10 British Cultural Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry
As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy hats to organize once she's officially tied the knot with Prince Harry, there are still some basics about British culture it's always helpful to learn. Take it from someone who's had sarcastic humor go over her head, and who used to make tea by microwaving water: there is a lot that can be different between two people who still (kind of?) speak the same language.
After a year and a half of explaining the American tipping system and realizing "you alright?" is not a worried inquiry about my wellbeing, I've learned enough to make my boyfriend cringe at my off-the-cuff displays of British vocabulary. And although my British culture proficiency is decent, I recruited the help of experts to impart some wisdom Markle's way so she can better get along with her future in-laws. My personal tidbits of advice? Take some time to marathon the British version of The Office andThe IT Crowd, buy yourself a sturdy umbrella, and don't let anyone talk you into eating brown sauce. Here are some cultural differences Meghan Markle should prepare herself for once she marries Prince Harry, according to experts.
While there is a lot of overlap between British and American holidays, there are a few celebrations so uniquely British that they need explanation for the uninitiated Meghan Markle.
First things first: days off in the UK simply go by the name "bank holidays." The term was originally coined because it referred to the days when banks closed annually, but have also become recognized as days when most of the public will take off work.
Boxing Day — the day after Christmas — is considered a bank holiday, but comes with a slew of other traditions. While some Brits know Boxing Day as a day to eat leftover turkey, or watch football, according to The Sun, others may participate in charity events like running into the freezing-cold English channel.
My personal favorite British holiday? Bonfire Night. "On the 5th November every year, Britain celebrates Bonfire Night, a night that commemorates the death of the nation’s most infamous criminal, Guy Fawkes, and his failed attempt to blow up the UK Houses of Parliament in 1605," experts at the language learning app Babbel, tell Bustle. The night usually consists of setting off fireworks, or burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes to celebrate his failure to kill the King. And if you're as curious as I was at this intensely British tradition, you can learn more about it from Kit Harrington in his latest HBO series, Gunpowder.
2. Wedding Traditions (For The Non-Royals)
If Meghan and Harry ever choose to grace their non-royal friends with their presence at a wedding, there will be a few British traditions surrounding the nuptials Markle will have to know about. The first, Meghan already seems to know well: hats. "Expect every woman to be donning some form of elaborate headwear or fascinator," Gina Yannotta, Chief Operating Officer at The Vida Consultancy, tells Bustle. But the differences don't stop there. "The British bride will commonly purchase her bridesmaids’ dresses as well as her own; this is not practiced in the U.S.," tk says. "In the U.S., pre-wedding activities, such as the bridal shower and rehearsal dinner, are staple parts of the marriage as a whole. In the UK, they simply do not exist."
And if Meghan Markle's new British buds decide to invite her to their pre-wedding affairs, she will quickly learn all the wonders of a Hen party, aka the British version of a bachelorette party. While weekend getaways, and party games are commonplace for both Brits and Americans, "fancy dress [wearing costumes] is very popular for hen weekends," Kye Harman, an expert at GoHen.com tells Bustle. "Many hen weekends like to have a theme, Harry Potter is very popular this year." Hufflepuffing out with my ladies? I think so.
3. The Art Of Queueing
For the Brits, forming an orderly line and waiting patiently is the stuff of beauty. Without much direction, you can find British people politely "queueing up" while waiting for public transport, ordering a morning cup of coffee or tea.
"[The] British 'queue up' (stand in line) more so than in the states and take it very seriously," president of Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol, Jacquelyn Youst tells Bustle. "Waiting in line without complaining is considered having a strong moral character." Pushing in or cutting, an American past-time (especially on the New York City subway) is seen as a serious cultural faux-pas.
OK, so Eurovision Song Contest may not be exclusive to just the UK, but it's an incredible international event filled with over-the-top costumes, catchy Euro-pop, and campy dance crazes that I truly believe more Americans should know about. We may have The Voice or American Idol but it's nothing compared to the scope of this international contest.
To put it simply, Eurovision is the Olympics of song competitions. Each year, dating back to 1956, a slew of global countries enter a musical act with a token song to compete for the overall title of champion and the catchiest bop you'll hear globally. And while every country's selection process may be different, the UK often picks their contestant through a national broadcast on the BBC, where the public votes for either a song, a performer, or both.
Eurovision aficionados then learn the words by heart (and any dance that might accompany it) and cheer their contestant on in the finals. What follows is the most extra singing competition you've ever seen — filled with pyrotechnics, light shows, interpretive dance numbers, and mild acrobatics. Each country then votes in a particularly complicated, yet live, window of time following the performances for their favorite act, and let's just say, things tend to get political. The winner is announced and you bet your cheeky bum you will be hearing that song on every radio station from then on out. The UK has won the competition five times — that's one of the most in the world, other than Sweden (hello ABBA), and Ireland who has the most total wins. A UK Eurovision favorite? Gina G's "Just A Little Bit."
