps from a barrel sitting on the bar. This may may be clear or slightly cloudy, but will be almost certainly be still, not too sweet, and very strong (7% alcohol is only average for this type of cider). The most traditional cider is called Scrumpy and is usually very strong, very cloudy and possibly (but not always) rather sour. Some commercial ciders have "scrumpy" in their name, but these are not quite the same as a gallon jug bought at the farmhouse door.
Perry — Similar to cider but made from pears (is sometimes called pear cider, especially if imported). Farmhouse perry was always difficult to get hold of outside the West Country, but this is improving, and there will nearly always be some available at a beer festival. Keen perry-spotters might notice the sweetish "undercover" commercial versions : advertised nationwide with a "girls night out" theme and sold in wine-shaped bottles with "inexpensive white wine"-type labels bearing the legend "Perry" in small letters.
Tea is widely drunk throughout the country, almost always hot, usually strong, usually with milk, and quite often with sugar. There are many popular brands (the most recognisable brands are PG Tips and Tetley). Tea is usually drunk at home or at work or to accompany breakfast in inexpensive restaurants (where it will usually arrive with milk already in it), or with afternoon tea (scones, cream, jam, and cakes) at a "tea-room" (less-frequently seen these days, except in expensive hotels or in holiday areas.
Coffee is as popular as tea. Instant coffee (made with hot water, hot milk, or "half and half") is much used at home and work, and in inexpensive restaurants. If it is made with just hot water, then it is "black coffee"; with added cold milk it becomes "white coffee". Percolators are little used, and machines with paper filters are less common than they once were: they often fill a restaurant with a coffee aroma, but a mediocre restaurant will often leave the made coffee heating for too long. Therefore, at dinner parties or good restaurants, the "french press" (cafetiere) has become the standard way to serve "real" ("ground") coffee: the customer can leave the coffee infusing until it as as strong as they like, then press the filter down to stop the brew and restrain the grounds from getting into the cup. The drinker then adds their own milk (hot milk is often provided; cream less often) and sugar. Seattle-style coffee bars serve the usual types of espresso-based coffees (but with a less-bewildering choice of combinations of coffee, milk, sugar, and flavourings). Decaffeinated coffee is available, but not standard. A Pub may serve coffee, but "Bar" type of pub (at a non-busy time of day) is a better option.
England offers the usual Western assortment of sleeping options including
While the rooms are generally comfortable, rooms at the lower end of the price scale may be small and usually come without air conditioning, cable TV, coffee machines, and other amenities. In very inexpensive accommodation, for example in dormitory style hostels, towels and soap may not be provided.
Currency is Pounds Sterling (GBP). Euros are sometimes accepted as well (particularly in larger stores), but it is best to assume otherwise. Note that although Bank of England notes are accepted all over the United Kingdom, you may have trouble with Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes which will be fairly unfamiliar to shop staff in England.
Credit cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants. Visa and Mastercard signs are the most widely accepted, though debit cards with the Maestro logo are also taken. American Express cards are taken in fewer establishments, but most restaurants will accept it. Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN has become nearly compulsory, with only some companies still accepting signatures when paying by credit or debit cards. Customers from countries without chips in their credit cards are supposed to be able to sign instead of providing a PIN, however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer does not comply.
England has many options for foreign students including language, history, and cultural programmes as well as advanced degrees at such well-known universities as Cambridge and Oxford. England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London notably Imperial College, Cass Business School and the London School of Economics, University College London and King's College London which are part of London University. Outside of London in England the top universities are located in Birmingham (University of Birmingham), Manchester (University of Manchester), Liverpool (University of Liverpool), Leeds (University of Leeds), Sheffield (University of Sheffield), Bristol (University of Bristol), York (University of York), Nottingham (University of Nottingham), Bath (University of Bath), Newcastle (Newcastle University), Warwick(University of Warwick) and Durham (University of Durham).
