After living in the UK for a year in 2009, and visiting countless times since, I’ve come to notice a couple of quirky things that make the UK, well, the UK. I would not have it any other way and this is absolutely not a critical post – just a series of observations I made over the years. If you know me at all, you know I hold the country (especially its capital) very dear in my heart, and would gladly move there again if the circumstances permitted me to do so.

So, for the pleasure of expanding your cultural knowledge about my favorite country in the world, here are a series of fun facts about the United Kingdom.

10 little known facts about the uk

1.   British people are constantly being told what to do

Stand on the right. Look left. Mind the gap. All iconic sentences, but to me, they mean a little more than that when you look at the bigger picture. No matter where you go, you are bound to face some kind of instruction at some point, and I never really understood the point of all that. The instructions space in the buses is a good A4 size! Is decorum really more efficient when people are being told what to do and how to behave?

2.   To watch television, you have to pay a licence

That was something I had never heard of, anywhere. Before you even think about getting a TV pack, you have to pay for a TV licence, which is priced at a hefty £145.50 per year! Meaning that watching television in Britain comes with a hefty price – but considering they have some of the best shows in the world, I’d be willing to cut out on other expenses. If only for the BBC documentaries!

3.   British people are obsessed with fire

Am I the only one who noticed that? Fire doors, fire blankets, exhaustive “In case of fire” instructions, everywhere! I have a personal case against the fire doors, which, if you’ve never had the chance to see, are super heavy, tightly closed doors in the middle of each corridor to slow the process of the flames in case of a fire – very fun to go through with a suitcase or groceries! I’ve never seen so many “anti-fire items” anywhere else in the world – outside of the great fire of London, a mere 450 years ago, do anybody knows why Britain is obsessed with fire?

4.   British park benches are often dedicated to someone

That one I actually find very endearing. Whenever you step in a park or a public square, you are guaranteed to find at least one wooden park bench dedicated to someone who had a history there. Hyde Park, my favorite place in the world, has hundreds of them, some dating only a few years, other a few decades. I love walking around and imagining all the stories behind the benches!

5.   Brittons constantly talk about the weather

Despite the popular belief that it rains all the time in the UK, it’s actually not true at all. The weather is one of the craziest I have seen, starting foggy in the wee early hours, raining in the morning, sunshine in the afternoon and strong winds at night. The absolute best way to strike up a conversation with a Britton is to talk about the weather – with a simple mention of the dreadful skies or the sunny forecasts for the weekend, you are guaranteed a lively little chat.

6.   Brittons like ‘em some sweets

British groceries are full -and I do mean full- of sweets: candies, liquorice, chocolate, everything! The grocery I used to go to had two full rows of godsent orgasmic goodness just waiting for me to throw them in my trolley. My favorite? The all-time classic Galaxy chocolate bars!

7.   Both British mottos are actually French

Considering just how peachy and not at all antagonistic the relationship between the British and the French have always been, I was a bit surprised by this fact. Why on Earth would Britain have French mottos? The answer is simple, though. Because of William the Conqueror, French was the main language in the Royal Court for about 300 years, and the mottos were later on adopted by Edward III. France and Great-Britain have a more complex history than either one of them care to admit!

8.   Speaking of which… How many French people are there in London?

That one particularly stroked me last time I was in London. It seemed that no matter which street corner I was waiting at, or which restaurant I was in, there had to be a group of French people nearby. Has half of Paris moved to London and forgot to tell the world? I know all about the so-called “French connection” of South Kensington, but trust me, it goes far beyond that neighborhood… London is actually the 6th largest French city!

9.   Pubs close surprisingly early

For a nation that has such an important drinking culture, one of the most shocking things I came across while living in the UK was how early pubs close – last call is at 11PM, even in central London! Considering just how much the Brits like their pint in the evening, I was convinced that pubs were like regular bars in Canada and closed at 2 or 3AM. Was I wrong! It was definitely weird at first, not having anywhere to get a cold pint so early on in the evening – maybe that’s why there are so many clandestine bars in the city!

10 little known facts about the UK

10. Laws CAN be hilarious.

With some laws dating back to the Middle Ages (and still in effect!), it’s only normal that a few would be qualified as outdated, to say the least. But that doesn’t make them any less interesting – did you know it’s considered treason to place a postage stamp with the Queen’s head upside-down? That all swans living on the River Thames are actually property of the Queen, and that by killing one you are committing a crime against her? That it’s illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament? That for 400 years, it was illegal for woman to scold, and if they were caught doing so, they had to wear a metal cage enclosing their head? Did you also know that tarot card reading is illegal because it’s considered witchcraft?

