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7 British Etiquette Rules Americans Need to Adopt

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Keep your fork in the same hand

Obviously it’s easiest to cut food when the knife is in your dominant hand. After the food is cut, though, is where Americans and Brits differ. To keep eating with their stronger hand, Americans typically put down the knife, and put their food in the other hand to deliver that bite to their mouths. Brits, on the other hand (no pun intended), keep the fork on their non-dominant side when taking a bite. “It is efficient to dine and not have to do what I call the ‘zigzag’ style,” says international etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. “When dining British style, you keep the knife and fork in your hands and don’t put it down unless you get something to drink or pick up a napkin to blot.” That way, they avoid the awkward silverware-switch between every mouthful. And if you’re planning on enjoying a meal across the pond, make sure you know what to call these foods that have totally different names in the U.S. and the U.K.

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Unrecognizable man holding fork and knife cutting food on a plate

Only cut one bite at a time

To avoid that zigzag eating style, Americans sometimes cut up several pieces of meat before actually eating any. Then, once the fork is in the dominant hand, it’s easy to take a few bites without switching back. But cutting up multiple bites is bad manners, says Schweitzer. “That’s for children, when you’re three and four years old and your parents help cut your food,” she says. Your food will stay warmer if you keep it in one piece until you’re ready to eat each bite.

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Close up photo of an elegant dinner table setting

Lay your silverware down nicely

Where do you put your silverware when you’re done eating at a restaurant? In the United States, proper etiquette is to leave it diagonally on your plate, like the 10:20 position on a clock, says Schweitzer. The problem is, unlike in the United Kingdom, where practically everyone leaves utensils angled like the hour hand at 4:30, Americans tend to leave their forks and knives lying any which way. Every country has its own end-of-meal utensil placement etiquette—some leave them at an angle, while others leave straight up and down—and none is better than the other, says Schweitzer. Just make sure set your silverware in a spot that looks “done.” That way, a server and your fellow diners can tell you’re finished. If you think these British etiquette rules seem overly fancy, wait till you read the etiquette rules the British royal family has to follow.

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Happy family having roast chicken dinner at table
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Sit down when you eat

Eating on the go is common in the United States, where people gobble down food quickly so they can get to soccer practice or guitar class. In Great Britain, though, people don’t just “eat”—they “dine,” says Schweitzer. Sitting down for a relaxed meal gives you more time to chat with your loved ones and fully digest your food, she says. Plus, it’s the perfect time to practice good etiquette with your kids. “Parents have a chance to teach children manners at the table,” says Schweitzer. “You don’t learn those in school—you learn them through parents.”

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Glass of water on a wooden table. Water was poured into the beaker. Selective focus. Shallow DOF. With lighting effects. With copy space

Offer guests a beverage right away

You’ll probably never enter a U.K. home without the host immediately asking if you want a cup of tea or water. Offering a drink is good manners in the United States, too, but people tend to forget or wait until they get one themselves. Don’t make it your thirsty guests’ responsibility to ask for a drink—offer a beverage as soon as they’re inside. Here are some more little etiquette rules you really should always be following.

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Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Always say “please”

Brits are generous with how many times they say “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you.” No need to start over-apologizing, but don’t get lazy with those basic manners. “I would never argue that you could say ‘please’ too much,” says Schweitzer. “We don’t hear it enough in the U.S.” For instance, when ordering at a restaurant, don’t just say “I’ll take a burger,” but show the server some respect and ask, “May I please have a burger?”

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When in doubt, keep things formal

In the United States, emails tend to skip the small talk and get straight to the point. But in other countries, including the United Kingdom, emails tend to be longer and less direct because they’re more focused on the relationship. If you’re doing international business, be mindful of what good email etiquette would look like—whether the person receiving the message will find a direct note too blunt, or if a long-winded email will feel like a waste of time, says Schweitzer. But no matter where the recipient is from, keep your first interaction with someone formal. “‘Hey’ is for horses and ‘hi’ is for high school,” says Schweitzer. “We’re adults in business.” Start with “good afternoon” and use the person’s title and last name instead of going straight to first names, she says. Once you’ve built a rapport, you can use first names and take the formality down a notch. Next, find out the “rude” American manners that are actually considered polite in other countries.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.