Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

Conversation Starters With Locals

Studying in another country can be intimidating and making friends can be even more so. With so many different social and cultural norms, it can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. Here are a few tips on how to start a conversation with local Aussie students that will hopefully lead to the start of an awesome friendship.

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While daunting, university is a great place to make friends and provides plenty of opportunities to talk to other students. There are many clubs on campus – writing, music, reading, acting, and sports to name a few. These are a great opportunity to chat to local students. Starting a conversation in these environments can be easy. Many students are eager to talk about their interest in the class or club they’re attending and may ask the same of you. It’s great to start out where you have something in common.

Tutorials are also a great opportunity. Although group projects might seem like a bit of a bore, they are a good way to get to know the students in your group. Australians appreciate honesty, so if you like a classmate’s outfit or the way they write their notes, speak up! Your classmate will most likely return the compliment and start up a conversation. Study groups can also be a good way to reach friends, building on what you have in common.

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There are plenty of topics to talk about when first speaking to a local student. Sport is a massive deal in Australia. Many students participate in sporting leagues, and watching professional sport is a huge part of Aussie culture. Local students will also be likely to engage in conversation about the latest movies, music, and tv shows, and will be interested to know what sort of media you watch or listen to back home. You might also like to ask about the latest events happening at the university, or in the city, which can not only help introduce you to local students but also help you get to know the area you are in.


Australians are generally quite relaxed and laid-back and are open to discussing all kinds of subjects. However, there are a few conversation topics you might want to avoid when first talking to a local student – perhaps not that different to back home. Religion and sex are probably not the best conversation starters due to their personal nature.

You may also want to treat the topic of politics with caution. Although many Australians may mention politics or recent news in passing, some political topics are sensitive and may lead to a heated discussion, especially concerning Australian politics. So, it’s best to avoid talking about politics when first talking to a local student.

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Aussie humour can be a bit difficult to understand. Humour in Australia can be dry, self-deprecating, and sarcastic and filled with good-natured insults. You might find that your Aussie friends will make fun of each other, or themselves, but don’t worry; they’re not being rude or mean, they’re just having a laugh. So next time your Australian friend says ‘great job’ after you fail to walk up the stairs or you drop a book, laugh it off in true Aussie fashion and try again. Nicknames are also a part of Australian humour. Australians might shorten (or lengthen) your name or give you a new one based on your personality or features. For example, someone with red hair might ironically be given the nickname ‘blue’.


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( by Matilda Gerrans)


Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

Essential Aussie Slang for Students

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International students say that one of the most confounding aspects of Australian culture is the constant use of slang.

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This isn’t surprising as Australians use slang, in particular, ‘diminutives’ (shortened words) more than any other English speakers.

In 2013 Australian’s use of ‘Maccas‘ instead of ‘McDonald’s’ was so common that the restaurant chain officially changed the name of some of its stores making Australia the only country in the world where McDonald’s sometimes goes under a different name.

Australians also really like to shorten words by adding an ‘ie’ or an ‘o’ sound such as in ‘postie‘ for a postal worker and ‘ambo’ for an ambulance.

All this chopping and changing is particularly challenging for students for whom English is a second language.

While there are plenty of ‘Aussie slang dictionaries’ around, they tend to focus on older slang that most Australians don’t use anymore (unless they’re being sarcastic). And some of it’s just a plain myth. An Australian would never say, for example, “throw a shrimp on the barbie” – because here we call shrimp ‘prawns’.

So here is a list of slang/phrases and acronyms used in Australia that international students actually need.

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Expressing Yourself

Aggro: Angry

Full on: Intense/Wild

Heaps: A lot or very i.e. ‘heaps good’

No worries: Don’t worry about it/It’s OK

Ordinary/Average: These two words can mean what they’re supposed to, but they can also be a mild insult, indicating that something is of poor quality

She’ll be right: It will be fine

Try hard: Someone annoyingly enthusiastic or who tries too much to please others

______ as: Almost anything could go here; Busy as, awesome as, tired as. To understand the speaker, just cut off the ‘as’ and add ‘very’ to the front and you’ll get what they mean

Totes: Totally

Jelly: Jealous

Play it by ear: Decide as you go

At School

Biro: pen

Dodgy: Poor quality/Not reliable/Suspicious

How ya going/How’s it going?: How are you?

