Touring around Britain involves observing various formal ceremonies, so the tourists get an impression that the British are generally formal in their day-to-day behaviour. But it is not true. Everything depends on whether the person is playing a public role or a private one.
When people are on duty they have to obey some strict rules. A male employee is expected to wear a tidy suit with a tie when he is at work, even if he can`t afford a smart one. However, the British are highly tolerant towards the strange clothes. For instance, this very employee can unbutton his collar when he is on his lunch break and no onу will criticize him because he isn`t at work now. Moreover, the British like to “dress down” on Fridays because they have to follow these rigid rules during the week. However, it`s not typical for senior managers.
This difference between formality and informality is the key to what people usually called “British coldness”. That means that being friendly in Britain involves showing that you`re not bothered with formalities. This means not addressing someone by his title, not dressing smart when inviting guests, not saying “please” when asking for something. All this things put a distance between people involved. The same is true about shaking hands: men shake hands only when being introduced to a stranger or meeting an acquaintance after a long time.
It is really difficult for the British to show their feelings and affection. They can be deeply offended when the host wears a smart dress and sets a table with a lot of dishes for them. But if they really want to show the friendship, they try to behave as casually as possible as treat you as a member of their family.
At the end of the 20th century the general amount of informality increased dramatically and you should be careful with the approach of behaviour for every situation.