US blogger Whitney Kay Bacon, an American who has been living in England for several years, has come up with a fascinating, thought-provoking and sometimes hilarious list of cultural differences between the USA and the UK.

Reported in the Huffington Post, the list is equally helpful for USA visitors to the UK, and for their UK hosts and friends.

From the perspective of Culturewise’s training team, some of Whitney’s comments are spot on. Her observation that “The British are judged on which supermarket they shop at and the hierarchy often goes like this: Waitrose/M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Aldi” is certainly true, even if many middle-class Brits are happy with the shabby-chic charm and cachet that comes with shopping at hard discounters Aldi and Lidl.

Whitney’s comments on British communication styles can also be acute. For example, she correctly observes that “If a food is “quite” good to a British person, then they hate it.” Genreally-speaking, British communication styles’ can sometimes cause difficulties for visitors from more ‘direct’ cultures such as the US.  In fact, the British also place considerable value on the ability to ‘debate’ rigorously, and use language fluently and effectively. Being lucid and ‘entertaining’, whether in presentations or meetings, is an important foundation of effective business communication. Providing it is given within the parameters of courteous ‘debate’, the British can be as constructively critical and direct as any other nationality. (You who doubt the ability of British people to be direct and confrontational might benefit from a few minutes watching exchanges in the British parliament).

At work the British tendency to avoid direct confrontation by the use of coded language relies on business counterparts being able to understand the code or ‘read between the lines’. If you are unclear about what your counterparts are trying to say, then ask them to clarify their comments.  If, on the other hand, you find your British counterparts being very direct (sometimes to the point of extreme rudeness) this is probably because they are communicating within the parameters of what they feel is a ‘debate’, or you have not ‘read between the lines’ and as a result have backed them into a corner.  Listening carefully, reading between the lines, asking for clarification at every stage, and understanding when the British are in ‘debate’ mode should help you to avoid encountering this type of reaction.

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