How good is that?: This is a rhetorical question so you don’t have to answer. It just means ‘that’s good’

Mobile/Mobes: Cell phone

Rubber: Eraser

Pacer: Mechanical/refillable pencil

Reckon: Think/Figure,/Assume

Uni: University

Wag: To skip class

Zed: The letter ‘Z’

Going/eating out

Arvo: The afternoon

ATM: Teller Machine/Electronic banking outlet. Stands for Automatic Teller Machine

Avo: Avocado

Barbie: BBQ

Bikkie: A biscuit

Bottle-o: Liquor store

Brekie: Breakfast

Bucks: Dollars

Budgie Smuggler: A pair of Speedos

Cuppa: A hot beverage

Chemist: Drug store/pharmacy

Dunny: Toilet

Durry: Cigarette

EFTPOS: Machine for electronic (card) payments. Stands for Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale

Esky: Ice cooler

Flat White: Coffee with milk or cream

Footy: Football (the game or the ball)

Goon: Cheap wine in a bag.

Grog run: A trip to go and buy alcohol

HJs/Hungry Jacks: Burger King. When Burger King wanted to open stores in Australia, their name had already been trademarked by a small takeaway shop in South Australia, so they became, Hungry Jack’s.

Jelly: Jell-O

Kiwi: A New Zealander (but also a fruit and a bird)

Knock: To criticize something

Macca’s: McDonald’s

Mate: Friend (this can be used passive-aggressively though, so pay attention to the situation)

Mozzie: Mosquito

Petrol: Gas

Pokies: Poker Machine

Sanga: Sandwich

Servo: Service station/gas station

Shout: A round of drinks paid for by a particular person. If it’s your ‘shout’, then it’s your turn to buy everyone drinks.

Skull: To drink something quickly in one go

Straya: Australia

Stubbie: A bottle of beer

Snag: Sausage

Spud: A potato

Vegies: Vegetables

Woop woop: The name of an imaginary town, used to indicate a place far away/ in the country

In The Workplace

ASAP: As soon as possible

Bludger: A lazy person

Call it a day: Finish what you’re doing

Fair go: A fair chance

FYI: For Your Information

Give someone a bell/a holler: Call someone on the phone

Lift: Elevator

Moving forward: Thinking about the future/Moving on to the next thing

Reach out: Get into contact with

Sickie: A day off work due to illness (related: Chuck a sickie: To pretend to be sick to get a day off work)

Whinger: Someone who complains a lot.

 ( by Belinda)


Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

Christmas Traditions in Australia

Australians live on the world's largest island, which is also the world's smallest continent. Most of Australia's immigrants came from England and Ireland, bringing their Christmas customs with them.

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Australia is the Land Down Under, where the seasons are opposite to ours. When Australians celebrate Christmas on December 25, it is during summer vacation. Most of Australia is a hot, dry desert, known as the Outback. The grassy or marshy savannas are called the Bush. But most people in Australia live in the green coastal areas of the southwest.

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The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. People come together at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols outside. The stars shining above add to the sights and sounds of this wonderful outdoor concert.

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Australian families love to do things outside. They love to swim, surf, sail, and ride bicycles. They like to grill meals outdoors on the barbecue, which they call the "barbie".

Families decorate their homes with ferns, palm leaves, and evergreens, along with the colorful flowers that bloom in summer called Christmas bush and Christmas bellflower. Some families put up a Christmas tree. Outdoors, nasturtiums, wisteria, and honeysuckle bloom.

Christmas festivities begin in late November, when schools and church groups present Nativity plays. They sing carols throughout the month of December.

On Christmas Eve, families attend church together. Some children expect Father Christmas to leave gifts, and others wait for Santa Claus to visit and deliver gifts.