Students from countries within the European Union do not require a visa to study in England. Most cities have at least one institute of higher learning. Studying at a university in England and Wales will cost around £3,000 per year; in Scotland universities do not charge tutition fees.
Options for short-term employment include bar tending and waiting tables as well as more specialised work such as in the high tech / computer industry. Visitors from Commonwealth countries will have a much easier time getting a work permit, especially those under 30 as there are several programs.
Citizens of countries belonging to the European Union (Germany, France, Spain, etc) do not require a permit and are free to live and work in England, however, certain restrictions currently apply to certain new EU member states (such as Bulgaria, Romania, etc), so you will need to check this out before travelling.
In any emergency call 999 or 112 (from a land-line if you can) and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected.
England is generally a safe place in which to live and visit, especially away from the major inner city areas and public housing estates where petty and alcohol-fuelled crime does occur - but if you use your common sense it will be highly unlikely that you will experience any of these.
It is worth taking extra care on public transport, particularly at night, as pickpockets and drunks can be a problem.
Some town and city centres should be approached with caution during the later evening on Fridays and Saturdays in particular, as high levels of drunkeness can be rife. English drunks can very easily become aggressive, and unexpected outbreaks of unprovoked violence are not entirely uncommon in these areas.
The local emergency telephone number is 999 and is without charge, however the EU-wide 112 can also be used. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647.
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E departments, be prepared to wait for up to 2-3 hours during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. Obviously, more serious ailments are usually treated immediately.
For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists).
Unsurprisingly, most people in England speak English. But the diverse history of the country, and the influx of various cultures over the centuries (e.g. Vikings, Normans, Romans, Celtic peoples) has produced a very wide range of accents (pronunciation), and there are still traces of regional dialects (vocabulary and grammar).
An accent will usually reveal where someone was brought up - sometimes to within quite a small area (a criminal was recently caught because his accent on a recorded phone call was traceable to a single neighbourhood). Today, even well-educated professionals are happy to keep their regional accent: the unhappy days when people from outside the South East felt that they had to hide their accent to "get on" have gone. It is now only people who go to public (i.e. private, fee-paying) schools who learn to speak in a "geography-free" way (the "upper-class accent" of colonial rulers, well-known from old British films, or modern parodies). Differences in accent are very real: a visitor who is expecting a particular accent they are familiar with from the cinema or television (perhaps "Dick van Dyke Cockney" or "Hugh Grant Silly Ass Upper Crust") will usually have to wait a day or two to get really accustomed to the real accents they hear around them. Even English people, familiar with other accents from TV or by knowing neighbours or colleagues who have moved from other areas) can still struggle when far from home. "Geordie", the accent/ dialect of Tyneside, is a famously strong accent when spoken quickly amongst a group of people who do not know that a stranger is trying to tune in. Most people are happy to tone down (or slow down) their accent when a stranger is in difficulty. When encountering a broad Geordie accent it can be quite difficult for someone who is not accustomed to it to understand it, and there are still various dialectic words in common use such as "hyem" = home, "gan/ gannin" = going, "wor" = our and "divvint" = don't.
Dialects exist, but as a matter of interest, not confusion. People across England would expect to understand anyone from anywhere else in England, because the few everyday dialect words are usually well known from TV. Differences are interesting, but not critical : Some examples from the north of England: "Ey up" ("Hello"), "Aye" ("yes", as in Scotland and the Navy) ; "Tha" ("You", as in thee and thou, still common in South Yorkshire). Real differences are of little consequence these days: for instance, people growing up in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield use "Jennel", "Jinnel", and "Ginnel" as the word for a particular type of narrow alley between houses. The only common area of confusion when moving around is what name is used to get your sandwich filling put into a small round piece of bread: "Roll", "Bap", "Breadcake", "Cob", "Stottie", "T-Cake", "Bun", "Barm"... ?
A few useful words which may help you understand the English (particularly in the Midlands): Ta = Thank you, Ta ra/ Ta ta = Goodbye, Summat/ Summit/ Summink = Something, Nowt = Nothing, Owt = Anything, Dunna/ Dunno = Don't know, Canna/ Cannit = Can not/ Cannot.
