A Scottish person will often greet you with “Hello, how are you?” This is simply a way of saying “Hello” or “Welcome” and they will be expecting a reply similar to “I’m good, thank you”.
In a more formal situation (such as meeting your tutor or landlord for the first time) it is usual to shake the right hand of the person you are meeting. It does not matter if you make the first move with your right hand. Kissing and embraces are not as common as it is in other countries. In Scotland it is usually between friends and family, people you are familiar with.
Hand and eye contact
In the UK, there is no special significance to the left and right hands. Both can be used for giving and receiving presents, although the right hand is always used for shaking hands.
You may be used to avoiding eye contact as a sign of respect for an older person or authority figure. This is not the case in the UK, where avoiding eye contact is seen as a sign of insincerity and shyness. Try to look as people when speaking to them, although it is usual to avoid eye contact with strangers. Most British people will smile when they meet you, irrespective of how they are feeling.
To arrive late, even by a few minutes, is considered impolite. Your lecturer or supervisor may disapprove if you arrive late at a seminar or lecture, whatever the reason. Try to inform the person you are meeting that you are running late where possible.
It is important to be aware that in the UK, female and male members of staff are equally respected and accepted.
How to address people
Many members of staff expect to be called by their first names. If you address them as Mr, Miss, Mrs, Dr or Professor, you may be thought of as being very formal. Listen carefully to how they introduce themselves and how other students address them.
Do not be worried about saying no. In the UK, a “no” is not considered impolite. Honestly is much preferred, so that people know what you really mean. If you do not wish to do something do not worry about saying so.
Smoking is not allowed in any public building in Scotland, which includes cinemas, restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, and public transport. Glasgow Caledonian University has a no smoking policy, which means that smoking is not allowed in any University building. If you wish to smoke, you will have to go outside.
Seating & Eating customs
- If you are eating a meal at someone’s house, you should wait until you are called to sit down when the meal has been served. The meal will either be served on a plate, or dishes will be passed round from which you help yourself.
- If there are several knives, forks, and spoons at your place at table, always start from the outside and work in. Often, the fork and spoon for dessert will be placed at the top of your plate.
- During the meal try not to eat faster than your hosts.
- Always wait to be offered more food, do not just take it. Only if you know your hosts very well should you help yourself. However, if food has been served from a bowl, and you see your neighbour’s plate empty, it is polite to ask your neighbour if you can pass anything to them.
- Do not serve your neighbour, just pass them the dish.
- If you are offered more food, and you would like to take it, always accept the first time that you are offered. If you refuse the first time that you are offered more, your host will think that you have eaten enough and you may not be asked again.
- Some people may not know what you like to eat, so try to help them as much as possible by explaining the things that you do and do not eat. Tell your host the things you do not eat the week before they prepare a meal for you, if it is possible.
- It is polite to offer the host help to clear away and wash the dishes after the meal, although you should not be surprised if your offer is refused.
- In most cases (especially when you do not know your host very well) it is usual to take a small gift, such as a box of chocolates or flowers. Your host will normally ask to take your coat and hang it until you leave.