English is the official language of the UK. There are considerable variations in regional accents throughout England. The influx of immigrants has also meant that many other languages are spoken among these communities.
In 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII, England broke from the Roman Catholic Church to form the Anglican Church, which became the established church of the country, of which the monarch is head. The Church of England no longer has any political power, although its archbishops and some bishops still sit in the House of Lords. There are about 27 million Anglicans in the UK, although relatively few attend church. Roman Catholics number more than 5 million, Presbyterians about 2 million, Methodists about 700,000, and Jews about 400,000. Numerous other religions are practised in England, and in many cities there are significant Muslim and Hindu communities. Society is secular, and religious education in schools now embraces a wide range of religions, not only Christianity.
GREETINGS AND GESTURES
Many English people will simply say ˇ§Helloˇ¨, but a handshake is the formal way of greeting and parting. On first meeting, ˇ§How do you do?ˇ¨ or a less formal phrase is used. Among friends, women are often kissed (by men and women) lightly on one cheek. Handshakes are firm. The use of first names is widespread. Titles such as ˇ§Mrˇ¨ and ˇ§Mrsˇ¨ are being used less frequently, even when children address adults.
The English are in general a reserved people, who do not approve of loud or highly demonstrative behaviour (except in very informal gatherings). Personal space is respected, and people feel uncomfortable when others stand too close to them during conversation. Touching is generally avoided. Manners are important, although standards are not as high among young people, who account for nearly one-fifth of the population.
English families are small (one or two children are the norm) and often tightly knit. Fewer people are getting married and those who do are marrying later. Women are having fewer children and are waiting longer to have them. In the past three decades, a substantial number of women have begun working outside the home. In recent years, the divorce rate has risen, as has the number of single-parent families.
The standard of living is lower than in the United States and many of the country's European Union (EU) partners, though the UK ranks in the top 20 countries in the world in this respect. Since the early 1980s, the division between rich and poor has grown, but the middle class remains the largest section of society. Home ownership is high: about two-thirds of people own their own houses or flats.
Although many couples choose to live together before or instead of marriage, the most widely preferred living arrangement is still based on marriage. Marriage is legal at the age of 16 but usually takes place when people are in their mid to late 20s.
DIET AND EATING
The traditional English breakfast consists of any or all of the following: bacon, sausages, grilled or fried tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, fried bread, black pudding (blood sausage), and kippers (smoked herring). However, fewer people now eat a cooked breakfast on a regular basis, preferring various combinations of cereal, toast, juice or fruit, and tea or coffee. Since the 1960s, the British have become more adventurous in their diet and now eat a wide variety of food from around the world. Many traditional foods such as beef and potatoes have given way to seafood and pasta dishes. Fast food has also become more available, and hamburger restaurants now rival the traditional fish-and-chip shops in popularity.
Numerous Chinese and Indian restaurants and pizza houses provide take-away services, and many pubs (public houses) serve anything from snacks to full meals as well as alcoholic beverages. Traditional English dishes include roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (a baked batter) and steak-and-kidney pie.
The English generally eat three meals a day. The midday meal is usually referred to as lunch and the evening meal as dinner or, when it is less formal, as supper. Northerners often call the meal they have in the early evening ˇ§teaˇ¨. The tradition of afternoon tea, that is taking tea, biscuits, and cakes at about 4 PM, is declining. Similarly, many people no longer have more than a light lunch or snack in the middle of the day. In restaurants, a waiter is summoned by either raising the hand or establishing eye contact.
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