Did you know any of the facts? Did you notice some surprising things while you were in the UK? Do you know of any quirky laws?

41 comments

  1. Comment by Laurence

    Laurence Reply March 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I love the French fact in particular. Now I live in France, I have learnt more about French / English history, including the fact that England was actually ruled from France for a long period of time. Even iconic historical English Kings like Richard the Lionheart lived in France.. and didn’t even speak English!

  2. Comment by Clare A

    Clare A Reply March 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Fun post.. some comments

    1. Yes, if you go to the Imperial War Museum and see the hundred of leaflets issued during WWII you will see it works for us. LOL When I moved to the US I was shocked at the LACK of public information.
    2. This is how the UK has the best TV channel in the world – BBC.
    3. After that big old fire in 1666 and subsequently nearly burning down again during the Blitz we teeter on the cautious side about fires.
    5. We do it is true. Even two Brits meeting 5K miles away in the US talk about the weather.

  3. Comment by Julia

    Julia Reply March 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I love this list — I was also confused about early pub closings, until I realized that pubs are different from bars. A pub is treated more like a restaurant, but a bar is more like a club.

  4. Comment by Adventurous Kate

    Adventurous Kate Reply March 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    What a great list! Living in the UK now, I’m discovering little things like this all the time. Like the fact that small businesses here are far less likely to have a website (which has caused me some grief when trying to find prices from hair salons in the area!). And the sense of humor, how ribbing each other all the time in a sarcastic-but-could-almost-be-serious way.

    I also had no idea that tea was actually such a big thing until I got to Southeast Asia and traveled with tons of Brits. They were shocked to learn that drinking tea is a feminine thing in the US!

  5. Comment by Phoebe

    Phoebe Reply March 28, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    It’s interesting to see the things you picked up in UK, and you’re not half wrong about the French in London. It is infact the 6th biggest French city with 300,000 expats. This even makes it an important campaigning place for the French presidential elections!

  6. Comment by Natalie

    Natalie Reply March 29, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Love this article. Number one reason was why I left the UK. Sharing it with my friends to see what they pick up on

  7. Comment by Deri Pocock

    Deri Pocock Reply March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I moved to London in 1975 from near Toronto. 2 years ago I moved to Turkey so its a double displacement. After 37 years I still get homesick twinges for Canada.
    London was exciting in the 70’s so I don’t regret it.
    The first culture shock was seeing a delivery van for Harrods pot plants, and thinking “that’s liberal”.
    Then I saw a sign saying “Family butchers” and thinking “that’s severe”

  8. Comment by Liv

    Liv Reply March 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I think your first point is especially interesting because while living in Australia (I’m from the UK) it really feels like you can’t do anything without getting into trouble. In the UK you are given lots of advice, but can be helmetless whilst riding your bike without contravening the law for example. You are not obligated to vote either. I think there is a lot more individual freedom in the UK (than here).

  9. Comment by Cole @ Four Jandals

    Cole @ Four Jandals Reply March 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Have have always wanted a bench plaque for when I die! Grim I know but it would be such a cool tribute.

  10. Comment by Laura

    Laura Reply March 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    My first impression on UK: British people are constantly being told what to do. It was great to find it in your list. :)

  11. Comment by Hemang

    Hemang Reply April 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    The first fact – British people are constantly being told what to do is very true. Have seen instructions on bottled water as well on how to open it

  12. Comment by Ruth

    Ruth Reply April 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    This is a great list, I’m from the UK but currently living in Seoul. Sometimes I think they could do with a few more signs telling people the polite way to act out here, wait your turn, don’t push etc…

    The reason for the TV license is simply so the BBC doesn’t have to have commercial breaks. Nice to have two channels without the annoying ads. It also goes towards radio broadcasting as well.

    You’re right Britons do love sweets, my friend just sent me a big box of sweeties out to Seoul! yum yum! and the weird laws thing is quite funny, one I remember is that a pregnant woman is allowed to urinate in a policeman’s helmet if the need arises and there is no public toilet nearby! So Strange!

  13. Comment by Katie

    Katie Reply April 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Fire doors aren’t the only evil (but they definitely *are* evil). You can’t have outlets in bathrooms except for shavers. When I asked about this, I was given some vague nonsense about moisture seeping behind them and….he trailed off at that point. I asked why that didn’t happen to the shaving outlets or light fixtures and was met with silence and an eventual “don’t confuse the matter.” I’m all for the nanny state, but I’d like to be able to use a hairdryer in the bathroom.

