(David, 2002, ch2 p29)
Just a hundred years back, Britain was a country on which the sun never set. The English language, British customs, traditions and food habits have now become an integral part of life in all her former colonies-all these being integrated into, and modified by local customs. The British character and customs at home, have also been, in their turn, influenced by this close interaction with other cultures.
Officially, Britain is a Protestant state, i.e the British monarch is Protestant. The origin of this dates to the 16th century, when King Henry VIII divorced his queen, Catherine of Aragon. As the Pope in Rome did not recognise divorce, Henry declared the English Church free from the control of the Pope. Thus the Reformation of the Church in England was mainly based on the whim of a monarch. Henry then married Anne Boleyn (the second of a succession of six wives that he eventually managed to have!) Queen Elizabeth II, the present monarch is a direct descendant of Henry and Anne. This fact makes it a political necessity for the monarchy in England to officially be Protestant, as otherwise (if it reverted to being Catholic) the current monarch would become the descendant of an illegitimate child (the illustrious Queen Elizabeth I) of Henry's! While the 'official' religion in Britain is Protestant-Christian, the country is a multi-cultural one. "About 8% of the population of Britain (4.6 million) today are people from other cultures and ethnicities"(Biddle). This includes religions other than Christianity and peoples other than Whites. A living example of the integration of other cultures into British life is the Notting Hill Carnival, which is Caribbean in origin. (Biddle)
Coming to some common superstitious beliefs of the British: black cats are considered lucky, and greeting cards often have pictures of them; likewise, a four-leaf clover is considered a lucky find. A horseshoe over the door attracts favourable luck. But it has to be kept facing upwards, to prevent the luck from being drained out from below. Similarly there are actions that attract bad luck-walking under a ladder, spilling salt (you must throw some of the spilt salt over your shoulder to avert bad luck, breaking a mirror (an action that dooms you to seven years of bad luck, no less!) or passing someone on the stairs. (Biddle) The number thirteen is also considered unlucky (many buildings/ hotels do not have a thirteenth floor-the fourteenth floor comes after the twelfth!), and the thirteenth of a month, if it comes on a Friday, is considered an unlucky day.
Coming to some social niceties-it must be remembered that the British are rather formal in their interactions. If you are invited to someone's home for dinner, it is considered 'polite' to arrive around fifteen minutes late, unless your invitation says 'sharp' (e.g. "seven sharp") (Biddle)
You may receive an invitation to "drop in anytime." You are not expected to take that literally. You must call up a person before visiting. If you receive an invitation that says RSVP, you must reply stating whether you plan to attend or not. If you go to someone's home for a meal, a small gift of flowers or chocolates is considered polite though not mandatory; a thank you note or phone call afterwards is expected. (Biddle)
British people can be a bit reserved unless you have been introduced to them. Striking up conversations in public transport (trains) is unusual. If you