Food in Britain is becoming more and more diverse. We still have traditional British food, fish and chips, sausage and mash, but it is also possible to get Italian, Chinese, Indian, French, if with a little British twist. If you live in a city you will be able to find oriental supermarkets to all buy those things you miss from home and most supermarkets have a foreign food section.
Our traditional breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages and a cup of tea. It may be that if you live in catered halls these will be provided for you everyday, however most only eat a traditional breakfast on rare occasions, and instead we will eat toast or cereal with milk. Breakfast is generally eaten between 6am and 9am.
Lunch may often consist of a sandwich or soup, something light, between 12pm and 2pm. At university, some people may bring in their own, whereas others may eat in one of the university cafes or buy a sandwich from the supermarket. At university premises it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own food, but perhaps buy a coffee, or newspaper.
Dinner (also called tea or supper) is generally eaten between 5pm and 8pm. Traditionally, the British eat meat and two veg with potatoes, however these days are long gone and nothing is traditional for dinner. In catered halls you will get the option of rice, pasta, and potato dishes, along with salads.
Christianity is the major religion here in the UK, however all religious denominations are welcome and are free to practise their faith. Places of worship for other world religions are available in cities, but less so in smaller towns. Churches will be available in all towns and cities, while I have mentioned other religious buildings if the city has them. Colleges and universities have their own places for prayer and their own chaplain represents all faiths. You will also be able to make arrangements for religious observance, religious holidays and the availability of halal or kosher foods. You can also join the student society for your religion to meet others.
The Royal Family
One of Britain's most famous exports is probably the Royal Family. Britain practises a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. This format is maintained by countries within the Commonwealth realm including New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The current Royal Family is called the House of Windsor, named after Windsor Castle (one of the royal residence) in 1917, when Britain was at war with Germany. Its previous name had been Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, however this was deemed too German, and Royal Family needed to emphasise the fact that they were on the side of the British people rather than their German relatives. Their official state owned royal residences include Buckingham Palace (the Queen's weekday home), Windsor Castle (the Queen's weekend home), The Palace of Holyrood (the Queen's Scottish home), and Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana, and the official home of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge).
The UK has a wealth of accents and dialects, and they vary enormously. You might find most accents impossible to understand at first, everyone you meet will sound different, but don't worry, ask people to speak slower, and after spending time with people you'll realise that you've picked up what people are saying pretty quickly and after a while you won't even notice that people are speaking with a different accent.
Below are comedy clips of some common accents (these are by no means all of them!):
London (modern) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY0WSmUf3ro
Cockney (traditional London) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnE0Z5GnFus&feature=related
Geordie (from Newcastle) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gyuo9ZH3frE
Scouse (from Liverpool) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zvSs4ZS6Tc&feature=related
West Country http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxTH8xSuXsI
Southern Ireland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX45vU4Z6Pw
Standard English http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc2cbkRFQT4
The humour, and the British mannerisms may also be hard to understand at first, particularly because they use slang or references only British people will have heard of. I suggest watching the BBC before you leave, shows like Gavin and Stacey and The Office will give you a picture of typical life in the UK, while quiz shows such as QI or Have I Got News For You will give you an idea of British humour.>
Wherever you live it will only be a short train ride away to a national park or the beach, where people enjoy walking, cycling, climbing etc. Walks in the country are often accompanied by afternoons in a traditional pub, especially if it has been raining. It may be that your university has weekends away which you can sign up to. The city and area guides describe some of the places you could visit near to your university.
Because most of our weather is gloomy, when the sun comes out people tend to flock to the park and open spaces. You'll often find lonesome people sitting and reading a book, or groups of people having a picnic or playing cricket.
Museums, galleries, exhibitions and country houses are also popular. Some exhibitions in art galleries are now so lucrative they open 24 hours a day! However, you'll have to pay money for these exhibitions, and if you are new to this world and just want a taster, there are plenty of free displays with sculpture, painting, video and photography widely available. There are a wealth of museums up and down the country, with different themes, such as science, design, natural history, local history etc. There are also many country houses and houses in general to visit, which will range from historic castles and palaces to formers homes of famous people, such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or Sigmund Freud.
Although Britain is currently having a crisis in the media, it prides itself on quality journalism. Newspapers are often split into "tabloids" and "broadsheets," tabloids being more popular, with a focus on celebrities and gossip, while broadsheets are more formal and serious. You'll find the broadsheets cheap at your university and can choose between the centre-right newspapers of the Times and Telegraph to the centre-left newspapers of the Independent and Guardian. The Financial Times is the main business newspaper.
There are five major television channels in Britain, BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, with many other digital channels. On these five channels, and all other BBC channels, you are more likely to see British programmes, local news, important sporting matches, etc., while other digital channels show American programmes. Radio is also dominated by the BBC, although other channels are available.
In Britain, public holidays are ones that have been observed through custom and practice, while bank holidays are holidays where banks and many other businesses are closed for the day. There are different public and bank holidays depending on the country you are studying in.
In England and Wales the public/bank holidays are:
- New Years Day
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- Early May Bank Holiday
- Spring Bank Holiday
- Summer Bank Holiday
- Christmas Day
- Boxing Day
In Scotland, Easter Monday is NOT a bank holiday, while the 2nd January and St. Andrew's Day (November 30th; St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland) are instead. There are also public local holidays which can be determined by local authorities, based on local tradition. Businesses and schools are not necessarily closed on Scottish bank holidays, and the Scottish banks follow the English and Welsh bank holidays for business reasons.
In Northern Ireland, there are two extra bank holidays; St Patrick's Day (March 17th; St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland) and the Twelfth/Orangemen's Day (12th July).
Traditions & Celebrations
There are too many celebrations and traditions to mention here, and all areas of the country will partake in different ones, however the most famous include:
- 25th January - a tradition celebrating the Scottish writer Robert Burns, involving a dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties, and whiskey, with numerous speeches and perhaps a céilidh to top it off.
Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday)
- any Tuesday from 3rd February to 9th March - a Christian tradition which used to involve eating everything in the house to get ready to fast for lent, but now involves eating as many pankcakes as possible.
St Patrick's Day
- 17th March - St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and celebrations basically involve drinking and wearing a green hat.
- any day from 22nd March to 25th April - Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the death of Jesus and his rising from the dead. If you are not Christian or religious, it is a good excuse to give and receive chocolate eggs and sit down for a meal with your friends.
April Fools' Day
- 1st April - April Fools' Day is an ancient tradition when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. Even the British media joins in, so be careful what you believe in on the day!
- 5th November - Bonfire Night commemorates the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament. We celebrate it by having a night of fireworks and a bonfire with a homemade Guy Fawkes placed on top. It can either be celebrated at home, while local authorities also organise events you can attend.
- 25th December - Christmas is a Christian celebration based around the birth of Jesus, where we share presents, put at trees in our home, and eat the mother of all roast dinners.