Be prepared to have to use English to make yourself understood. Few people here speak a second language fluently. However, most people were taught one second language (usually French, German or Spanish) at school, and may remember enough to be willing to help a stranger in difficulties (if they can get over the embarrassment of being seen to "show off").
Because of immigration, especially from commonwealth countries, many languages are spoken in the big cities. There are also smaller places where particular languages are common. Expect to hear (and even see signs in) Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujrati, Greek, Turkish, and varieties of Arabic. Because of links with Hong Kong, many Chinese people live here (London and Manchester in particular have thriving communities).
Another English peculiarity is the use of terms of endearment as part of a sentence in a conversation such as "darling", "pet", "love", "hun", "duck", "bab","mate", "sweetheart", "flower" and a few others. It can be confusing, or perhaps even embarrassing, for somebody who is not accustomed to this to be called "darling" by a total stranger, however, this is something which is nowadays mainly used by the older generation and found less in the younger generation.
See the UK article for more information
The English are in general a very polite people, and it is considered very bad manners not to say "please" or "thank you". The English say "please" and "thank you" (or "cheers") seemingly all the time. If in doubt, be polite. Unlike in many other European countries and in North America, a "thank you" will not often be greeted with a "you're welcome".
Holding doors (and countryside gates) open for people coming in the opposite direction or from behind is expected, though of course if they are nearer, they will open the door for you! If this happens then a "thank you" or "cheers" is an appropriate response. Sometimes strangers address each other by friendly nicknames like "mate" or "chum." Thus it is common to hear "Cheers mate" or "Thanks mate" as a person walks through a door held open by a stranger.
The English are said to be reserved, and this is often thought to mean that they are reluctant to communicate with strangers. This is a misconception. The English are quite curious about other people but English manners consider it rude to intrude on someone else's solitude or privacy without invitation. Two people wanting to talk but being politely reserved will never get going: so a neutral topic of conversation is required. This is the reason for the English "obsession" with the weather: it is a convenient excuse for "testing the water" without intruding too much. If a comment ("isn't it hot") is returned with a smile and a suitably encouraging follow-up comment ("not as bad as last week, though, is it?") then the original speaker knows that the other person would be happy to start a proper conversation.
It is customary to acknowledge other walkers when hiking (the English usually say "walking", rather than hiking, as it sounds less boastful and energetic) in the countryside. This can be a simple nod and smile, a "hello" or "Hi", or even a joking comment such as "only 10 miles to the pub". Again, the weather is a good standby if you want to know whether your new acquaintance wants to stop and chat.
It is said that the English invented queueing, and they become very annoyed if anyone jumps the line - although being reserved, some will do nothing more than glare and mutter under their breath.
Similarly, it is considered rude to brush past and/or nudge people in the streets. If you happen to brush past very closely, even without contact, in a street or shopping area etc, it is polite to apologise and smile; generally a simple "Pardon me", or "Sorry" is enough. The English tend to have an unspoken agreement in the streets where if two people are walking head-on, they will both shift slightly into opposite directions. This ensures that one person doesn't have to jump clear out of the way while the other continues without deviation. This can lead to the amusing scenario where both people move in the same direction, notice the other person moving in the same direction, and both alter their direction again. Also, it is considered polite to allow young children and the elderly to cross your path as you are walking, as opposed to stepping in front of them, and disrupting them.
When you find yourself in a restaurant or being invited to someone's home for a meal there is a range of customs and manners to watch out for. These include not eating with fingers or off of other's plates, not talking with your mouth full, asking others to pass condiments instead of reaching over the table, and always waiting your turn and thanking the host, bill payer or waiter. It is seen as a polite compliment to the chef/host to try to finish your meal, although it is not necessary.
See Contact entry under United Kingdom for national information on telephone, internet and postal services.
See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.