Scottish etiquette

Every culture has unsaid rules which affect the way people interact. Finding your feet in a new place takes time, but people in Scotland are very friendly. Hopefully, you will soon feel at home. These tips should help:

Small talk

When you first meet someone it is considered impolite to ask personal details about their age, their political beliefs and how much money they earn. It’s best to avoid these subjects until you are friends. Until then, you’ll find students often talk about the local area, activities at your school and the weather!


Being late for a class or a meeting is seen as bad manners. Always aim to arrive 5 minutes early for classes so you can get seated before the lesson begins. If you are going to be late for a meeting, let the person know.


People in Scotland use the words ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ a lot! And if you bump into someone it is normal to say ‘sorry’ even if it is not your fault. Queuing is also seen as being polite and respectful. Pushing in front, or cutting in line is a no-no.

Addressing people

There is a tendency nowadays towards using first names when addressing people; this includes lectures and other university staff. When emailing, it is best to use Dear + first name.


“Drop in anytime” and “come see me soon” are phrases often used in social settings but they should not be taken literally. A real invitation to someone’s house usually comes with a specific time and date. It is also wise to telephone before visiting someone at home.

How to greet someone

Scottish people are quite reserved when greeting one another. A greeting can be a bright 'Hello' 'Hi' or 'Good morning'. We only kiss or hug people who are close friends and relatives.

Culture shock

When you first move to the UK some social behaviours may confuse and surprise you. Even the most open-minded and culturally sensitive among us are not immune. There are four common stages in the process known as 'culture shock'

You might experience some or all of these stages of culture shock. The important thing is to remember that even the difficult and stressful stages are only temporary.

You can find more information about the culture shock and how to face it on here.

Stage 1: Honeymoon

Everything is exciting and new. You love the differences, meeting new people, tasting new foods and doing new things. This phase can last days, weeks, or months.

Stage 2: Crisis

This is the difficult period, during which some people reject the new culture and struggle to adapt. They focus on the differences and the negatives rather than the positives. There's no set time when this begins — with some people, it can be within days, with others, months.

Stage 3: Adjustment

At this stage, people begin to understand the culture better and develop routines. They begin to see aspects of the new culture with a more positive attitude.

Stage 4: Acceptance

During this phase, people start to participate more fully in new activities and feel at ease in the host culture. The person doesn't have to be in love with the new country (as in the honeymoon phase), but they can navigate it without anxiety or negativity.

What can I do to feel more ‘at home’ in the UK?

  • Understand that these feelings are normal, give yourself time.
  • Keeping in touch with home is an important part of living in a different country
  • Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs or ornaments.
  • Find a supplier of familiar food if you can.
  • Stay active, eat well, and get enough sleep.
  • Make friends with international students, whether from your own culture or from others, as they will understand what you are feeling and, if possible, make friends with the local students so you can learn more about each other’s culture. 

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