When it comes to conflict in the workplace, Fitzgerald said Brits tend to be more passive-aggressive than their American counterparts.
“There is definitely an emphasis on formality, on being overly polite and, to a certain extent, deferential,” the 31-year-old explained. “I remember one or two contentious calls where it was amusing for me to hear how the British challenged one another on the phone in the most kind and polite way possible.”
American Amy Peterson said Brits use “countless catchphrases and passive semantics all in the name of trying to convey an annoyance with someone without actually saying ‘you’re annoying me’”. If a manager is unhappy with a project, she explained, he wouldn’t say he disliked it. Instead he might say: “I see what you’re trying to do here, but let’s chat about what else you could do.”
And there’s nowhere to hide. When Peterson relocated from Washington to London eight years ago to work in marketing analysis, she found that the cubicles she’d grown accustomed to in the US capital were replaced in the British capital by an open plan office with long communal desks.
“It felt like I had no privacy,” the 37-year-old recalled of the change. “Trying to be on the phone was a bit of a nightmare and you often felt like everyone could hear your conversations.”
Peterson likened the overall transatlantic culture shock to “lots of little things that add up to an overall feeling that things are different.”
One thing most expats agree on is that the British have mastered the art of work-life separation.
A typical workday for Erkan Atay in his native Turkey could stretch from nine in the morning to nearly nine at night. It’s not that he had more work to do than anyone elsewhere in the world; the reason for the long days was almost purely social. There were long lunches with colleagues or extended coffee outings to break up the monotony of the day.
Atay got “such a big surprise” when he moved to the UK three years ago to work as a business partner in commercial finance. His colleagues at the London telecommunications company left the office at 17:00. “I thought to myself, everyone here is working like a machine, eating breakfast and lunch in front of their computers and only interacting in a very professional way,” the 31-year-old recalled.
It’s been quite an adjustment from life back in Istanbul, but Atay said he really appreciates the balanced life in England. He likes leaving at 17:00, not checking work emails over the weekend and not dealing with fiery “Mediterranean-style” debates in the boardroom.
That said, Atay misses some of the workplace camaraderie of Turkey — and finds UK office temperatures so cold he has to wears jackets year-round. But, he said, he’s finally getting into the swing of British business life.
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
This story is a part of BBC Britain — a new series focused on exploring this extraordinary island, one story at a time. Readers outside of the UK can see every BBC Britain story by heading to the Britain homepage; you also can see our latest stories by following us on Facebook and Twitter.