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United Kingdom (UK) - Culture, Society and Religion

Globalisation has ensured a mixture of cultures, religions, and societal norms. The United Kingdom is slightly different in that it combines four separate countries under one umbrella. Residents of the UK, or Great Britain and Northern Ireland, are often referred to as British even though each country has its own distinction: Scottish, Welsh, English or Northern Irish. Many natives prefer to be referred to by their country of origin rather than being called British, and ‘English’ should not be used to refer to people from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The People by Country

English people are known for being polite and somewhat reserved. Their manner is very unassuming, courteous, and non-abrasive. Scots are very passionate about their heritage and generally wish to be considered unique and wholly separate from the English. Scottish people can seem aloof, but are often more sentimental than they appear. On the whole, the Scots are considered to be free of major class distinctions and social elitism. However, there is a history of strong religious distinctions in Scotland, although this has changed in recent years.

Welsh citizens are proud to keep their own language, traditions, and literature. There is a strong and proud tradition of music and local folk tales throughout the country. Northern Irish communities are a mixture of Scottish and English, with some Irish blood mixed in; however, this does not make residents any less proud to be considered Northern Irish. Family is important in all UK communities, particularly in Northern Ireland.

Overall, the United Kingdom’s citizens tend to be outwardly reserved around strangers, but show great affection for friends and family. It is important for expat businesspeople to understand the corporate culture. It is essential to always be on time for meetings and to be congenial in business, with minimal polite conversation regarding non-business topics. Older, established companies will often predominantly work through networks, where family ties are important. This is the opposite of newer corporations that have CEOs and elected Boards of Directors.

Formality is required in social settings, especially with strangers. Dressing is quite formal for all citizens, particularly at work. In a business setting, formal English is preferred, with a minimal use of slang or idiomatic phrasing.

Politics Shape Society

Currently the political climate for the United Kingdom is conservative; however, there are pockets of liberalism. Like most countries including the USA and Canada, the United Kingdom blurs the lines between political parties. The political temperature has become more conservative of late due to the two recessions in the new millennium and the wars in the Middle East.

Defining Culture and Society by Religion

The United Kingdom has experienced many religious wars throughout its history. There are ongoing troubles between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland. Northern Ireland is the most religious section of the UK, whereas England is the least religious according to 2011 statistics. The BBC and The Guardian state that religiosity stands at roughly 43% Christian and 51% non-religious in England. Combining Wales with England, Christianity rises to 72%. Around 62% of Scottish people describe themselves as Christian, but most prefer to differentiate between Catholicism and Protestantism. In England and Wales, 3% of the population are Muslim.

Overall the United Kingdom is defined by early political and religious turmoil. Today the four countries are largely unified, yet each is also a separate country in terms of society, culture, and religion. Propriety and social etiquette are still expected throughout the UK. Traditions are a very distinct part of British life. The Royal Family is still important to many people in the UK despite the monarchy not being the symbol of power for which it was historically known.

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