Doing Business in the United Kingdom
Official working hours are 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday. Many people may work outside these hours.
Government offices close between 1pm and 2pm, but are open until 5.30pm.
Business suits in the UK tend to be dark; charcoal, navy or black. Quality is important to the British and many high-flying businessmen will buy very expensive suits from world-famous suit makers in Saville Row, for example. Social business dress differs depending on the occasion. Whilst a day at Royal Ascot for horseracing requires a morning suit and a hat for women, and the opera requires black tie, many smarter restaurants and hotels in London have accepted more modern, casual standards of dress. However, some hotels and restaurants will still demand a suit jacket and tie for men, and that women do not wear trousers.
A lounge suit is one halfway between black tie and smart-casual dress. Many men will wear a business suit. It is prudent to avoid wearing striped ties, as many schools, clubs and institutions in Britain have striped ties of specific colours.
Making an appointment
The appointment should ideally be made several days in advance, and confirmed on arrival in the UK; however, most businessmen will not refuse to meet visitors, even at fairly short notices. Cold calling is not advised.
Avoiding national holidays
The UK only has 8 national holidays a year, which is the lowest in Europe. Even so, many businesses will close completely between Christmas and New Year, and there are two Bank Holidays in May. Many businessmen with children will choose to take their holidays over July and August, when children are at home for the holidays. A good time to make an appointment is mid-morning or mid-afternoon. English business do not tend to have breakfast meetings and a first meeting is unlikely to be over lunch. Punctuality makes a good impression but equally if unavoidable circumstances lead to you being a little late, say fifteen minutes at the most, it should not be a problem.
Transport in the UK
Transport networks in the UK are heavily over-burdened and therefore it is wise to allow more time to reach a meeting than you would expect to need. Within London, the tube network can be very slow, as can buses.
Etiquette and conversation
Britons do not tend to make conversation with complete strangers in public situations, such as on public transport. In social situations, 'small-talk' is made with strangers, discussing topics such as the weather, or the traffic.
The British do not tend to gesticulate, and are not particularly tactile. Invasion of personal space will make the British feel very uncomfortable. It is extremely impolite to interrupt, as the British will always finish their sentences; equally, ensure that you do not trail off in the middle of a sentence.
One difficulty often encountered for foreigners when dealing with the British is their tendency for self-deprecation and irony. They do not tend to give direct opinions, but rather may respond with a non-committal 'hmm' which could imply a positive, negative or neutral answer. Many Britons find it uncomfortable when views are put across in a very direct way.
Similarly, humour is an important part of socialising and business in Britain. The British tend to be less politically correct than, for example, the North Americans may be. There is no need to try to be witty yourself, but be aware that the British may discuss even grave issues with levity. Using first names is common nowadays, but should still not be used until invited to do so. It is best to use the title shown on a business card.
Gifts do not tend to be given in British business. If a gift is given, it should not be extremely expensive or ostentatious. Taking hosts out for a meal may be an appropriate alternative. If invited to a home for dinner, it is appropriate to bring wine of flowers, though it is unlikely that the wine brought will be opened that evening, as the wine for the meal will already be prepared. A hand-written thank you note is appropriate for any stay in a guest's home.
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