5. Tea Time
Even though tea is likely a staple in Meghan Markle's diet by now, the importance of tea to our friends across the pond cannot be understated. Having a kettle in your home is non-negotiable, but collecting adorable, novelty teapots is something that's highly encouraged. The tradition of afternoon tea, also known as "high tea," became firmly established in the 19th century, Babbel experts tell Bustle, and usually features cakes, small sandwiches, and scones with jam or clotted cream. "Today, the UK consumes over 160 million cups every day, and this usually involves black tea served plain or with milk and sugar," Babbel experts say. Coffee be damned.
6. Morris Dancing
While the Brits have been known to get down in a few of their own dances, like "The Hokey Cokey" (no, they don't call it "The Hokey Pokey" there), Morris dancing is one of the more eccentric types of traditions in English culture. "This is a unique and traditional folk dance in the UK, which is believed to have originated in the early fifteenth century," Babbel experts say. "Different regions of the UK now have their own unique styles of the dance and accompanying outfit, but it traditionally consists of people wearing old-fashioned outfits with bells attached and hitting sticks, or waving handkerchiefs as they dance." Sure, we will have the occasional parades in the U.S., but there's not much comparable to this. It's definitely something to see, if you haven't already.
7. Dating & Relationship Culture
Though Meghan Markle is officially off the market, she likely have learned some English dating traditions when her and Harry were courting. The first might have been to skip the job interview-style first date. "Brits [...] avoid asking their date too many questions about themselves on the first date, as in British culture this is often perceived as being too 'intense,'" Babbel experts say.
Meeting the parents is also different in the U.S. than it is in the UK. "In the U.S., meeting the parents is a fairly major milestone in the relationship," Yanotta says. "In the UK, meeting the parents is a characteristically less formal, less structured occurrence — and, whilst it’s preferable to get affirmation from the parents, if they don’t like you then they can, as the Brits say, ‘get on their bike.’" Although I imagine meeting the Queen went a bit differently than that.
As for the PDA some Americans enjoy engaging in, Brits tend to keep public kisses and affection to a minimum, especially if they're royal. "[...] public displays of affection are less popular in the UK than the States and the Royal Family prefer to abstain as much as possible," International Etiquette & Protocol Consultant Julia Esteve Boyd tells Bustle. "Some hand holding between couples is OK [...] but if you watch the other members of the Royal Family you'll see it is all very discreet."
8. Most Locales Are Haunted AF
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there's no denying the UK is host to many eerie medieval and Victorian haunts that can make even the bravest individual feel their hair stand on end. If you've ever seen the torture chamber at the Tower of London, you know what I mean.
While spookiness can be found at every corner of the United Kingdom, Markle might encounter her first ghost at her wedding venue. According to Royal Central, many guests who have visited Windsor Castle have reported seeing an "anxious, angry man pacing furiously and shouting loudly," that they believe to be King Henry VIII. If Markle swings by Henry VIII's old home, Hampton Court Palace, she might also run into the ghosts of his former wives, Jane Seymour who died in childbirth, and Catherine Howard who was executed for committing adultery. And if she's still not a believer, Markle can head over to Pluckley, the most haunted village in Britain, where a pub named the Black Horse is known to have a phantom that moves around glasses and objects.
9. The Vaguely Familiar List Of UK Foods
Beyond the world of fish and chips, or the occasional curry, Meghan Markle will find a rich food tradition in the UK that might remind her a bit of home. For example, since the Brits don't have a Thanksgiving, turkey is typically a Christmas staple. "Turkey first appeared on British plates during Christmas in the 16th century — it was believed that King Henry VIII became the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas," Babbel experts say. "By the 17th century, this had spread throughout the country, and it has now become the most popular food to serve on Christmas Day in the UK."
If Harry and Meghan are feeling the home-cooked dinner vibes, they'll surely go for a traditional Sunday roast dinner. "This is a traditional British meal served on a Sunday, consisting of roast meat, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, cauliflower cheese, cabbage, Yorkshire pudding and gravy," Babbel experts say. I can personally attest to the fact that it's delicious.
10. Dessert, AKA, "Pudding"
In the UK, dessert, better known as "pudding," will give Markle a new range of biscuits, cakes, and pies for any sweet tooth craving she may have. One longstanding favorite includes the Jaffa Cake (all you Great British Bake-Off nerds will know what I'm talking about). "Jaffa Cakes have become a firm favorite of the British since they were introduced in 1927," Babbel experts say. "Topped with sweet orange jelly, these iconic British treats are often consumed with a cup of tea, in which it is dunked, or simply as an afternoon treat."
Christmas pudding, which is really more of a cake by our standards, is also a traditional holiday favorite that dates back to King George's day in 1714. "Composed of dried fruits and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices, the pudding is traditionally doused in brandy and set fire to before serving," Babbel experts say.
Though Meghan Markle may have her hands full with the whole royal wedding thing, there's still a host of British traditions to learn after she says "I do." Take it from someone who knows — there's a lot of pints at the pub, sarcastic jokes, and discussions of the weather coming her way.
Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version.