After opening presents on Christmas morning, the family sits down to a breakfast of ham and eggs. Then the family goes to church again.

On Christmas Eve in families that observe Irish traditions, the father sets a large candle in a front window of the home to welcome Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. The youngest child in the family lights the candle. The family goes to midnight mass and attends church on Christmas Day, as well. Afterwards there are parties and festive visits.

Christmas Day is when families and close friends gather together from all over Australia. The highlight of the day is the holiday midday dinner. Some families enjoy a traditional British Christmas dinner of roast turkey or ham and rich plum pudding doused in brandy and set aflame before it is brought to the table. The person who gets the favor baked inside will enjoy good luck all year round.

Other families head for the backyard barbie to grill their Christmas dinner in the sunshine. Many families even go to the beach or to the countryside and enjoy a picnic of cold turkey or ham and a salad. Father Christmas has been known to show up in shorts to greet children at the beach on Christmas!

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The day after Christmas, December 26, is Boxing Day. Australians with British and Irish backgrounds leave tips for the grocer, postman, newspaper carrier, and others to thank them for their help in the past year.

New Year's Eve is always a special time, with dinners, dances, and parties. On Twelfth Night, January 6, there is one last party to end the Christmas season.



Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

A Brief Guide to the History of Australia

Australia is a diverse and fascinating country, with an Indigenous population dating back many thousands of years.

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Australia’s Indigenous population have lived in the nation for at least 50,000 years. This means they have the oldest living cultural history in the world. When the British arrived in 1788, as many as 250 different languages were spoken across the nation. Barani, an Aboriginal word of the Sydney language that means ‘yesterday’, is a project detailing the Aboriginal history of the Sydney area.

Prior to the arrival of the British, there were between 300,000 and 1 Million Aboriginal people living in Australia. 

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The Dutch first sighted Australia in 1606 before Captain Cook claimed the land for Great Britain in 1770. The First Fleet of 11 boats arrived at Botany Bay in 1788 to establish New South Wales as a Penal Colony (receiving convicts until 1848). Convicts were subsequently sent to the other states, with the exception of South Australia that was established as a free colony in 1836.

Over 162,000 convicts were transported to Australia from Great Britain, the majority to New South Wales and Tasmania.

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The discovery of gold in Australia (in Bathurst first, then Ballarat in 1851) kickstarted the economy and created the idea of Australia as a desirable location. 1854 saw the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat, a rebellion against taxation that some see as a crucial event in the evolution of Australia’s democracy. This is also the first period of Chinese immigration with 50,000 Chinese arriving and the establishment of many Chinatowns.

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The Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901 with the federation of all the states. It was agreed that the capital could be in NSW but no closer than 100 kms from Sydney. This led to the creation of Canberra, with a temporary parliament set up in Melbourne for 27 years. 

Both New Zealand and Fiji were invited to join the federation of the states but declined the invitations.

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1915 – WORLD WAR 1

In April 1915 the Australian and New Zealand Anzac Corps (ANZACs) took part in the World War One Gallipoli Campaign. Despite the defeat, this battle has great relevance in defining the characteristics of Australians. April 25, the date of the first landing at Gallipoli, is ANZAC Day – the date Australians remember and pay respects for the sacrifice of their Armed Forces, both past and present, in conflicts around the world.

Almost 39% of Australia’s male population between 18 and 44 enlisted to fight in World War One. 

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The end of World War Two, and then subsequently the Vietnam War, led to an influx of migrants to Australia. The Snowy Mountains Scheme (1949 – 1974) employed 100,000 people with 70% being migrants from 30 different nations. Steady Asian migration began
in the 1970s, and now people from all over the world call Australia home. This is reflected
in many aspects of Australian life, with Australian society known for its equality and lack of clear class distinctions.



Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

Australian Hospitality

Sharing a drink or a meal is an important bonding experience in most cultures to show friendship- or mateship, if you’re in Australia! But sometimes, this can differ across cultures. When it comes to eating and drinking, there are some things that are entirely Australian, so below is a guide to Australian hospitality.

