Many Americans picture the U.K. as America’s classy, preppy older brother from across the pond. Rainboots, Jane Austen, trench coats, the Queen, and tea, tea, and more tea.
These iconic British stereotypes have fascinated countless American tourists and drawn them to see ye olde country on the other side of the Atlantic. However, how true are these stereotypes?
I’ve lived in the U.K. for almost a year now in the picturesque little town of St. Andrews, Scotland, and I’ve traveled to the U.K. countless times over the years (it’s convenient to have a godfamily who lives in England as an excuse to cross the Atlantic). Though some typical stereotypes of the British lifestyle are true, it’s probably not in the way that you envisioned. Here’s your inside scoop into British culture, fashion, and most importantly, food, and maybe a tip or two on how to not stand out as an American tourist.
Brits Wear Trench Coats
True! But mostly in the cities.
If you walk along the streets of Westminster or the corners of Central London, you’ll see trench coats galore, layered on top of treed blazers with a bold lip color finishing off the look. Brands like Burberry, Ted Baker, and Top Shop dominate the “London look.” However, when you take a train out of the bustling tower-lined London streets, Barbour is the name of the game.
Barbour is the iconic British country coat, and it’s the household piece in the British countryside. Founded in 1894 by John Barbour, the Barbour jacket is the first and most iconic waxed cotton coat. Boasting of practicality and style, the waxed cotton makes the jacket wind and rain proof while giving you an unmistakable statement of British luxury.
The brand holds a royal warrant to supply "waterproof and protective clothing" from Prince Philip (1974), Queen Elizabeth II (1982), and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (1987). That coveted royal warrant means that the product has been used by the royal family. If you needed any more convincing, Outlander heart-throb Sam Heughan has been Barbour's First Global Brand Ambassador since 2016.
Though on the pricier end, these coats are built to last. They have a lifetime guarantee, and Barbour will re-wax the coat for you for the rest of your life. You can opt for the chic trench coat, but if you want to sport a truly British look, there isn’t a more iconically British brand than Barbour. From personal experience, I sported my Barbour coat when visiting my family in California, and multiple people from the U.K. stopped me on the street to ask if I had ever lived in the U.K. All this to say, this coat marks you as a true Brit.
However, if you’re set on the British trench coat look, check out Ted Baker, Top Shop, or if you want to splurge, Burberry. If you aren’t feeling the trench or the Barbour, puffy coats are very popular too. Having lived in Germany and now the U.K., there’s no place in Europe where you won’t blend in with a nice, warm, puffy jacket, often with a fur hood. Superdry, an Asian brand, and H&M are very popular here in the U.K.
Brits Wear Rainboots
True! But probably not the kind you're thinking of.
In the U.K., rainproof shoes are a must. They were invented in the U.K. for a reason — it rains a LOT over here. However, if you pop out of London Heathrow wearing a tall pair of wellies (that’s what rainboots are called over here), people will probably assume you just came back from the farm and haven’t had a chance to change before heading into the city for dinner — or they might pick you out right away as an American tourist. Tall wellies are used as outdoor work shoes for tasks like gardening, farming, or walking through muddy terrain. You might see a few people sporting wellies during a hard rain when the wind blows the rain up your legs. Other than that, you will stick out if you sport tall wellies downtown, especially in a city.
So here’s your inside scoop of what Brits wear during rainy weather — wellibobs! They’re essentially ankle rainboots. Try to find a nice waterproof Chelsea boot, or you can sport a more colorful wellibob. Not only are they more practical and less clunky than tall wellies, but they’re also super cute! Check out Joules, a classic British brand with all things rain boots and raincoats. They have the most adorable colors and patterns that will get you compliments in the U.K. and back home.
Side note — when it’s not rainy, you will find people sporting basic black or white tennis shoes. If you want to channel your inner punk rocker, you can rock a pair of Doc Martins, but outside of the major cities, you will fit right in with a pair of tennis shoes.
Wool, Wool, and More Wool—the Art of Staying Warm
Even if you have your wellibobs and your Barbour jacket, a thick wool sweater is a must-have to keep you warm in the U.K. There’s a reason why Edinburgh is called the wool capital of the world. Scots are famous for making clothes that keep you warm even when the wind and rain are unrelenting. Living in Scotland myself, I can say that my wool sweater, wool scarf, and wool beanie have been lifesavers walking across town to get groceries.
