We all know that back in the days before Internet, it was proper to send letters requesting someone’s attention or company or thanking them for their time. I still write thank-you letters when people give me gifts, as recently as my college graduation. It has become common these days to send emails for certain things, and (almost) all of my university communications in the U.K. have been via email rather than snail mail. However, there is a certain protocol for communicating that seems adorably formal. The British, although renowned for their politeness, cannot be stereotyped as the most formal of cultures, but it’s still good to know how to write a formal email.
Generally, I am more formal when I’m requesting something — in my case, admission to a university, jobs, and internships. Always fill in a subject so your email is easy to find in an inbox. Begin with “(Dear) Title Name,” and be sure you get the title correct! In addition to Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, and Dr, you may encounter Rev, Sir, Lady, and a variety of others.
In the U.K., “Miss” is used for young women and “Ms” for older women. Although I go by Ms. in the U.S. so people know I’m over 18 (or at least not a child), I go by Miss in the U.K. to inform people that I’m not middle-aged. (I yearn for the day I can go by Dr!) Also remember that it’s not common to put the period after the title, which I think looks less clunky.
Now that you have a subject and “Dear Princess Kate,” you can continue as you would a formal business email. I use British spelling to blend in a little more, but it’s not necessary. As in the U.S., conclude with your name and contact information.
Back to letters. I have heard from an eminent businessman that it is good manners after an interview or meeting to send a hand-written letter in fountain pen. Now, this may just be for jobs in investment banking and not for students like me, but it’s good to keep in mind that this sort of protocol is still appreciated. I guess it doesn’t have to be in fountain pen, but it would be cute if you owned one.
How does one mail letters in London? First, you don’t mail, you post letters. There’s a chain called Post Office that is, as far as I can tell, not actually associated with the post. They sell stamps and also do shipping. Stamps can also be purchased at many mini-markets and in some hotels. Stamps that say “First Class” cost 46p and will go anywhere in the U.K. except the Channel Islands. Stamps above this will say the price. Sending letters to the U.S. costs between 76p and £1.10 depending on the weight — less for a postcard, more for an envelope. I send a lot of cards and always buy the ones that cost 97p, and they arrive within a week.
Postboxes are located on practically every street. They are instantly recognizable: about head height (for me at least, at just over five feet) oval in shape, and painted red.
- London postbox. Wikimedia Commons.
They have two slots, one for stamped mail and one for franked mail, which means that kind of auto-stamp that comes on bills and things. The postboxes also have handy guides (the little white signs) saying when the post is collected from that location. While often located near a Post Office branch, they are actually operated by the Royal Mail. Mail sent from within the U.K. aims to arrive within one day. One day! That’s awesome! My Amazon packages arrive pretty much instantaneously. It does help when your country is that small, but it’s still quite impressive.