Capital city: London
Population: 63.7 million (ONS)
Government: Unitary parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Main languages: English
Main religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism
The United Kingdom is made up of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Northern Ireland. Although geographically small, it has a long history and rich cultural heritage. In the colonial era the British Empire stretched around the globe, and immigration from its former colonies and the European Union has made the UK an ethnically diverse nation.
‘British tradition’ is an often-used phrase, but in reality the UK has a mix of genuinely old traditions and those adopted more recently. International visitors might immediately think of the British monarchy and its pageantry, but there are many more local customs and pastimes to explore.
Social life in the UK can be very varied, with friends coming together to socialise in many different environments. Popular activities include going out for a meal or drink, getting together to watch sport or see bands play, or even just going round to someone’s house for a cup of tea. Football is a particular national passion, with hundreds of thousands of people attending matches each week, but if sport isn’t your thing then there are plenty of other activities on offer all around the country.
Food and drink
Britain has long since shaken off its reputation for bad food, and now boasts over a hundred Michelin-starred restaurants serving all kinds of different cuisine. Along with classic dishes such as fish and chips, the full breakfast and the Sunday roast, the vibrant UK restaurant scene serves up dishes from every corner of the globe to suit any budget. Pubs in the UK have also evolved, but you can still find a huge selection of British ales – all served by the pint of course – and even some English wine too!
There is no official language in the UK, but the vast majority of people speak English. However, several minority languages are found around the country. Around 20% of the population of Wales speaks Welsh, and the language is used in some schools. Scotland also has its own Gaelic language, and many more languages are spoken within the various migrant communities.
The ‘British accent’ is a Hollywood staple, particularly when casting villains, but in reality this isn’t quite so simple to define. The UK has huge variation in accents and dialects – even within the space of a few miles – a fact that often confuses visitors. But once you learn to tell your Cockney from your Scouse and your Geordie from your Brummie, you start to realise it’s all part of the British charm.
It’s fair to say that people in the UK are a bit obsessed with the weather. Changes in the weather regularly make the headlines and complaints about the heat, cold, rain or wind are great topics for small talk. In reality the climate in the UK is pretty moderate, if changeable, but there is a lot of regional variation too.
Safety and security
Generally speaking, the UK is a relatively safe country to live and work in. However, it’s always advisable to be aware of your surroundings and avoid personal risk. The Crimestoppers charity offers useful information about staying safe in the UK, and many police forces offer local advice through their websites.