For an iconic Scottish look, find a wool sweater with a pretty pattern, a wool scarf with a tartan pattern from the Edinburgh Woolen Mill, and grab a thick beanie to keep your ears from turning into icicles.
Brits Drink Tea
Yes! This stereotype is absolutely true.
Rain or shine, workday or weekend, Brits will take their tea at 4pm. There’s a common saying that there’s “nothing a cup of tea can’t fix,” and I can’t think of a better mantra to describe British culture. Did you have a hard day at work? Make a cup of tea. Catching up with a friend? Make a cup of tea. Have a lot of work on your plate? You get the picture.
Brits are famous for their black tea, the most famous of which is English Breakfast tea. If you want classic English Breakfast tea, try Twinings or PG Tips. I personally love Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea as it’s slightly stronger than English Breakfast (don’t tell my Scottish neighbors). Have a cup with milk and sugar, and you will be channeling the true British spirit.
If you don’t care for black tea, try a Chinese oolong or South African rooibos. When the English Empire spread across the world, Brits became fascinated with the food and beverages from these different regions. Twinings has a great assortment of different teas from around the world. If you’re ever in London, be sure to stop by Fortnum and Mason. It’s the tea lover’s paradise!
If you’re feeling very luxurious, treat yourself at the Lanesborough Hotel to their award-winning high tea from their Michelin-star restaurant. If you don’t feel like splurging, you won’t find a corner in London that doesn’t have cute restaurants and cafes that serve afternoon tea. Whittard’s tea shop at Covent Garden is a particular favorite of mine, and it’s quite affordable.
The National Food of England Is…Indian food?
When I asked my godbrother, who lives in Southampton, England, what the most iconic food of England is, he answered “Indian food.” Though his answer was tongue in cheek, there’s a lot of truth to this. Just as Brits enjoyed the teas from the far reaches of the English empire, the food from these regions also made their way to the U.K., making the U.K. an incredibly diverse food scene.
Food from the far reaches of the empire made their way to the U.K., making an incredibly diverse food scene.
Even in my tiny town of St. Andrews, Scotland, you can find Indian, Thai, Chinese, and South African cuisine, and in the neighboring city of Dundee, you can wander in Chinese, African, and Middle Eastern markets where you can treat yourself to a global food experience. Though Brits are proud of their steak and ale pies, sausage rolls, and haggis, neeps, and tatties, international food is a go-to dining choice or take-out favorite.
But…Brits Still Love Their Pubs
Though Brits have embraced the international food scene, there’s no replacement for a classic British pub. If you aren’t socializing around a cup of tea, you’re meeting up with your mates at a pub for a pint…or three. Though you can find delicious local lagers and ales, there’s nothing more iconic than a British stout. While living in Scotland, I’ve tried to broaden my range of stouts beyond Guinness to local brews.
If you’re looking for something a bit stronger, Brits are masters of hard liquors. In England, you can find artisan rums and gins, but here in Scotland, Scotch is the name of the game. Try a smooth, aromatic Speyside or Highlander, or brave the peaty Islas that taste like liquid campfires. Scotch has been a part of Scottish culture for centuries, and there’s a reason why people say that drinking Scotch is “tasting Scotland.” If you’re looking for something smooth, Irish Whiskeys may be the way to go (just don’t tell my Scottish neighbors I recommended it).
The same goes for pub food. Nothing can replace a classic steak-and-ale pie or shepherds pie, or if you’re in Scotland, a fresh batch of haggis, neeps, and tatties. This is pure comfort food, with slow-cooked meat and luscious potatoes and parsnips. With a piping-hot pie and a glass of Scotch, you’re bound to be warm and cozy on a stormy, rainy day.
Though there’s a lot of British stereotypes that aren’t completely accurate, there’s much beauty to British customs, both new and old. Nestled in the north where cold and rain is the norm, British culture is all about creating a warm, cozy environment to spend with the ones you love. Whether it’s staying in next to the fireplace with a cup of tea and Indian takeout or bundling up with your wool sweater, Barbour jacket, and wellibobs to head out to the local pub, Brits are masters of building community with food and drinks to warm both hearts and bellies.
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