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Disclaimer: while some of what is discussed here centres around alcohol, it’s not necessary to drink alcohol to have fun at events, and no one should pressure you into it.


Australians are notorious for shortening words, which creates a more laid-back, less formal way of speaking. Here are some common examples of terms and acronyms that may appear confusing at first:

BYO: This stands for ‘Bring Your Own’, which is usually related to alcohol. If this appears in an invitation received to an event, it tends to mean that if you’re planning on drinking, it’s best to bring your own beverages, while the food will usually be provided by the host. Sometimes you might need to bring your own contribution for a BBQ, but check with the host.

“Bring a plate”: Similar to BYO, “bring a plate” is usually mentioned to guests to encourage them to bring a plate of food to an event. This is often to make the host’s job easier, and also to ensure that everyone’s dietary requirements are catered to. Traditionally, bringing a plate means bringing something you’ve cooked yourself, but we all understand that students are time-poor, so something store-bought won’t seem out of place at all!

Grog, goon and tucker: These are other words for food (tucker) and alcohol (grog and goon).

Barbie: This refers to a BBQ, which is an outdoor apparatus used for cooking or grilling food such as sausages, hamburgers, or skewered meat or vegetables. Commonly found at gatherings held during the summer, the barbie is loved by many Australians as a way to grill ‘tucker’ out in the beautiful sunshine, without heating up the inside of the house.


Sometimes an event will begin with what is called pre-drinking, which is a way that university students are able to save money by drinking at home before heading out. It can also be a form of ‘social lubrication’ AKA drinking as a way to be less shy at events. If this isn’t for you though, you’re completely welcome to show up to an event without having done so. In Australia, it’s generally better to be a little late to an event rather than early unless you know the host well, which gives you time beforehand to pick up some food or drink if you’ve been asked to ‘BYO’.


When you arrive at an event, whether that be a house party, restaurant dinner, picnic, or pub crawl, it’s generally polite to find the host and thank them for the invitation first. This can also be very helpful if you don’t know many people there, as the host can introduce you to others around you. From there, don’t be afraid to talk to anyone - most people want to be your friend!


As the event comes to a close, it can be really nice to help the host clean up a little bit, as this is often an overwhelming task! After an event, it can be a great opportunity to thank your host for having you whether that be in person or through social media. This is also the perfect time to connect with any people you may have met by simply adding them on Facebook or accepting any friend requests you may have received.

Feeling comfortable at Australian events is really all about being friendly, approachable and helpful. Australians really value having a sense of comradery, which can be achieved by offering a hand where needed, or by having a laugh together over something you may have in common.

( by Jesse Thomas)


Australian Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

Australian Indigenous Cultures

While visiting Australia, you may hear someone say at the beginning of a speech or a meeting, “we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land”.

This is called and Acknowledgement of Country and it’s a way of showing respect to the people who have lived in Australia for 50,000 years. They are one of the oldest living populations in the world.

Many international students visiting Australia are incredibly curious about Indigenous peoples and their culture but find it difficult to learn more about them.

Here’s a few facts to get you started.


Australia has two Indigenous peoples. They are Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people.  Aboriginal Peoples inhabited the whole of Australia, and Torres Strait Islanders lived in the islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Once there were over 500 different Aboriginal Nations – so there’s no single ‘Aboriginal culture,’ there are many.

Their cultures do have some common themes, though, such as the Dreaming and a deep connection to the land.

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This is the Aboriginal Flag, adopted in 1972. The red symbolises the red earth and ochre used by Aboriginal people in ceremonies. The yellow symbolises the sun and the black symbolises the Aboriginal people.

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This is the Torres Strait Islander flag adopted in 1992. The green panels represent the land, the blue symbolises the waters of the Torres Strait, the white object in the middle is a dancer’s headdress (called a dhari) and symbolises the Torres Strait Islander people.  The star is a symbol for navigation.


