Simon Kuper--an English guy with a French wife?--does a little cross-cultural analysis:

Applying Carroll’s theories to Britons, you understand why foreigners think we are repressed. Americans won’t touch strangers, the French won’t talk to them, but Brits will neither touch nor talk to them. Passport to the Pub, a semi-official guide for foreign tourists to the UK, warns: “Don’t ever introduce yourself. The ‘Hi, I’m Chuck from Alabama’ approach does not go down well in British pubs.”

Nor are Britons permitted to make eye contact: the former French prime minister Edith Cresson, disconcerted that British men didn’t look at her, estimated that one in four was homosexual. No wonder Britons drink ever-increasing amounts of alcohol. Alcohol was first distilled so that British people could reproduce.

This aligns with my experience. Americans do hug friends, though, and British people don't (with some pleasant exceptions). The Brits do friendly kisses instead. That has led me into some slightly awkward bobbles when the British person move in for a friendly kiss and I'm expecting a friendly hug and we both end up in a slightly warmer greeting than intended.

As long as Mr Kuper and I are generalizing, I would like to offer a generalization about British people: they don't like it when people generalize about them. I mean, no one's crazy about it, but they're bristlier about it than Americans. My theory is that Americans are calmer about it because we're more used to it. Every time Americans do anything stupid or silly or strange the Europeans are on hand to shake their heads and say, "I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised." The foibles of our British friends, however, are less well-publicized and so their defense mechanisms are still in place.

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