Social Etiquette for Living and Working in London
Communicating with the locals is not always easy, even if you speak the same language. As an expat living in London, you will most likely find that a good command of English, i.e. having a good grasp of the English vocabulary and grammar, is often not enough. Successfully communicating with the English requires a good deal of thoughtfulness when it comes to choosing your words. Although they do make allowances for non-native speakers, the English appreciate subtlety in their communication. If your English is far from perfect anyways, you don't need to worry about this – everyone will recognize you as a foreigner and pardon you almost any mistake. However, if you speak English perfectly, it is all the more important to take some of the following factors into consideration while living in London.
Never Say Never
Has someone just invited you to watch a cricket match with them, but you think it's the most boring thing in the world and you can think of a million other things you'd rather do? Then your answer should be “Yeah, that sounds great! Thanks so much for inviting me. Unfortunately I'm busy this Saturday, but let me know next time you're going.” If you manage to say this in the right tone of voice, most people will get the meaning and not ask you again.
This is even more important for expats working in London: A straight “no” in a business meeting is not appreciated. If you disagree with your English colleague or business partner, you should voice your disagreement in a polite manner. Phrases like “That's an interesting point of view, but we should also consider that …”, “ I see what you mean, but …”, never go amiss when working in London, never mind whether you're talking to senior or junior colleagues.
Hierarchies, by the way, may be less pronounced than in the country you're coming from. It is perfectly normal to address people by their first name when living in London. This starts with your cleaner and ends with the Prime Minister. Paul McCartney is Sir Paul, not Sir McCartney. Your boss is Grace, not Ms Jones, and your business contact will soon be John rather than Mr Smith. However, it's always best to let the native take the first step in that direction. The Queen, by the way, is “Your Majesty” or “Ma'am”, not Elizabeth – should you ever have the pleasure to meet her while living in London.
Working in London almost always involves a bit of socializing with your colleagues as well. Here, too, “never say never” is a good maxim to guide your actions by. Friday night at the pub with your colleagues is likely to become a fixed date in your calendar. This doesn't mean that you have to come along every single time, of course. However, it would be a great mistake never to show up. Even if you don't like drinking, you should make the effort from time to time to socialize with your work colleagues while living in London. It will be appreciated and make for much better relations between you and them. Just use it as a networking opportunity, for you might meet and get to know people you don't deal with on a day-to-day basis, but who may prove good contacts to have one day.
Networking is, in fact, a very important skill when working in London. You should take every opportunity you get – the English love their small talk, and they will remember a pleasant conversation they've had with you. And it's not only the natives you can network with: As a foreigner living in London, you'll soon find that there is a huge expat community. And as the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together”: Expats from one country tend to stick together, and many a golden job opportunity has been found through expat networks. The InterNations London expat community, for example, organizes regular social and networking events for expats from all countries living and working in London where it is really easy to meet people.
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