    And while I’m amused by your list, living in the UK on a permanent basis as an ex-pat isn’t fun. The hassle I get for everything from my accent to paying bills is obnoxious, and I never thought I’d miss the States as much as I do. I used to love it here, but now I long to leave. Thankfully my husband also wants to leave, so someday we will. And then we can miss Muller yogurts/rice. And Cadbury’s. And ginger crunch creams.

    • Comment by Vj

      Vj Reply April 21, 2012 at 12:42 am

      You will realize you are going to miss it SO MUCH!! i lived there for 3 yrs and most others i know feel the same. Look past what you dont like any really enjoy the opportunity provided to you to explore the uniquesness that only the uk can offer.

      • Comment by Marie

        Marie May 14, 2012 at 11:07 pm

        Oh 3 years after my departure, I still haven’t got over London, and I don’t think I ever will!

  14. Comment by Aaron

    Aaron Reply April 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    British is not obsessed with fire safety as most of the buildings are not even sprinklered. Fire doors even though it could be a nuisance (depends on who looks at it) is a life saving passive fire protection system. Installed in hotel room doors or along corridor, they are supposed to contain fires in the room or section of corridor so that others can escape unharmed. If your hotel room is more than 10 storey above it is even more critical as the vertical fire escape staircase is also protection on every floors by fire resistant Doorsets. So please do not wedge any fire doors in open position or you may have just compromise the fire resistant integrity of your room or protected corridors.

  15. Comment by Jenni

    Jenni Reply April 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I love this article! It really made me smile as you never notice these things about the UK when you’ve lived here all your life. I have linked to it from Shearings facebook and twitter :)

  16. Comment by Herbie A.

    Herbie A. Reply April 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Went to the UK for a fantastic holiday in 2009, and for a Filipino not used to right-hand driven vehicles, being told to “Look right” or “Look left” before crossing the streets can actually save your life and limb. Smashing article, by the way!

  17. Comment by Christy @ Technosyncratic

    Christy @ Technosyncratic Reply April 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Scolding women had to wear metal cages over their heads?!? Ridiculous laws like these make me laugh and cringe at the same time.

    And when we were in London I was so surprised by how early nightlife closed down for the night – not just pubs, but dance clubs as well!

  18. Comment by Suzanne

    Suzanne Reply April 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    There are cameras everywhere recording your moves!

  19. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew Reply April 3, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    So similar to the Germans.
    1) Always told what NOT to do.
    2) Ditto
    3) Moisture and damp, not fire.
    5 is true and yet 9 is thankfully not here.

    I once heard that both British and Germans like to complain, but British will search for a reason and the Germans will complain about not having a reason.

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  21. Comment by Jade - OurOyster.com

    Jade - OurOyster.com Reply April 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    pubs do close surprisingly early! that always amazed me.

  22. Comment by Fred

    Fred Reply April 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Fire safety is taken seriously because of things like the King’s Cross disaster in 1987 which killed 31 people, and the Bradford stadium fire in 1985 which killed 56.

    Signs telling people what to do are a relatively new thing. It is probably because people are terrified that if they don’t have a “do not poke the hungry lion with a stick” sign, someone will do so and then complain that they weren’t warned not to. Dealing with this will create huge amounts of paperwork, so it is easier to stick up a notice. It might also help foreigners who are not used to local ways of doing things.

    More or less everyone in England knows about the historic links between England and France – 1066 and all that is pretty much the only bit of history “everyone” knows (other than WWII, which we are obsessed with).

    Pubs used to shut early because of a legal requirement brought in during WWI. The can stay open longer now, if they think it makes commercial sense.

    • Comment by Marie

      Marie Reply May 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      Had no idea about these incidents! Thanks very much for the info.

  23. Comment by cheryl

    cheryl Reply May 4, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    You have to pay a monthly license fee for radios, tv’s and computers in Germany too. And if you don’t reply to the letters they send you, they’ll send inspectors to your house.

    HOW CRAZY IS THAT?

    Love this list! Had no ideas pubs closed so early, expected it to be a little like Berlin and open to the wee hours of the morning.

    • Comment by Marie

      Marie Reply May 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Haha, inspectors to see if you really don’t own any technology at all? WOW.

  24. Comment by Daniel McBane

    Daniel McBane Reply June 20, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I too was surprised by the extremely early closing times of pubs in the UK. While going to university in the US, I was always frustrated by the closing times there and viewed people studying in Europe with some envy. Little did I know that the UK is actually worse than the US.

    • Comment by Marie

      Marie Reply June 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Pubs close early in the UK but if I am not mistaken clubs close much later – around 6AM I think.

