If you live in São Paulo state, the question “CPF na nota?” may be familiar to you whenever you pay for goods in a shop. If you buy something in a shop in the UK, probably the first question you will be asked is ‘”Would you like to purchase a bag?” or simply “Want a bag?” In most shops, you have to pay 5 pence or 10 pence for a plastic bag.

Having just spent most of January in the UK, I tried to note down some common phrases or questions you may hear on a regular basis in different places such as shops, restaurants and people’s homes. I will try to put them into context below.

In shops, phrases you may come across are “PIN number, please” or “Just swipe here, please” when using your credit or debit card. In a clothes shop, you may ask the assistant “Where’s the fitting/changing room, please?” You may also ask if the shop assistant has a bigger/smaller size of the piece of clothing you like, although sometimes it is a ‘DIY job’! In other words, you go and find the size you are looking for.

In restaurants, the first question you may be asked is “Do you have a reservation?” On a Saturday night in a busy town, you may not get a table if you haven’t booked previously. Once inside the restaurant, if you are in the UK in the winter a member of staff might show you where to hang your coat up. The waiter or waitress might ask “Would you like tap water or mineral water?” The former is free and the latter you pay for. Then come questions such as “What would you like for starters/main and dessert or sweet?” (sweet meaning dessert). You might also like to ask someone “What is the wifi code, please?” and “Where are the ladies/gents?”

When invited to someone’s home, one of the first questions you may ask is “Should I take my shoes off?” especially if there is a carpet as walking around the house in shoes may dirty it. Your host will probably ask you “Cup of tea?” and your answer could be “Yes, please. Milk/Black with/no sugar, please” depending on your preference. A good topic of conversation to break the ice is always the weather. “It’s a bit nippy outside, isn’t it?” or “Quite mild today compared to yesterday, isn’t it?” The question tag “isn’t it?” is an invitation for the other person to engage in the conversation.

If you would like to know more about life in Britain and the ins and outs of the culture, I can recommend Kate Fox´s brilliant updated book, ‘Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour’. The author, who is an anthropologist, observed various aspects of English behavior over ten years including habits in pubs, queues, at work and may other situations. Well worth a read!