9 Adorable Things Brits Do

(David Cheskin/PA Wire)

Tennis champ Dan Evans gets treated to “The Bumps” after his win at the Davis Cup. (David Cheskin/PA Wire)

As a people, the British don’t do a lot that can be classified as sweet. Still, there are some endearing traits, traditions and mannerisms that we Brits can make claim to.

We talk about the weather.
Most Brits find chatting to people we don’t know very well intensely awkward. But actually ignoring them, even if both parties would prefer this, is unthinkably rude. How do we reconcile these two traits? We embark on a tepid and pointless conversation about precipitation, clouds, wind and temperature. If we can each rattle off a few clichéd lines then both parties are satisfied that politeness was achieved and awkwardness minimized. Everyone leaves happy.

We give people “the bumps.”
My British husband arrived home from a colleague’s leaving do the other night, elated. He’d painstakingly explained “the bumps” to his baffled American workmates and managed to surreptitiously herd them around the guy who was leaving. Everyone had instructions about which limb to grab and what to do with it once they’d got hold. In Britain, the bumps, (throwing a person up in the air repeatedly, usually on their birthday—one bump per year of life), is pretty standard. At school, if you didn’t get the bumps on your birthday then you could be pretty sure no on liked you. To foreigners, the bumps might look like a bizarre form of public torture, but it’s actually one of our more affectionate gestures.

We downplay our achievements.
There’s no triumph so great that it merits a boast, at least according to Brits. Cure cancer, end world hunger or rescue a band of girl scouts trapped down a mine and you’re still expected to act modestly and undersell your success. “Oh, it was nothing really,” is a standard British response to a praise-filled acknowledgement of our feat.

We make tea to comfort people.
There’s no disaster so disastrous that it can’t be soothed with a cuppa. At least, this is what we’ve been brought up to believe. If scientists really want to study the placebo effect, they should start in Britain with cups of tea. Unlikely as it is that the drink itself actually helps mend broken hearts or sooth a person in shock, offering tea in time of crisis is indisputably a delightful thing that we British do a lot.

We bring out a box of chocolates after a meal.
Perhaps because so many of us are terrible cooks, everyone looks forward to this final course of any traditional British dinner party. And it doesn’t have to be anything expensive. Many Brits, myself included, actively prefer mediocre Roses, Quality Street or After Eights to something posh containing more cocoa solids. (Please see point number seven.)

We call people “my love.”
Even if we’re telling someone off, it’s quite possible we’ll refer to the miscreant as “my love” throughout the scolding. We can’t help it. Other variations include, “my sweet”, “darling” or in the West Country the more risqué but in no way literal, “my lover”.

We gladly tolerate the mediocre.
As has been well established in these column inches and over several centuries of Brits existing, we don’t like to make a fuss. To help us stay true to this characteristic, we’ve evolved to actually prefer things that are a bit rubbish. It’s all we deserve, really, and truly nice things or excellent service delivered by fawning staff just make us uncomfortable.

We show respect by staying silent.
As gestures go, it’s not an especially useful one. Still, that’s not really the point. When national tragedy strikes, or on days selected for remembering the dead, train stations, stadiums and sofas around the country temporarily become platforms for mute consideration and mourning. Depending on the event, national silences last anything from one to three minutes.

We buy rounds.
Even though it’d probably work out fairer financially for everyone to buy their own drinks, Brits insist on politely offering to get a round in for the group. Everyone takes a turn and gets to feel good about they’re perceived generosity. It’s a heart-warming ritual; unless of course you’re the person drinking tap water who’s inwardly smarting at having had their not entirely sincere offer to get the drinks in accepted.

See more:
10 Adorable Things Americans Do (According to Brits)
10 Things Brits Say…and What Americans Think We Mean
5 Ways for Brits to Accidentally Offend Americans

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • Pat

    American here. Giving someone the “bumps” after a sporting event win seems okay but in an office setting I would find it so inappropriate and downright uncomfortable for multiple reasons.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      I must say, the older and bigger I got, the more I dreaded them. Sometimes your back gets slammed onto the floor and when you’re lifted too high – ooh, what just cracked? There were quite a few accidents as I remember.

      • Andrew

        Health and safety back home’s following the US model, too, so you’d probably find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit if someone got hurt!

  • Kat Polking

    Heh! The weather-talk gives me a chuckle–it’s a very typical topic-for-awkward-smalltalk in the Midwest as well. Probably because the weather changes every five minutes.
    And I’ll happily accept a cuppa if you’re offering. . .

  • Denise Kulas

    The British are not terrible cooks!!!! I’m British & living in the USA, where I find the food to be quite questionable at times!

    • MisterDavid

      No, the British are not terrible cooks, but we can be terribly cautious in trying new things. The advantage in Britain is that you can go food shopping and not come back with a lorry-load of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil/high fructose corn syrup/fake chemicals/additives only known by number. God help me!