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  26. Comment by Maria

    Maria Reply August 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I’m from the UK and have lived in France and Italy – both countries where you had to pay an annual TV license without having the luxury of having advert-free channels..
    As for the being told what to do, I’d say this was more advice or a reminder than an instruction. You’ll find the Look Right on the floor in London for the foreigners’ benefit. Having lived on the continent for 12 years, I can tell you, those Look Right outside St Pancras signs come in handy until I get back into Brit mode!
    Quite agree that the weather is an obsession – it’s also a way of keeping conversation light with strangers!
    It used to be the case that pubs closed at 11 but they can apply for a late license so many, especially in town centres with few residents around are open til midnight or 2am.
    You’re right about the sweets and the Galaxy ;-)

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply August 30, 2012 at 9:56 am

      I’ve been living in France for two years now, and you don’t have to pay a TV Licence. Just for the cable. Maybe things changed recently?

      And yes, I think my favorite part of the UK is the sweets :)

  27. Comment by my suzie "q"

    my suzie "q" Reply October 26, 2012 at 6:17 am

    did you also notice how cheap it was for you if you got sick. You get free treatment, but if a brit who moved away for more than 2 years & then came back home he has to pay. Just a little thing you may not have noticed

  28. Comment by Alex @ ifs ands & Butts

    Alex @ ifs ands & Butts Reply December 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Holy cow cannot believe the pubs close so early! I feel like they’d hate that, losing so much business.

  29. Comment by kirsty

    kirsty Reply August 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Don’t forget French was also spoken widely at court around 1700’s-1800’s as well. And about the fire, well are the health and safety country! (for a 3 day exchange my teacher had the write a 2inch thick report listing all the risks then when they came over to us their teacher had to only write half a page!)

    Killing a swan is still illegal, as there was a case in Dorset where one was shot with a crossbow!?

    TV license is only for live TV so you can watch stuff on the iplayer the day after and not get charged over it.

    and all being told what to do, health and safety, again.

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply August 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

      I guess technology comes in quite handy for TV licences nowadays :-) Thanks for your comment!

      • Comment by Kirsty

        Kirsty October 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        Also even if you do watch it live on your laptop, it doesn’t matter as much because it’s harder to track the iplayer. But I’m sure in the future they will end up having a detection system for non-license watchers on the iPlayer.

  30. Comment by Amanda

    Amanda Reply October 2, 2013 at 4:45 am

    the tarrot card comment… utter rubbish… so NOT illegal!
    From a Scottish lass!

  31. Comment by Amanda

    Amanda Reply October 2, 2013 at 4:52 am

    also the pubs dont shut at 11pm that too is rubbish… well not in scotland anyway!

  32. Comment by jonny

    jonny Reply February 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    We know all about our complicated history with France. We just don’t let the US and Canada in on it because parents shouldn’t involve their children in arguments.

  33. Comment by Chris

    Chris Reply January 3, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Brits are surprised that other countries have electrical outlets in bathrooms. I think its partly because we had electricity early, wires were insulated with fabric, and switches were often made from brass, so it was easy to get electrocuted if steam condensed on the wires.

    You don’t need a licence to watch TV if what you are watching it on is powered by its own internal batteries, so watching on phones and tablets is fine, live or not.

    Although Brits are always being told what to do, they often ignore it. People will cross the road when the crossing stop sign is showing if there is a gap in the traffic for example. Many public parks have long lists of byelaws telling you what you cannot do in them. These have legal authority but no-one reads them.

    You can buy alcohol in a bar or shop at 18 while Americans have to wait till they are 21. I once went on a tour of the Jack Daniels brewery and was told they couldn’t offer us a drink because they were in a “dry” county!

    If you buy alcohol in pubs and bars it will usually be in specific amounts. Spirits are sold from “optics”, inverted bottles with dispensing devices. You won’t get a bartender pouring a shot directly into your glass from the bottle. Glasses for beer or wine will usually have their capacity marked with a line. Beer usually comes in pints, with space above the line for the head.

    In the UK young people between 16 and 18 can buy alcohol in a pub if they are having it with a meal and even more bizarrely alcohol can be bought for children over 5 in a pub, as long as they are consuming it in a room without a bar.

    As well as a wide variety of sweets we have crisps (potato chips) in MANY flavours. Prawn Cocktail, Bacon, Pickled Onion, Ketchup, Sour Cream and Chive are some of the more usual ones, but you can also get Thai Chilli, Lime/Coriander Chutney, Roast Chicken and Thyme, Spare Rib and even more bizarre flavours such as hedgehog.

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