It’s estimated that there were around 250 different languages spoken in Australia before the British arrived in 1788.

Up until the 1970’s, policies implemented by the Australian Government prohibited or discouraged Indigenous Australians from speaking their own languages.  Because Indigenous Australian’s dominant form of record keeping was by passing down their traditions and language through word of mouth, these policies resulted in the loss of many Indigenous languages and cultural history.

The National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005 found that only about 145 Indigenous languages are still spoken and that many of those were also in danger of disappearing.

In 2016 the Australian National Dictionary listed around 500 words which were in common usage coming from 100 different Aboriginal languages.  Many of them are the names of plants, animals and places, so you probably already know a few like:



Canberra (which means meeting place)


The Dreaming or, the Dreamtime, is a similarity that runs through different Indigenous belief systems and is a concept that is often not easily understood by non-Indigenous people. The phrases Dreaming and The Dreamtime are English translations that don’t capture the true meaning.

There is no afterlife in Indigenous Australian religions, no heaven or hell, which sets them apart from many other world religions.  The Dreaming is the source of life philosophy and morality and while it’s intertwined with Indigenous stories of creation, is also a constant state where both the past and the present exist together. In attempting to explain the Dreaming, anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner used the term ‘everywhen’.


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There are still many places in Australian where you can get in touch with Indigenous culture.  Some of them are hard to get to but well worth the visit.

Probably the most well-known place is Uluru or Ayers Rock.  The ancient monolith is sacred to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people.  It’s visited by thousands of people every year. 

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia have ancient rock paintings that are accessible to the public, as does Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in NSW and The Grampians National Park in Victoria.



British Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

British Royal Family Tree

Here you can find the family tree of the current British royalty to help make sense of what can often seem very complicated.

Most members of the royal family have their own title that you can see in the picture.

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As you can see from the family tree above, Queen Elizabeth II is married to Prince Philip (also known as the Duke of Edinburgh), and they have four children. They are Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales), Princess Anne (the Princess Royal), Prince Andrew (the Duke of York) and Prince Edward (the Earl of Wessex).

Each of Queen’s children has two children of their own. Her eldest, Prince Charles, is now married to Camilla Parker-Bowles, but had two children with Princess Diana before she died. They are Prince William (now married to Kate Middleton) and Prince Harry.



British Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

British Slang

Slang in Britain flourishes, from North to South or East to West you’ll find an interesting mix of English and regional dialects, sometimes heavily influenced by international culture (heightened by internet culture).

You can easily find yourself puzzled by the quick retorts of youth, or the savvy lingo expressed by the professional and even by the old pensioners outdated observations.

The following table reveals the meaning behind the words:

slang table

This is by no means a complete list as there are thousands and thousands of slang words in the UK. You will probably pick up many of them yourself whilst you stay in the UK.



British Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

UK Regional Weather Differences

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Each different region of the UK can face very different weather conditions, even at the same time of the year. Not only do Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland differ from one another, but also the different regions of England. In general, you can see it as the further north you go, the colder and windier it gets, and the further west you go, the wetter it gets. Although the regions of England have no official boundaries, the areas highlighted in red are rough outlines.     

Southern England’s Weather

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Generally the South of England is the warmest area of the UK and has the less rain than most other regions. The conditions are affected by location even within this region however. The closer to the coast you get, the cooler the summers and warmer the winters, due to proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. However, this also causes more rain to fall in coastal areas.

London almost creates its own weather conditions due to its sheer size. The urban landscape means that temperatures are often a couple of degrees higher than in surrounding areas, meaning snow is less common in the winter.     

Northern England’s Weather

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Generally, the further North in England you go, the colder the average temperatures get and the windier it gets. However, in terms of rainfall, it depends on where in the north you are. Whilst the North East has relatively little rain, the North West experiences quite a bit.

The East of England’s Weather

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The East of England is the furthest from the Atlantic Ocean and the weather is therefore least affected by it. This means that the East is generally drier, cooler and less windy than the rest of Britain and also experiences the largest range of temperatures. The clouds that bring rain to the UK have emptied themselves over the West of England by the time they reach the East, meaning it stays dry.

