If you are invited out
Some British people may invite you out as a sign of friendship
and also so that you are not on your own. You should not invite
yourself to a meal unless you have got to know the
very well. It is not normal to ‘just turn up’ at someone’s
house. If you need to call to collect something or see someone,
either write or phone first to arrange a suitable time. An invitation
for a meal, or visit to an event or historic sight should not be
taken as an invitation for an intimate or long term friendship.
Some people may not know what you like to eat, so try to help
them as much as possible by explaining the things that you do and
do not eat. Tell your host the things you do not eat the week before
they prepare a meal for you.
Arrival & gifts
When you arrive, try to be punctual. If you are delayed, always
phone to tell your host you will be late. Do not arrive too early
either, 5 or 10 minutes early is about right. Your host will normally
indicate where you should sit. In most cases (especially when you
do not know your host very well) it is usual to take a small gift,
such as a box of chocolates or flowers. Your host will normally
ask to take your coat and hang it up until you leave.
Can I bring my children?
If you have children, it is always advisable to ask your hosts
in advance whether they are expecting them for the meal or not.
If they are coming, you may like to tell your hosts the sorts of
things that they eat. If your hosts don’t have children, it
may be helpful to take a book or toy for your children to play with.
Seating & eating
If the meal is served at a table, you should wait until you are
called to sit down. The meal will either be pre-served on a plate,
or bowls will be passed round from which you help yourself.
If there are several knives, forks and spoons at your place at
table, always start with the ones furthest from your plate and work
in. Often, the fork and spoon for the dessert will be placed at
the top of your plate.
During the meal, try not to eat faster than your hosts.
Always wait to be offered more food, do not just take it. Only
if you know your hosts very well should you help yourself. However,
if food has been served from a bowl, and you see your neighbour’s
plate empty, it is polite to ask your neighbour if you can pass
anything to them. Do not serve your neighbour, just pass them the
If you are offered more, and you would like to take it, always
accept the first time that you are offered. If you refuse the first
time that you are offered more, your host will think that you are
full or do not like the food and you may not be asked again.
The way you place your knife and fork will indicate to your host
whether or not you have finished. This is illustrated in the sketch
Part way through the meal
I have finished – please clear my plate
What if I cannot eat the food?
If anything is served that you do not know, feel free to ask,
especially if you are vegetarian. If you cannot eat anything (especially
if meat has been served and you are a vegetarian, or if you think
that you may not be able to eat it) please tell your host. They
will usually understand, but remember, mistakes sometimes happen,
especially if your hosts are not used to having international visitors.
It is polite to offer the host help to clear away and wash the
dishes after the meal, although you should not be surprised if your
offer is refused.
Should I return the hospitality?
British people enjoy having guests and will not expect you to
invite them back for a meal. Do not feel that you have to invite
them. However, if you have a suitable room or flat, and enjoy making
a meal, then you will find that a return invitation would normally
be considered a privilege by your British friends. Try to remember
that they may find certain foods too spicy to eat.
This guide is copyrighted © Friends International 2005. No
part of this work may be reproduced without
the written permission of Friends International.
Additional local information provided by Friends International in Guildford, 2007.