What do you picture in your mind when you think of Britain? Greasy fish and chips, flavorsome tea with milk and well dressed gentleman with bowler hats. Well, there is in fact a lot more to it. British customs and traditions go beyond these stereotypes: here’s a list of things you didn’t know about Britain!
Before starting, however, it’s worth explaining the difference between customs and traditions. The first term refers to a way of acting or a particular behaviour, while traditions are specific customs handed down from one generation to another.
Specifically, calendar customs are ones that signify a particular day in the year; social and daily life customs cover manners, music, sports, food, clothes and all the typically british daily activities. Royal customs and ceremonies relate to the british Monarchy, an essential and historical part of british culture.
Let’s start with manners. Everyone knows that the British are champions of politeness, but their manners go far beyond the simple “sorry” you always hear or the “how are you?” at the end of every “hello”. One thing you’d be surprised to hear is your name turned into: dear, love, sweetie, flower or madam, according to your age, sex and the context of conversation.
If someone calls you duckie, do not think you are a duck. This comes from the anglo-saxon word “ducis”, term of respect also similar to the Middle English word “duc”, which refers to a leader, commander. Not too bad, right?
At the dining table, manners follow the continental etiquette. But what about the food? It’s true that meat, fish and vegetables (especially potatoes) are essential in a Brit’s diet, and they can come in different forms and with unique names like “Toad-in-the-hole” (breaded roasted sausages) or “Bubble and Squeak” (made with leftover veggies). It’s not all about sandwiches and pies! The large variety of “puddings” includes sweet and savory, so there’s something for every taste: trifle, crumpets, yorkshire pudding, bread & butter and many more!
2. Calendar Customs
Festivals and holidays in Britain are mostly rooted in the past with celebrations that, like the towns and villages where they are hosted, are centuries old.
You might know about Bank Holidays, originally the days on which the banks were closed for trading. But, there are other seasonal and holy celebrations like the Tar Barrels (5th of November) which involves people racing in the streets of Ottery St. Mary (Devon), carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs. There’s also the October Plenty, an autumn harvest celebration held in Southwark every year, consisting of food markets, theatre, a procession and the presence of the Berry Man, the autumn incarnation of the original Green Man. He carries an apple tree to where it’ll be placed within the Bankside area.
© Katie Hawkridge
Speaking of eccentric and unique events, Bog Snorkelling is a sporting event dating back to 1976 where competitors wear snorkels and flippers as they swim two lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat bog as quickly as they can.
Similarly, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday near Gloucester which involves another competition, but this one’s water without water! Competitors need to race down a hill after a round of Double Gloucester cheese: the first person over the finish line, wins the cheese.
Royal Weddings are the flagship of Royal celebrations but they are not the only event connected to the British Monarchy.
The Swan Upping, for example, is a reminder that all the swans in the river Thames are legally the property of the Queen. In July, Her Majesty’s swan keeper sails up the river from London Bridge to Henley, looking for the youngest swans to mark them as the royal ones.
On a different note, the Queen’s Telegram is a special recognition for those in the UK who reach 100 years old as they receive an official royal telegram on the day of their one-hundredth birthday.
© Couch House Rentals
Dating back 700 years is the Ceremony of the Keys, which takes place at the Tower of London. The Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower (complete with a Tudor uniform) meets the Escort of the Key dressed in the Beefeater uniform, at 21:53 exactly. Together they close each gate during a tour of the castle, before returning to the Bloody Tower archway where they are challenged by a sentry. The ceremony ends with the sounding of a trumpet (the Last Post), and the keys are secured in the Queen’s House.
Now that you’ve learnt all about some of the most unique british customs, it’s time to experience them for yourself!