The West of England and Wales’ Weather

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The West of England and Wales face pretty similar weather conditions due to the fact they are located so close by. In general, both regions have warm summers, mild winters and lots of rain. The fact that the West of the UK is so close to the Atlantic Ocean means that it has milder winters. This is because the huge mass of water holds heat better than land and so ‘heats’ Wales and Western England during the winter.  

Scotland’s Weather

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Scotland is the coldest part of the UK throughout the year, and has average minimum temperatures of just -0.2oC during the winter. It is also the wettest place every month of the year except May, June and December, and almost always the cloudiest too.

On top of this, Scotland has the shortest daylight hours in the winter in the UK, but the longest in the summer (up to 18 hours a day!) due to its northerly location. Overall, this may not make Scotland sound too appealing, but it is important to remember that the figures are swayed a bit by the northern and Highland areas of the country that are largely uninhabited.    

Northern Ireland’s Weather

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Northern Ireland is warmer than Scotland throughout the year, and has milder winters than England or Wales. In terms of rain, Northern Ireland is generally drier than both Scotland and Wales, but wetter than most of England.  Really, in terms of weather, it is best to think of it as half way between England and Scotland in temperatures, and half way between England and Wales in rainfall. Simple!  



British Culture Guide

Janusz Siwiorek .

British Stereotypes

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There are lots of stereotypes and misconceptions related to the British. It is to be revealed here which ones are true and which ones are completely made up. You might think that all British people drink excessive amounts of tea to solve their problems, or maybe you have heard that their upper lips are peculiarly stiff, presumably since birth.

Heaven forbid you may have even heard that they have no sense of humour, if so leave this site right now! (Please don’t literally do that…this is an example of our famous dry wit).

 Misconception One: All British people like to queue

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Queuing – some say it’s nonsense, others view it as the ‘right thing’ to do. Whether or not it is justified, most cities have thousands of queues that you can’t avoid.

A bank or a bus stop both require a level of courtesy, that is to say members of the public in Britain are brought up in a culture that has a tendency to queue in a range of everyday situations.

Since this is the norm, those who break it - or ‘queue jumpers’- are often frowned upon. Having said this, don’t let this put you off - just learn to love the queue and you’ll fit in perfectly!

Here we have a society, which has evolved to queue, but it isn’t all or nothing and even those native to the country sometimes break the unwritten social laws of the queue, and when they do, this is your opportunity to be a part of the crowd and also mock them!

 Misconception Two: All British people hate other nationalities

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British people like to think they were once rulers of the world, so some of this quest for global notoriety still lingers up until the present day. However, nowadays most of the comments made about other nations are meant in jest.

You may think that the British hate Americans, Germans and French, in fact this is not true - really the British hate everyone! OK, that was a joke, but you can rest easy knowing that hate is a very strong word for a British person, the average Brit is very fond of friendly rivalry with other nationalities.

This is taking into account that most British people would rather swim the English Channel than face any confrontation with someone; they are as timid as a church mouse (except when at a football match). Britain is a very open society to live in, and you’re much more likely to receive genuine and friendly interest in where you’re from than any form of hostility whatsoever. 

Foreign Students Top Tip:  Judge Britain for yourself. It’s one of Europe’s most multicultural countries, so the Brits aren’t that full of hate after all!

Misconception Three: All British people speak the Queen’s English

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The English language is often misconstrued as being only understood as an elite expression of lords and ladies. Why golly gosh, this is absolute utter incongruous pish posh my dear boy!*

In the days of Kings and Queens, the language was certainly more Dickensian, but modern Britain is an eclectic blend of different sounds.

In fact, the true vernacular is refreshingly diverse in its slang and you’ll probably surprise the person on the street with how good your English is. Like with most things Britain exports, they invent something but are then always outdone by foreigners (see cricket)!

* Translation: "Damn, this is made-up nonsense my friend".