      Sorry, just letting off a little steam there! I’m in a Transatlantic marriage and, since moving Stateside, have had to learn to be paranoid and to read the labels on EVERYTHING which we never had to do in Blighty.

      • Andrew

        Decent, well-priced, local, fresh produce is lacking here in Colorado.

        Sadly, the label “USDA Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean much, either. Companies can apply for exemptions for a growing list of synthetic ingredients, meaning they can include inorganic items yet retain the label.

        As for foods labelled “natural” that’s more meaningless. Yeast have been genetically modified, using synthetic genes, to produce a vanilla-like flavouring. That’ll be labelled “natural”. The food manufacturing industry in this country’s running riot.

        I’ve got a degree in genetics and have done genetic ‘engineering’, so I’m not anti-GMO as such, but when it’s in our food and hasn’t been tested and, worse, is just logically a bad idea (pesticides in our corn, anyone?) then it needs to stop.

        • MisterDavid

          Totally agree. We buy everything we can from farmer’s markets, but even then (for example) it’s impossible to buy corn that is not GMO. And I’ve been working in small-scale agriculture, so don’t get me started on USDA :/

      • frozen01

        Could you teach my expat husband that trick, please? He keeps filling the cart with so much processed crap that I nearly have a heart attack just looking in the fridge! *lol*

    • Andrew

      It seems that over here, the quality of the food – according to the patrons – is directly linked to the quantity.

  • Patricia D

    My brother in law is British and he is a great cook! The Brits are adorable. Period. My favorite is how much they thank you for something and how modest they are. Especially the really handsome actors you guys have over there! :)

  • Dezzy

    Wish i had one lol….. a british husband that is

  • Jennie Thomas Longstaff

    guilty and proud I do all of them and you havent lived until you get the Birthday bumps

  • maggie

    I have called my daughter’s boyfriends “love” and her girlfriends “sweetheart”. They know I’m a crazy Brit. :)

  • frozen01

    “We don’t like to make a fuss.”

    Perhaps back home, but expats here in the US don’t seem to hold too fast to this rule. I love my Brits, but my goodness can they complain with the best of ’em!

    Regarding rounds, I like the concept, but I couldn’t afford to buy drinks for the 4-7 people that I usually hang out with…. especially once you add in tips!

    • Pat

      I have friends in the US from all over the world and none of them complain as much as the British. They may not like to make a fuss in public but the constant complaining about the most trivial things gets annoying very quickly.

      • frozen01

        Oh, good, it’s not just me then.

        • rallybug

          But that’s not “making a fuss” – making a fuss is the public part. In private, a good whinge is expected lol

          For rounds, you could always do kitties – everyone puts in, say, $20, which one person holds and buys all the drinks out of, refilling the kitty with more money from everyone as required.

          • frozen01

            There doesn’t really seem to be much of a public/private distinction. They (as in the Brits I know) will readily complain about many things in public or private so long as it’s a trivial, inconsequential thing (especially if it involved paying money – then, hold on to your hat!), but won’t say a word if they’re hungry or in pain in either situation.

            The “kitties” thing makes far more sense. I like it!

  • niamh17

    We had a lovely conversation about Eddie “the eagle” Edwards the other day, my American friends thought it was adorable that we were so proud of him, bless his little cotton socks. that bloke was a national hero for five minutes!!

    • Andrew

      And we’re still talking about him!

  • $46504314

    Here in America “the bumps” could be misconstrued as sexual slang. Especially is you “bump them against the wall”.

    • jadekitty

      Or some sort of horrible disease! As in “poor Wilchbla’s been out sick with the bumps all week.”

  • Wendy Lee

    In the Southern US you’ll get called “Honey” or “Sweetheart” all the time.

    • MisterDavid

      I love being called darling by middle-aged women. Yay the South :)

  • http://beautifulsynthesis.com Andrea

    The tea thing is just so lovely. When you have nothing you can say, you can offer tea, and the person you’re offering it to knows that you care about them. The fact that the tea must be *made* – that you just don’t grab something out the cupboard, but must heat the kettle, etc, makes it that much more meaningful. (Also, I love tea.)

  • George Birkin

    Nobody does the bumps anymore, I didn’t even know that’s what they were called until just now, and its not ‘expected ‘ we downplay our achievements, quite the opposite sometimes. I never see people bring out chocolate after meals (we are not awful cooks, look at the amount of food related programs we have) only old ladies call women call people “my love” and as for accepting the mediocre I have seen countless shoppers and restaurant goers ranting about something not being right. I could say more but nobody will read this anyways.

    • Andrew

      I’ve got to say, I disagree with every one of your observations.

  • PauperPrincess

    We make coffee to comfort people.

    • Andrew

      Pish-posh. Get some PG tips in your cup and the world’s a different place!

  • Andrew

    “…we’ve evolved to actually prefer things that are a bit rubbish.”
    As Bill Bailey said, we crave mediocrity, hence the popularity of the Kinder Surprise: crap chocolate; crap toy. A double whammy of disappointment.